There are two things I want to touch upon this evening. The first is the confession of the lips that Christians make. The second is the holy ministry.
Saint Paul writes, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ... How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?"
By these words we learn that confession of the mouth is not the source of salvation. We are justified by faith before we open our mouths. In this way babies who are baptized are saved before they have actually confessed the one true faith.
Yet we dare not separate our confession of faith from the faith in our hearts. If we think that confessing our faith is optional or unimportant, then we have missed the point. True faith cannot sit idly by, but must speak out the glories of Him who saved us out of darkness into His marvelous light. In this life of faith, we will most certainly speak the truth of God.
Doctor Luther wrote, "Confession is the chief work of faith, for here man denies himself and confesses God. And he dies in his confession of God by the denial of himself; for there can be no greater denial of oneself than this, that one dies to confess God. By doing this, he surrenders himself, in order that God may be confirmed, and man's confession of Him may also be confirmed."
We confess that we are nothing and God is everything. We confess that we are sinners who deserve only punishment. We confess that Christ the Lord has rescued us from death and hell by pouring out His lifeblood upon the Cross for us. We confess also that He is risen from the dead, having purchased resurrection for us.
How could we, who have received such gifts, shut our lips tightly to let no words about Christ escape? He did so much. How could we not declare His praises?
Today we celebrate the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession before the Emperor and the whole world. In this Augsburg Confession, there is nothing that goes beyond Scripture, or that takes away from Scripture. The Confessors at Augsburg gave an accurate declaration of God's truth, as written by Philip Melanchthon. For Melanchthon did not creatively come up with his own confession from his human thoughts and feelings. He simply wrote the truths that the Word speaks to mankind.
This is all that confession is - to say the same things back that God has first spoken to us. So the Creeds are confessions of faith. Our confession of sins is rightfully called a confession, since we simply speak back the truth that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and we are no exception.
The German princes at Augsburg were willing to die rather than compromise the truths of Scripture that their confession declared. We who are communicant members have made a similar promise. We have taken a solemn vow to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this Church and faith to which God has called us.
But again, it is not our good confession that saves in itself. A person may confess rightly, but their lips lie because a different confession is in their heart. Yet the right confession flowing from a believing heart is the true expression of faith.
If anyone refuses to confess the truth when it is demanded of him, he is burying his faith, perhaps to lose it. There may be forgiveness and repentance for such a person. But to persistently be ashamed of the Gospel is to throw away faith.
God preserve us from this end to which our sinful flesh would love to go.
Certainly we should not deny Christ who suffered for us, who gave all. Whatever pressures or threats may sometimes shut our mouths when we should speak up, Christ endured far worse. By His virtues, not ours, we are saved.
Regarding the holy ministry, the Augsburg Confession declares, “That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.” Our Lutheran Fathers confessed this truth: that the Holy Ministry was not an optional extra tacked on to the faith. We are not free to take it or leave it as we wish. No, the Office of Preaching was created by Christ our Lord as the way through which saving faith comes to us. For salvation is through hearing, and hearing is through the Word of Christ. But to hear the Word, a man must be sent to preach the Word. Therefore, Preachers are necessary to the Church, or else she is not the Church at all.
This is not popular in America, where everything about religion is considered a matter of freedom and individual choice. It is also not popular with our old Adam, which likes nothing more than to be its own boss, its own shepherd, its own teacher. Why submit to someone else when you feel that you are the wisest? The flesh always feels that there is no one better to steer the course for your life.
Submission to the minister of Christ is so difficult for us. I know. I also have a flesh that does not like submitting to other ministers. My sinful nature does not like to look at them as men speaking the very truth of God for me, indeed, speaking in the place of God for me.
But that is what ministers are. They are men of beautiful feet, because their coming is the coming of God's Good News to you.
We rightly exclude from this those men who preach a false gospel, which is no gospel at all. We not only have the right to ignore the false shepherds, who are wolves in sheep's clothing. We are actually obligated to most seriously mark and avoid them. But make sure that they are truly false! If they preach the Gospel to you, yet they have a few blemishes here and there in their character, that is one thing. But if they go against the sweet grace of God and teach a Gospel mixed with works, then by all means get away from them.
How can you know how to rightly judge shepherds? A good place to start is this Augsburg Confession. This is an accurate explanation of God's Word which we should all know very well. If princes were willing to die for these truths, perhaps we can be persuaded to take a little time to learn the same truths. Then we will be armed against the false teachers, and ready to detect them in spite of their sheep's clothing.
If you know of nothing against the doctrine of your minister, then listen to him very well. Do not ignore, and very seriously take to heart, what he may say. He wants nothing but to see you well fed with the milk of God's Word.
Hang upon this man's words, which are the words of Christ. By hearing them, faith comes, and with it, forgiveness, life, and salvation.
The Lord keep you all in this word and faith and confession, now and for all eternity. In His Name, the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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