Are you tired of feeling guilty from sin?
Do you stay up late tossing and turning because of something wrong you did?
Do you struggle with guilt and anxiety about what God will do to you?
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That’s right folks now you can have the assurance that your sins are forgiven on this certificate looking paper!
Display it in your living room.
Over your sofa.
On your desktop and work.
…and viola – proof that you have God’s forgiveness.
What’s that? A produce like this might cost millions? Usually it would. But now it can be yours for one easy payment of $49.95. That’s $49.95 for forgiveness assurance of up to 100 sins!
Are you heavy sinner? No worries. Get the deluxe edition for only $99.95 and double your sin count.
Need more for next month? With our new app -- you can set up recurring payments so that an indulgence will be sent to your home without having to think about it.
Want to gift one for a relative? These make great Christmas presents for the ornery teenager in your house.
And if you are order right now – we’ll throw in this mini certificate of forgiveness – good up to 10 free swear word sins – absolutely FREE!
So what are your waiting for?
Get your indulgence and get on the road to a guilt-free existence!
Because that sounded ridiculous.
Even made up.
Surely, that’s never really happened, right?
500 years ago, that’s exactly what was happening.
500 years ago, people were eating this up.
500 years ago, this ridiculous practice was the only thing that made sense.
Today we’re celebrating the Reformation – a time when God used a simple monk to reform these ideas and return the truth to the truth about forgiveness. Our goal in this sermon is: (1) learn why this buying God’s forgiveness isn’t as archaic and ridiculous as it sounds (2) see from Scripture why it’ll never work and (3) learn about the only way to know true forgiveness. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Heart of the Problem
Let’s do a bit of church history. Leo X was pope in Rome. He was the head of the only Christian organization that was in existence in the early 16th century – the Roman Catholic church. And…he was getting short on money. Under his reign, he had plans to build a Cathedral – St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – a beautiful piece of architectural to help people reflect on God (and how awesome Pope Leo X was).
The problem? He had run out of money. The Medici family, who had been funding the construction of the incredible building, stopped funding the incredible building. Leo was stuck. How would he finish his basilica? How would he finish his building?
The answer was the indulgence. Pieces of paper signed by the Pope guaranteeing the buyer forgiveness for a certain number of sins. The proceeds? They would go to fund the unfinished basilica project under the following guise:
It is by INDULGENCES that you are saved.
Sound shady? It is.
Surely no one would fall fort it, right?
Enter Johann Tetzel. He might not look like much, but he was essentially the ShamWow guy of 16th century Europe. He was an infomercial king! He was a skilled orator and skilled salesmen. He would travel into towns. He’d set up shop. He’d start doing his best informercial:
Buy you’re indulgence now and you won’t have to pay for your sin in hell later.
If you aren’t worried about your sin, what about your dead Aunt Flo? What if she’s stuck in hell and this piece of paper is what springs her to heaven?
LOOK! The Pope guaranteed it. It must be true!
And Tetzel sold.
And people bought.
And people were convinced that it was by INDULGENCES that they were saved.
But...to be fair, this really isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds.
Husbands, have you ever forgotten an important event with your wife? Maybe an anniversary or a birthday or an anniversary of the first time that you ate at an Italian restaurant? What do you do? You buy some flowers, do the dishes, give his wife a massage and hope that after a few days of doing that – everything is ok.
Naturally people assume that is how it works with God. “I’ve done wrong, but I’ll just do some good things to make up for the bad things and tip the eternal scales in my favor.” It’s not surprising then that the Catholic church in the 16th century taught a version of this in their churches: It is by WORKS that you are saved.
And suddenly everyone is playing a divine game of addition and subtraction. “Let’s see. I opened the door with prayer (that’s good), but then I was rude to my wife (bad). I helped an old lady across the street (good), but I told my friends that she smelled (bad). I listened to my wife (good), but really, I was just thinking about the football game the whole time (bad).
Well, if you do this long enough you’ll realize one very important thing:
There is no peace in the spiritual balancing game of good works.
Because that was good. I think.
And that was wrong. I think.
And that was good, but then I got angry in the middle of it and ended up with more sin when I started than I had to begin with!
So what people needed was an improvement.
They needed something that was bigger.
Something that was worth more.
Something that could really outweigh sin.
Enter the church with another idea and another adjective: It is by CHURCH WORKS that you are saved.
Kinda like the Power Rangers – a bigger, better power.
The bigger better power for 16th century people was the “church work”.
Say the Lord’s prayer 10 times a day for forgiveness.
Say the Lord’s prayer in the church 10 times a day for extra forgiveness.
Buy a picture of Jesus and say the Lord’s prayer in front of that in the church for extra, extra forgiveness.
Because of this theological theory, men became monks. Women became nuns. Men took vows of silence and women took vows of celibacy. People everywhere listened to whatever the priest told them to do: Cross themselves – say 10 Hail Mary’s – hold onto a rosary real tight – even…buy an indulgence….
And suddenly, we’re back where we started. The indulgence wasn’t crazy. It was just the grossest abuse of human idea of works righteousness.
The idea that works are what save you.
An idea --- might I add – that hasn’t left us in the 21st century.
An idea – might I add – that hasn’t left the church in the 21st century.
An idea – might I add – that might not have left us.
II. The Truth about Works Righteousness
You’ve got your bulletins in your folder. There should be a blank spot. Here’s a quick question that I want you to answer. You have 30 seconds to answer.
Will you be in heaven? And if so, why?
What was your answer?
I’m a good person.
I try really hard.
I’m better than that guy.
If that was your answer, what are you basing heaven on? Yourself. Your works. Cause – that’s the exact same thing the church was telling people to do.
And maybe your answer is more sophisticated. And you said: I’m not just a good person, I serve at a church. I’ve been an usher for years. That’s how I know I’m going to heaven.
But isn’t that just basing your faith on church works? Are they really any better?
And maybe you’ve gone all the way and thought: But I gave 10% of my income at this church for years. Look at the 3rd hymnal from the front. Inside is MY Family’s name! I paid for it. And I know I’ll be in heaven because of it.
AKA – I know it, because of my indulgence.
This whole works righteousness thing is not a 16th century thing.
Because it’s a human thing.
It’ll always be around.
And it’ll always be wrong.
Because here’s what the Bible has to say about our works:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. (Ephesians 2:1)
Notice what the Bible calls us: dead. Obviously, not physically, because here we are. But spiritually dead. Think about what it means that we are spiritually dead. It means we were motionless. It means we were rotting. It means we were decomposing.
And it means we couldn’t do…anything.
Because just this past week I saw a dead squirrel on the side of the road.
Do you know what it was doing? Nuttin. (Get it?)
Bad joke aside – dead things don’t do anything.
Dead things can’t do anything.
Spiritually dead human beings cannot do anything toward spiritual salvation.
Yesterday, I was at the Food Bank. We were sorting donations of sweet potatoes. And some of them were disgusting. They were filled with mold. They were rotting. They were squishy at the touch.
And I was thinking – even the best cooks couldn’t make anything good with that stuff. If you took those rotten sweet potatoes home and mixed them and baked them and put them into the oven and made sweet potato pie -- it would still taste awful.
That’s the reality of being dead in sin – even our best – is still rotten to the core. It’s selfish. It’s done for our own sake. It’s done so that I feel good and I get closer to heaven, not simply because I love that person.
Which means we don’t earn heaven.
The only thing we have earned with our works?
We were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3)
Because our works are tainted by sin.
Because we are tainted by sin.
Because we are dead in sin.
And God hates sin.
To put it simply – It is by works you CANNOT BE saved.
III. The Truth About What Saves
Which is devastating.
Especially if you’ve been basing your whole eternity on your own good works.
That’s what Martin Luther had done.
Martin Luther was a 16th century man. He had gone to school to be a lawyer. He had learned that wrong was wrong and that wrong deserved punishment.
And he knew he had done wrong…and deserved punishment.
And so, he tried to do good works! But even when he did the good works he did so with a heart that hated God for making him do the good works --- thus spoiling the good works – and leaving him in worse straights than before.
So, he became a monk! He did a church work. But that didn’t help. The vows of silence didn’t keep his thoughts from sin. The time alone didn’t keep his thoughts form hating others.
So, he heard of indulgences! And he saw a promise of heaven. And he saw that with a simple paper he could have guilt removed.
And he thought - this is crazy!
And he thought – this can’t be the way!
And he thought – I wonder what the Bible has to say about this.
Now remember – back then the Bible wasn’t available in thousands of languages via a cell phone app.
It was written in 3 languages – (Hebrew, Greek and Latin) and it was only at the monastery chained to a wall. So, for centuries people just accepted whatever priests told them because they didn’t know any better.
They accepted work righteousness, because they didn’t know any better.
But when Luther was in the monastery he no longer had to accept it.
He could read it for himself.
And what he found was vastly different from what was being taught:
Because of God’s great love or us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ – even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Did you see that?
It’s not works righteousness at all. But something entirely different.
It says: God made us alive with Christ! It makes sense. We were dead – dead can’t do anything. Dead definitely can’t bring itself back to life.
But you know who could? How about the guy who made Jairus dead daughter sit up?
How about the guy who made a young man in a coffin stand on his feet?
How about the guy who made Lazarus dead in the grave for 4 days come walking out like he was just checking the place out on House Hunters?
How about the guy who said: “Kill me and I’ll come back to life,” so they killed him and then – he came back to life?
God made us alive with Christ! He gave us spiritual life by paying God’s wrath. He died. He suffered the payment for our sin. He suffered the complete payment for our sin!
And if you’re thinking: “But my sins are pretty big,” look at what it says here: God is rich in mercy. He’s a tycoon. He’s a gazillionaire of mercy. He has so much that it covers completely the payment for your sin! It covers completely the payment for your little sins. It covers completely the payment for your big, nasty, ugly sins that you hope no one else finds out about.
It's like Scrooge McDuck. Remember him from Duck Tales? He had this gigantic 40-story tower that he filled with gold coins. He had so many gold coins that he would put on a swim suit and go swimming in his wealth.
That’s God and his mercy. He’s swimming in mercy. He doles out that mercy to you through Jesus Christ.
But, pastor, surely, he only gives that out to the people he likes.
Surely, he only gives it out to the people who do church things.
Surely, he only gives it out to the people who do enough good church things.
Look at the passages again: Because of his God’s great love for us.
It doesn’t say: “Because we did enough good works.”
It doesn’t say: “Because we served enough cookies at church…”
It doesn’t say: “Because I said enough Hail Mary’s OR memorized the Lord’s prayer…”
It doesn’t say: “Because I gave enough money…”
Because of God’s great love.
Because he loved you.
Because he wanted to save you.
Because he loved you, he died and paid the ultimate price to save you.
It changes our salvation equation.
God’s not telling you to pay for his love.
God’s telling you that he already paid it for you:
It is by GRACE you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God! (Eph. 2:8)
And Martin Luther? When he read this, it changed his life.
His guilt was removed.
His conscience was unburdened.
He was free.
So…On October 31st, 1517. He marched through the streets of Wittenberg. He pulled his cloak close to his nose.
He marched right up to the main doors of the castle church – the big castle church – the church that thousands attended – the doors that thousands passed.
He marched up.
He knew he’d get in some trouble.
But he also knew Jesus had gotten him out of worse trouble.
So, he pounded.
He pounded a list calling out the false teaching of indulgences and the false practices of the church.
His goal? Bring people back to the truth.
Bring people back to God’s grace.
Here we are 500 years later.
God’s grace is still the truth.
God’s grace is still what saves.
Jesus died for you.
Brothers and sisters, may we return to GRACE and NEVER leave. Because it is by grace we have been saved! Amen.
I’m from Wisconsin. I love the Green Bay Packers and I try to never miss a game.
But we live in North Carolina. The Packers aren’t always on television. So I have to be creative. I can go to a sports bar – I can make friends with those who have an NFL ticket – or I can sneak a peek through someone’s back window.
One time I was feeling a bit sick and I didn’t want to go out. So I opened up my computer and I typed into Google, “WATCH PACKERS ONLINE FOR FREE.” Sure enough – a link popped up right away with that exact phrase, “WATCH PACKERS ONLINE FOR FREE.” I clicked on it.
I was taken to a “kind of shady" looking website where there wasn’t a lot of punctuation and every letter was lowercased, but right in the middle was a big flashing GREEN button that said, “WATCH FREE HERE!” Again – I clicked. This time an ad popped up, “Complete 2 of 3 offers for access to the game.” The offers? Sign up for two year subscription to a magazine; buy $20 of stuff at Home Depot OR take a 45 minute survey for a clinical trial.
FREE isn’t so FREE, is it?
That was for watching a Packer game. How much do you think heaven costs? How much do you think forgiveness costs? What about peace, eternal life, and victory for your soul?
I. Salvation Can’t Be Bought
Romans 2:6 says this, “God will repay each according to what he has done.” You get paid what you have earned. If you work 4 hours, you get paid for 4 hours. If you work 8 hours, you get paid for 8 hours. If you work on commission, you get paid for the work you did.
Romans is saying, “if you want salvation, you’ve gotta earn it.”
Ever heard of UBER? It’s a phone app that allows you to request a ride from just about anywhere. Only uber isn’t a taxi service, it simply alerts people who have signed up to be Uber drivers that you need to be picked up and moved from point A to point B.
Being an UBER driver sounds pretty sweet. You get paid for gas and for the time spent in the car driving person from A to B. Once more people use this service, I imagine you can live in and this becomes a full time job. But – if you live in the outskirts, Concord OR Rolesville – probably not a full time job. You probably aren’t as busy.
What does it take then to get heaven?
How much do you have to do to earn salvation?
How many hours do you have to put in?
Take a look at Romans 2:7 “Those who persist in doing good will be given eternal life.” Notice that word persist. That means “To continue in.” There’s no qualifier in this sentence. It doesn’t say, “Persist for a while.” “Persist for a week.” “Persist for a month.” Nope. It simply says, “Persist.”
As in, “All the time.”
Sound easy enough? Just do good, speak good, and think good all the time.
But, I gotta ask, do you even think you’ll persist in good until noon? As you’re leaving, will you fight over the radio? “I want Justin Bieber – but my NFL game is starting.” Will you argue over lunch? Swear at the first turnover during your football game? Lust as the cameras pans in on the cheerleaders? Or dream about the guy next door doing yard work with his shirt off? Yell at the kids, not because they’re doing anything wrong, but because they’re annoying you. Call up your mom to bad mouth your sister and have enough glasses of wine that the room starts to spin.
Honestly – we might not even persist in doing good the rest of this church service. We might see someone and start thinking about how much we hate them. We might ignore the sermon because we want to check out our fantasy stats. We might gossip with the person next to us during the sermon because, “Did you see how ornery those kids were?”
Let’s be honest. We haven’t persisted in doing good. We can’t persist in doing good. We don’t quality for receiving eternal life.
What then? What do we do if we haven’t done persistent good, but instead we’ve done sin? Romans 6:23 explains it very simply, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s Halloween weekend. Did you see anything scary? Miniature witches? An exorbitant amount of spider webs? My neighbors have a scarecrow that’s motion censored and moves when you get close. (I didn’t get scared at all. I promise.)
But Halloween’s not that scary. Afterall, it’s pretend. That Romans passage? It is. It mentions death. It talks about eternal separation. It mentions the hellfire wrath of God against sin.
I can understand if you don’t want to believe it. It’s a terrifying thing to be true. But just because it’s terrifying, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Sin is scary and the wages of in is scary.
Ask Martin Luther. He was a 16th century monk. Martin Luther was terrified of God. He understood sin. He understood that a Good God MUST hate sin; therefore, Martin would try to soothe God’s anger. He would lock himself in a dark tower. He’d beat himself. He’d starve himself. He’d pay money to the priests earn forgiveness.
Yet he knew it wasn’t working. He knew he was still persisting in bad. He knew he was earning death.
Then, Martin got to studying the Bible for himself. He learned Greek and Hebrew so that he could read the Bible in its original languages. When he did, what he found shocked him.
Here for instance. Read the entirety of Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”
Every birthday party – there are always some gifts you look forward to and others that you can do without, right? Grandmas’ gifts? Awesome. She’d give you a Nintendo game or a sweet book. Mom? She always knew exactly what you wanted. Crazy Aunt sally? She'd knit two pairs of socks that didn’t match because she ran out of the color yarn she was using.
Look at who is giving a gift in Romans 6. It’s God! The divine Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t run out of yarn. He owns all things. He has an unlimted supply of everything.
What he gave – is even better than one of those cards with cash in it – God give something that lasts forever. He gifted us eternal life in Christ Jesus.
This wasn’t cheap for God. Notice he gave us eternal life in Christ Jesus. Eternal life was so costly, so expensive, that God had to give up the life of his one and only, persisting in doing good, never sinned once, holy in every way Son.
And this was hard. Jesus endured nails through his hands. He endured thorns pressed into his head. He endured a slow painful death on a cross.
But he stayed up there. He stayed up there because he loved you too much. He stayed up there to save you. He stayed up there, because you couldn’t pay for salvation. He stayed up there because he could. He stayed up there because salvation MUST BE A GIFT!
Three day later, what happened to him? He came back to life. He rose from the dead. He didn’t die trying to win you a gift, but he came back to life triumphant because he had had!
Look at the result. Romans 3:24 says this, “We are justified freely by God’s grace in Jesus.” Justified is a courtroom term. It’s legal speak. It means, “Not guilty,” or, “Innocent.” “Forgiven.”
It means that when God is judging you, God remembers Jesus. He says, “This one persisted in doing good, give him eternal life!”
The devil objects, “Didn’t you see it? Didn’t you watch this person’s life? The porn use. The time he cheated on his wife. The time he stole money at work. The lies. The guilt. The greed. The anger. God – it’s all over this person. Don’t you see how sinful they are?!”
And God? “No.”
This is grace. It’s a gift – an eternal, incredible, divine gift from God to you!
But, here’s the thing. The devil didn’t convince God that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough; so the devil will try to convince you. “That Pastor is foolish. Grace might work for that Wally Cleaver over there, but not you. Jesus isn’t enough. Grace isn’t enough. You need to do better. You need to earn your salvation. You need to get better – which you’ll never do – so you might as well give up!”
Romans 11:6, “If it is by grace, then it is not by works; for it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
In the back of church, there are a bunch of free Bibles. Guests, please take one. If anyone else wants one to take to a friend or coworker, go for it.
Now, if we had someone back by the Bible with a cash register and one of those little card swiper thingies who said, “That’ll be $5.” Then, we can’t say “Come get your gift.” It’s not a gift. Even if the Bibles cost a penny OR sign up to be a member in our church, then it wouldn’t be a gift.
Same thing with salvation. It is a gift. It’s yours by faith. It’s yours without having to earn it. It’s your by grace alone.
Now what? Believe it. Don’t leave this gift behind. Experience its benefits.
Like the Philippian Jailer. Do you know that story?
There had just been an earthquake. As the dust settled and the landscape calmed, the insides of the jailer became a jumbled mess. “Shoot. Did the prisoners get out? Are they getting away? If they do, where should I go? The Romans will kill me. If they do, who will look after my family? Who will pay for their food? How much longer do I have to live? When I die, where will I go? How will I face God? Will it be peaceful? Or will I be punished?"
The jailer ran to the cell. Hoping – praying that they were still closed. Hoping – praying that the men were still in them. Hoping – praying that he would get to keep his life.
As he turned the corner, his heart dropped. He saw a cell door – wide open.
With tears streaming his face, the flickering light of the one remaining candlestand revealed that all of the cell doors had been busted open. His shook his head in disbelief. This was a disaster. There was no reason to remain. No reason to face his employers. No reason to live.
He unsheathed his sword. He took a deep breath….and…
“Don’t do it!” A voice shouted, “We are all here.”
The jailer opened his eyes. He followed the voice. There he saw the man called Paul in the corner. He was some sort of religious guy. He had the others prisoners gathered around him in prayer. He had been singing praises to God. He was smiling.
The jailer didn’t know a lot about him, but right now…right now that didn’t matter. His life had just flashed before his eyes and he hated what he saw. Now only one question went through his mind:
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Maybe he was expecting some incredible answer. Maybe he was expecting “Increase your giving to the temple.” Maybe he was expecting, “Improve your morality.” Maybe he was expecting, “You can’t; it costs too much.”
But that wasn’t what he heard. It wasn’t what Jesus taught. Paul replied, “Believe in Jesus and be baptized.”
In other words: “Trust in God’s grace. Receive his gracious promises." God did it all!
You do the same. We are saved by grace alone. Amen.
15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
2 Thessalonians 2:15-17
Daniel held it in his hands.
An edict. Signed by the King. “No man was to pray to any god or man, other than the king. The penalty for breaking this law? A night in a den filled with hungry lions.”
It was scary. What was Daniel to do? Would he abandon his God? Would he change his traditions? Would he break the very first commandment that his mother had taught him, “You shall have no other gods,” and worship the king? If he didn’t, he would certainly die. The deal had been sealed with the king’s ring. It was irrepealable.
What should he hold on to: His life or God’s Word?
Luther held it in his hands.
A demand had been made by the Holy Roman Emperor. “Recant your writings or you will be excommunicated. You will not be in the church. You will be rejected. Your writings burned, and with the power of the state in our corner, you will be an outlaw. Arrested. Convicted."
What should he do? Should he go against his conscience? Should he go against God’s Word? If he didn’t, he would face imprisonment…or worse…death! It wasn’t unlike the Emperor to have heretics burned at the stake. Should he suffer the same fate?
What should he hold on to: His life or God’s Word?
Have you held it in your hands too?
Maybe it’s on an iPhone. Maybe it’s the headline of a newspaper: The definition of marriage has been changed. Evolution is preached as fact. Mentioning Jesus in a grade school can get you into more trouble than dropping an F bomb. Your friends storm any Facebook message mentioning Jesus, call you an ‘idiot’, and threaten to UNFRIEND you.
What should you do? You know the Bible. You know what it says. You know what this cross up here means. But if you hold on to it, you could be ridiculed, mocked, unfriended, even despised! The more transparent you are about your faith in today’s society, the more it will change your life – and not for the better!
What should you hold on to: Your life or God’s Word?
Before you make a decision, because I’m sure you’ve heard the world’s opinion on what you should do already. Could you take 10 minutes and consider what God’s would have you do? He created you. He died for you. It may be worth a look to see what the One who loves you more than anything would have you do.
Take a look at 2 Thessalonians 2 and hear God out as to why you should hold on to His Word. It says, “Brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
Now you might say, “God wants me to do that? That’s a little strong. Isn’t the author Paul? Wasn’t Paul a man? Isn’t he just recommending that we hold on to his teachings? How is that teaching special? Why should I hold on to it? Why is it any more special than Gandhi's or Buddha's?”
It’s like trying to figure out whose word to trust more: Kay Hagan or Thom Tillis. My mail tells me that Thom Tillis hates kids. And I believe it. Until I read the next piece of mail that tells me Kay Hagan hates kids.
How are you supposed to know?
In the same vein, what makes Paul’s teachings and the teachings of the Bible so important that I should hold on to them?
Do you know who the main figure in the Bible is? It’s Jesus. Remember last week, many struggled with why they should trust Jesus. But Jesus was not short of reasons to do so:
Give me some reasons not to trust Jesus and I’ll give you hundreds more to trust him. (Or just one really good one!) Jesus was God! No one else ever did the things he did. No one else ever taught the things he did. And what he taught is recorded in this book. It is God’s Word.
God’s Word backs up it’s claims for truth with divine miracles of incredible proportions and thousands of witnesses to the works of the central figure of it’s story: Jesus Christ. Why would you doubt it? Why not believe? Hold on to His Word!
Of course, it’s very easy for us to misread this passage. It’s easy for our sinful mind to warp God’s command here and make us think we are holding onto God’s Word, when we are really holding onto something else entirely. Here are just a few of the pitfalls:
1) Your Desires. This is a common sentiment into the world today. “God loves you. He couldn’t possibly ask you to do anything that would make you feel bad. So anytime you see the Bible telling you to do something different than what makes you feel good, just ignore it."
But defining truth by your desires is a terrible way to define truth:
Think of your kids. On Halloween, did they stay up late on Halloween night? Maybe you were on a candy rush and watching It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on the TV. When you looked at them and the clock that said “two hours past normal bedtime,” plus the whiny voice that they had, did you say, “They can’t be tired, because they told me they didn’t feel tired.”
Or try this. Take a look at the color shirt you are wearing. Say you think that it’s white. Now ask your coworker what color he thinks it is. If he says, “hot pink” is he wrong? What if he says, “green with yellow polka dots.” If he feels that’s the color, does that mean that is the color it is?
Of course not.
Feelings and desires are not truth. Not in mundane things like colors of clothing. Certainly they aren’t Divine Truth either. So stop holding to your own desires instead of God’s Word.
This is a second things we substitute into 2 Thessalonians 2. We love to “hold on to tradition.” This was a huge problem in the Catholic church at Luther’s time. They valued tradition over God’s Word. Tradition was that whatever the Pope said was truth. What the pope said was that you could literally buy your way out of purgatory and into forgiveness, even while you provided the church with a good way to make some money and build a brand new facility.
But tradition is not always God’s Word.
Of course, this isn’t just a 16th century problem. It has modern applications. We need to be careful that we don’t say,
§ “I go to church, because I always have; not because I think it’s true.”
§ “I’m Catholic because my family is, I know they don’t teach God’s Word, but I don’t want to abandon tradition.
§ “I can’t go to church to learn God’s Word, because traditionally I sleep or I work on Sundays.”
Tradition is not truth. It’s not even divine truth. So don’t hold onto it like it is!
3) Your Desires Disguised as Tradition.
Sometimes the last two combine in our minds to produce a brand new thing to hold on to. This happens especially among long time church goers. We like to hold onto desires disguised as tradition. For example,
“That’s not the right size of cookie to serve after church. I don’t like it. I’ll tell that person: You can’t serve that.”
“That’s not my favorite kind of music to hear in church. It must be from the devil.”
“That’s not the normal way of filling out a council report. I need to give that newbie a piece of my mind so they never do it again.”
Isn’t it interesting? We get angry and upset with a fellow, active church member for serving in the church in a slightly different way than we’re used to, but when a relative or friend is openly living in sin against God’s Word, we think, “No big deal. That’s just the way this world is.”
How sad. Again: your desires disguised as tradition are not God’s Word!
4) Your Pride.
This leads to the most dangerous substitution. In fact, this one is related to the other three. It is the foundation of the other three. Pride.
Humans love to hold on to pride. It was the problem for the king who told everyone to bow down to him. It was the problem for the church at the time of the Reformation. They didn’t want to hear what God’s Word said about them. They didn’t want to hear that they were sinners. They didn’t want to hear that their good works were nothing before God. They didn’t want to hear that God demanded perfection and couldn’t be bought back with a few dollars to the visible church leaders.
This is the same dangerous thinking that can attack you today:
“I don’t need Jesus. I’m a pretty good person on my own and I’m sure God’s cool with me.”
“I don’t need to repent, this sin isn’t that bad and even if it is, I’ve done plenty of other things good in my life to make up for it.”
“I can’t turn to the Bible for salvation. I never have before and I don’t want to admit that I’m wrong. Mostly because I’m never wrong.”
But your pride isn’t God’s Word. In fact, it is only in the way of God’s Word. It’s the very thing that God’s Word doesn’t want you to hold on to at all. Because pride says you can save yourself. Pride says that’s traditionally how I’ve thought. Pride says I desire to be able to save myself, so it must be truth.
But God says differently. If you hold to your desires, tradition or pride over against God’s Word, that doesn’t make it truth!
It just makes God angry.
Imagine for a moment facing God at the end of your life. What will you say to him for all of those times that you totally and completely disobeyed him and went against him because you didn’t feel like it or you didn’t think you needed to listen?
I don’t want to find out either.
So listen again to 2 Thessalonians 2: Hold on to God’s Word.
II. Why Hold on to the Word?
At my home up in my top dresser drawer is a little chest. Inside this chest, is a little tie tack. It is a tad tarnished. There’s a picture of a Ford truck on it. It isn’t worth all that much money on eBay. I have shinier looking tie tacks and more modern looking ways to wear my tie. Why do I hold on to it?
It came from someone special. My grandpa. Maybe you have something similar. Something special because it was given by someone special.
This is the first reason to hold on to God’s Word. Because it comes from God! Verse 16 says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our father…gave this.” They gave you his Word. It is a gift from the divine, incredible, world making, universe shaking, Creator of the universe to you, came down to do die on the cross, so you wouldn’t have to spend eternity in hell, God given to you!
Why would you throw it away as a tarnished relic that holds no value in modern society? Instead hold on to it as it actually is: A divine book of love written to you by your Father above! In this book he gives you the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. He gives you his life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of peace with God.
Verse 16 adds to the benefits: “God… gave us eternal encouragement.” Eternal means unending. It means that it always lasts.
Now your desires may change. Punk Rock may no longer be your favorite type of music to listen to and your favorite kind of Dorito might change from Nacho Cheese to Cool Ranch.
Same thing with traditions. It probably takes only one year of not finding the Pickle on the Christmas tree for you to forget all about it.
And pride only lasts as long as you are foolish enough to believe it. You can be proud that you are so good at basketball until you try out for the high school team and get cut. Then, your pride is gone.
But God’s Word? That lasts forever.
Think about it. If you open Colossians 2:13 in your Bibles, it will still say, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins."
Ok close it. If you open up today after you read an article online about how the Bible isn’t true, God’s Word will still say, "Christ died for sin." If you get addicted to a sin, but then stumble upon it months from now it still says, “Christ died for sin.” If you ignore God’s Word for years, but after lots of goading and ‘pestering’ you join us at church and the pastor just happens to be preaching on this passage, it will still say, “Christ died for sin.” If all the Bibles in America were destroyed, but a friend came to you in a conversation at night and said, “Christ died for your sin,” it’d still be true!
Because God’s Word is forever. Put your hope in it. Hold on to it!
It will provide you with “Good hope.” Because without the Word of God, what would your hope be?
“I hope to have a family and get a good job…until I die then maybe I’ll impress God with my life. I don’t know. I hope. I think. I’m not sure. I hope God isn’t real because then I’m in trouble and I hope hell doesn’t hurt all that bad.”
That’s hope? Not so much. Not when compared to the true and real hope that God’s Word gives us. It’s nothing compared to the good hope of forgiveness that the prophets promise you when it says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds you are healed” (Isaiah 53:5-6). It’s hope of eternal salvation from your sins when God’s Word says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life!” (Jn. 3:16) It’s the hope that comes from Jesus’ promise, “In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it weren’t so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And then I will come back to take you there with me.”
Finally, this eternal encouragement and good hope strengthens our hearts – which in turn – strengthens you in every good deeds and word.
Let’s go back to Daniel. Know what happened to him? He went to his room and prayed like always. He didn’t care if he was thrown into the Lion’s Den. He held on to God’s Word. God kept him safe through the night and he brought the good news of our saving God to the King! He’s in heaven now.
Know what happened to Martin Luther? He came back the next day and confessed, “It is not wise to go against God. So…here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.” God kept him safe for a long period of time and Luther brought the saving news of God’s grace to many people! He’s in heaven now.
Know what will happen to you? If you hold on to God’s Word, you will find comfort. You will hear of the awesome power of God. You will hear of your Savior's dying love for you. You will be reminded of your God who died but then rose from the dead for you!
Besides. All this talk about having to give up your life to hold on to God's Word is a misnomer.
Jesus said, "I am the Life. Whoever believes in me, will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me, will never die." (Jn. 11:25-26)
Because, when you hold on to God’s Word, the truth is, God is holding on to you. Amen.