On this day of the Confession of Saint Peter, we want to imitate the faithfulness of Peter, who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
There is much truth in that confession. Some of it is not directly spoken, but implied. That Jesus is the Christ meant that He and He alone would be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. No other Son of the living God who brings salvation could exist besides Jesus.
Did Peter fully understand what he said? Perhaps not, especially since, just verses later, he was trying to keep Christ from His destiny on Golgotha. But the truth Peter spoke is greater than his own understanding, since it was the Father in heaven who revealed it to him.
So we imitate the confession, even though we try to not imitate Peter’s weakness and errors. For example, Peter denied Christ three times. We try not to imitate that. But when we fail we repent and are restored, as Peter was.
On Pentecost, Peter stood up and preached boldly the truth of Christ. Then in Acts chapter three, Peter healed a lame beggar in the Name of Jesus. Consequently, the Jewish rulers had Peter arrested and interrogated him. Peter did not back down, but openly confessed, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by Him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the Stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the Cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Here we clearly see that if Jesus Christ is the One who brings salvation, then there is no one else who does.
The following letter was once sent to the Lutheran Hour: “I want to thank you for your stories; they are interesting and sometimes touching. That's the good part of listening to 'The Lutheran Hour.' The bad part is you seem to imply Jesus is the only way to heaven. While I consider myself a Christian, I also believe that kind of attitude is responsible for much of the hatred that exists between religions. My grandmother used to say, 'If you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all.'”
This is the attitude in much of America today. Even those who go by the name Christian say something like this. “It is okay if you say that Christ saves people. Just stop saying that He is the only One who saves people.”
But you cannot have it both ways. There is no other Name given under heaven by which we must be saved. The words of Peter are very strong. They do not allow for wiggle room.
If we try to take refuge in the idea that Peter got carried away and misspoke, then we have forgotten that Jesus said the same thing. “No one comes to the Father but by Me.”
May we give the same confession as Peter, and give it boldly.
The problem is, there is a part of us that wants to soften up a little at this point. We may have friends or relatives who deny Christ. We want God to grade on a sliding scale. As long as their heart is in the right place, we may hope they will be saved. As long as they believe in Christ in some way, we hope they may be saved.
But the Name of Christ is not a magic formula to get people out of trouble. It is not enough to simply speak the Name or call upon it in any old way, or to believe just anything about Christ. You must believe and confess what Scripture teaches, or else you do not have the Biblical Christ. Heaven is not opened to anyone who says that they believe in Christ, but to those who actually believe in Him.
This sounds judgmental of God. We want to say that we are sinners, and we make mistakes, and God will forgive our mistakes. That is true, if understood the right way. It is not our personal conviction or our knowledge of correct doctrine that saves us. We do not earn salvation by keeping ourselves in the correct faith. When a person happens to believe something false, that does not immediately and automatically eject them from the kingdom of heaven.
But whenever a person holds to incorrect teaching, there is danger. If they know that it is against what the Bible says, but they still hold to the false teaching, then they are willfully rejecting the Word of God. Soon enough they will probably rationalize why this is really what the Bible teaches by some convoluted reasoning, or say that the Bible is merely the word of men, not God. Surely God, the true God, would agree with what I think.
But this is the voice of the sinful flesh that thinks that it is the seat and source of all truth and common sense. The sinful flesh thinks that it automatically knows what God would or would not say. That is the exact arrogant presumption that destroys faith.
We either trust God’s Word that points us to Christ and Him crucified, or we do not.
So when a person holds to false doctrine, they are in danger of losing faith. But if they, as simple and humble sheep of Christ, are willing to be corrected, then their error will not damn them. If they are willing to quickly repent when shown their mistake, then they will not burn in hell for holding to wrong ideas about God.
But the proud people who hold to their own ideas and will not bend or listen to God’s truth, these will lose their faith, if they ever had it. That is the danger.
May He preserve us from such an attitude.
God is not legalistic. He wants us to have immaculately pure doctrine. The point of pure doctrine is to point us to Christ, so that our confession may be pure and our faith pure. Every impure doctrine will steer us a little farther from the Son of the Living God. Every error in our thinking turns us more to relying on our own works, instead of the free salvation by God’s grace in Christ.
We have the wonderful gift of pure doctrine in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. With this great gift, we should be bold to proclaim the truth. So many are laboring under a hard yoke of the law, and yearn to be freed. We can speak to them the liberating message that Christ has won for them free salvation.
Shall we be timid? Shall we lack confidence? Why should we, when this confession is the rock upon which Christ has built His Church? This confession shall stand even against the gates of hell. Why should we be afraid to speak out, as Peter boldly spoke out?
Yet we will fail. We will speak the wrong words at the wrong time, or fail to speak when an opportunity clearly presents itself. Yet remember that Peter also had his moments of failure. He did not always boldly confess. On Good Friday, he denied. But Christ restored him, and He restores us through His Gospel.
So let us be strengthened by the same Gospel that Peter heard, and emboldened by the Spirit who fills us through the same proclamation. Let us repent when we have been ashamed of the Gospel, and instead remember that we have been saved by the only Name given under heaven to save. We would have trusted in some other name, but instead the Father has revealed to us this Name, the Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.
In His Name and to His glory. Amen.
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