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Common Sense

Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

view DOC file

Tue, Jul 1, 2014 

Somewhere I read a clever remark asking the question why people call it "common sense" when it is so uncommon?  It makes for a cute quip, and it appeals to that part of us that ponders the nonsensical in everyday life.  The young often seem to lack common sense because they have very personal perspectives on things and haven't learned that proverbial wisdom is frequently the kind of thing taught in the school of experience.  I used to be like that myself.  I would say, "Just because others haven't been able to make life work that way doesn't mean that I cannot!" And I would go ahead and live with utter disregard for the 'rules' of life that my parents and teachers would advise me were accurate descriptions of reality.

Needless to say, I learned that many of those 'rules' were not expressions of how my elders wanted the world to work, they were hard-learned lessons about how this world of sin and sorrow actually does function.  I learned a lot those lessons the hard way, rather than just take my parent's word for it and learn it by the painless method of listening and trusting people who actually had no good reason to lie to me.  I have talked with a lot people my age, and some older and others younger, and found out that there are many people who insisted on learning some of life's lessons as I did.  I guess I was not alone.  Common sense, it turns out, is what you discover when you get roughed up by life in the school of 'hard-knocks'.

Most people actually do try to exercise common sense, which is good -- except in matters of faith.  As you read what follows, remember, using common sense in your daily life is good!  But in the issues of faith, common sense teaches us to compromise the teachings of God's Word in the light of sin and evil desires and self-service.  The Christian faith always flies in the face of common sense because faith is grounded in truth and holiness, and cannot to be compromised with sin and evil.  Jesus came to rescue us from sin, to bring the cure for death, and to unchain us from evil and give us victory over it.  This evil world, then, and our holy Lord are at war with one another, and the battlefield is the hearts and minds and society of men and women.  Common sense is formed in and shaped around the realities of sin, and so will always betray you when you are dealing with what is holy.

To state the case more simply, your faith is not just common sense.  What people call common sense will generally lead you away from Christ, away from the truth, and away from faithfulness.

Don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that the Christian faith is nonsensical or does not make sense.  I am saying that the Christian faith does not follow common sense.  While our faith and all of the articles of doctrine are consistent and reasonable internally, our sin-darkened minds often cannot follow them, and deviation from the revealed truth and errors often seem to make more sense to us.  Of course, we have a little help there from the old evil foe, but even if there were no longer a devil to tempt and mislead us, our own sinful nature would cause us to wander from the truth.  That is the result of original sin.  It is a thorough corruption of all that it is to be human - mental, emotional, and spiritual.

This corruption of our abilities in regard to whatever is holy and true is reflected, for example, in our treatment of the Law.  When we read the Law of God, people generally understand it, and accept it to be true and valid.  Then we go astray and begin to consider it as possible for us to obey.  It just makes sense to us that since God has commanded these things, and we can see the truth and wisdom of the commands, that we are therefore able to do all that the Law commands.  It is just common sense that since God has commanded, He expects us to obey.

But Scripture teaches us explicitly that obedience to the Law of God is not possible for us.  God tells us that we are not able to sincerely desire to obey Him, and that we are not even able to do so (Romans 8:7).  Thereby hangs a terror.  We have this law, commanded by God, and yet we are not even able to do what God commands, nor purely to desire to do it.  Oh, there are parts of it we think would be a good thing to do, but there are parts of the will of God which we find just naturally obnoxious.  We might know that we ought to be keeping it, but there is that part of us that doesn't want to be keeping it.  Then Scripture gives our common sense another kicking when God reveals that He did not give the Law to us so that we might be able to do it.  He gave us the Law to show us forcefully that we are wicked and evil and do not wish to serve Him or love Him.  He gave us the Law so that we would sin and disobey, and thereby to teach us that we are corrupt and evil.

Look at how it works.  We see the Law of God, and understand it, and agree that it is good and right and holy.  Then we casually, and sometimes deliberately, disobey it.  Then, that which is good, and the keeping of which would mean life everlasting, becomes the instrument of our death and condemnation.  Worse yet, we understand that condemnation, and, when we are honest, we have to admit that it is well-deserved.  God gave us the Law so that we could see our own corruption reflected in that 'mirror' of deliberate disregard for holiness, and our senseless rejection of life (which most people earnestly desire) for the doing of that which we agree is wrong and evil, and which we understand will mean death and hell for us.  There is nothing about this situation that appeals to common sense.

In this situation, the Gospel comes to us as wonderful good news.  God has seen our condition, and our helplessness, and has designed and worked our rescue.  The Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity (which, as the revealed nature of God, also makes no common sense to us!) became man in order to save us by earning life according to the Law, a thing we are unable and unwilling to do, and then exchanging His life for our death.  By dying our death for our sins in our place, Jesus has purchased our freedom from sin, death, and hell.  We are rescued from what we did to ourselves with our eyes wide open.  And then, even as the rescued people of God, knowing the whole story, we all (and I acknowledge my participation in this truth with sorrow) we all continue to do, say, and think those things which deserve death and hell, and yet we are still redeemed, rescued, and saved by Jesus Christ, His cross, and His resurrection!

Although this is wonderful good news - that death is not the end, that we shall rise from our graves and live eternally without sorrow or pain or sickness, and that it is all a free gift from Christ by grace -human reason and common sense cannot accept it.  Those who call themselves "Christian" and confess faith in Christ often argue against this grace of God.  They don't like being helpless in sins.  No one does.  They don't like the bloody, violent exchange for their salvation which is the vicarious atonement.  They want to own a part in determining their salvation.  Some don't like the nature of God as He reveals Himself, and others don't like God at all.  They don't want miracles, or they don't want resurrection, or they don't want a hell and a heaven, or they don't want anyone to face condemnation by God.  The news of salvation is so wonderful, if you understand our plight without it, and yet common sense just cannot follow where the truth of God leads.

The nature of God as Triune is contrary to common sense.  It is revealed in the Bible, but human reason is not able to comprehend it.  It stands to reason that if God is God he would be capable of being and doing and thinking things we are unable to be, do or think - but common sense tells most people that if they cannot understand it, it cannot be so.  That is why Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses and even Islam makes such inroads.  Everything is reasonable there.  It might be all law, dark and manipulative, and have no salvation, but it makes sense to those who follow those teachings.  Common sense figures it is better to have the bondage of the Law, completely understandable, than have the freedom of the Gospel - so filled with faith and grace and things that common sense cannot quite grasp.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this problem with common sense, although he did not use the term, "common sense".  2 Corinthians 3:12-18, "Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not as Moses, who used to put a veil over his face that the sons of Israel might not look intently at the end of what was fading away.  But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.  But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

That veil is not just for those who know Moses.  It is human nature.  People read the Bible, and because the Law makes so much sense, they read the Bible in a way that appeals to common sense.  Most people, and we are talking about "Christians" here, look for the law in the Scripture rather than the Gospel.  When they read a passage, they find it just so much more natural to apply it to behavior as 'rules' than to hear the sweet voice of forgiveness and divine favor and love.  The life of a Christian becomes understood as a struggle to live up to a standard that they see painted in the text, rather than the joyful living out of grace, the sharing of the love of God for us and in us, and the celebrating of that life everlasting which is already ours, even if we do not experience its fulness yet.

Common sense asks questions like, "How much can I get away with and still go to heaven?" "Do I have to accept everything that the Bible teaches - or that my Pastor says is 'Christian doctrine'?" "How much do I have to do, how often do I have to pray, or take communion, or how frequently can I miss worship and still be a true believer?" "Do I have to go to Bible Study?" These questions are just common sense.  The answers to them give us an outline of standards by which we may measure ourselves and others.  It makes sense that, with so much at stake, no one wants to find that they have come up short at the last.

One problem with those questions is that there is no one absolutely certain answer to any one of them.  A murderer can conceivably repent and go to heaven, and a really nice guy who does pretty much everything we would hope to do, and yet does not trust in Christ - and will not live in the light of the Gospel - will go to hell.  It is not where you start with the answer that matters.  It is where you end up, and each of us responds to life, and to the possibilities suggested in those questions, uniquely.

And that is not the only problem. It is not even the biggest problem.  A larger problem is that those questions focus our attention - and our faith - in the wrong direction.  Common sense tells me that MY religion is about ME.  That is just dead wrong. It seems true, but it has it backwards,

I am the one that believes my faith.  I am the one that Jesus will bring to heaven with Him.  The two words that make the gospel truly good news really are "for me."  If I don't believe that the goodness and grace of God is available to me and applies to me - in short, that Jesus died for me - then the Gospel is not really good news to me.  Having grasped that, common sense will say that if it is for me, then it is about me.  The truth is, however, that it is all about Jesus.  When I ask the questions like the ones above, I am looking at me, and I am not the one I should be looking at.  I should be looking at Jesus.

Did He really live?  Was He really without sin?  Did He die in my place?  Did He rise from the dead?  Did He promise forgiveness and life and salvation in His name to all that believe?  Did He say that Baptism saves?  Are His true body and blood really present in the Lord's Supper?  Do I receive forgiveness, life and salvation as I eat and drink in the Holy Supper?  Is the Church the body of Christ and the Bride of Christ?  Does He really love me?  Those are the questions I need to ask and answer.  And, by the way, the answer to every single one of them is YES!

I want to live faithfully, but I really need to live in the light of the Gospel, not the shadow of the Law.  I want to be holy in all that I do, because God has made me holy, declared me to be holy, and is pleased when I am holy with His holiness.  Just to keep a rule or two - or two hundred - is not saving; nor is it actually possible.  But with God's grace and blessing, I can live holiness a bit here, and live in forgiveness and grace by His power - and common sense just can't go there.

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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