Rev. Paul J Cain
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Now Is the Day
First Sunday in Lent, Invocabit, 22 February 2015
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Procrastination. How easy it is to put things off for another day! Procrastination can also be a way to attempt to avoid a problem. It can also be a way to avoid making a decision. Many decisions are time-sensitive. When enough time goes by, the decision is made for you. One day, it will be too late to be saved.
Today, however, is different. Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not urging you to fall for the deception that is called “Decision Theology.” Scripture is clear that we all are dead in our trespasses and sins and are enemies of God. No, there is not enough good in us to reach out to God. He has to reach out to us and has in Christ Jesus. By water and the Word, the Holy Spirit creates faith within us. There is, however, enough bad in us as depraved, fallen, sinful human beings to reject God.
We need clarification on both the word “decision” and a phrase from today’s Epistle, “working together with Him,” in order to avoid the traps of our religious context.
Consider the way Joshua 24:15 is often misquoted: Choose this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."(Joshua 24:15 ESV)
I assert that this restatement of Joshua 24:15 is inadequate and misleading: Choose this day whom you will serve (DOT DOT DOT) But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."(Joshua 24:15 ESV) There is a lot left out in the middle replaced by that DOT DOT DOT. And a significant phrase is left out at the beginning.
Consider the whole verse in context without the DOT DOT DOT: And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15 ESV)
You get to choose only "if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord." And then, your choice is between one set of pagan gods or another set of pagan gods. Because it is NOT evil to serve the Lord, Joshua declares, "But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." This is not a text to support our choosing to be saved. Jesus did it all: It is finished!
In John 15, Jesus says, 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Also, Ephesians 2 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV).
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Much of the misunderstanding of Scripture like today’s Epistle text can be traced back to the mid 1800’s and the popular revivalist preacher Charles Grandison Finney. This isn’t a history lesson, so I’ll keep this reference short. Finney’s goal was good—he wanted there to be more Christians. Unfortunately, he rejected the idea that God worked through His Word and Sacraments.
Using something called the “anxious seat” or “anxious bench” he pressured people to make a rational decision to become a Christian, something a person cannot do according to the Bible. Today, all across conservative Christianity, we can see altar calls, recommended prayers to pray for new Christians asking Jesus to come into one’s heart, and other marks of “decision theology.”
As I said before with Finney, the intention and goal of Christians who believe this way is good. They are zealous for new Christians, new converts. The error is twofold. First, such a mindset denies how Scripture says people are brought to faith. That’s serious business. Second, such beliefs attribute to human beings something that they cannot do, something contrary to Scripture. As a result, some people who “decide for Christ” often doubt later if they were sincere enough. Others fall away from the church after the emotional high wears off.
God has given us ways that He has promised to work. He has promised to use such ways. God gave His word to the Church to convict people of their sin and to give them hope. This is the work of the Law and the Gospel.
Scripture is clear that we all are dead in our trespasses and sins and are enemies of God. No, there is not enough good in us to reach out to God. He has to reach out to us and has in Christ Jesus. By water and the Word, the Holy Spirit creates faith within us. There is, however, enough bad in us as depraved, fallen, sinful human beings to reject God.
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
There is an even simpler solution to what “working together with him” means. It doesn’t mean that we work together with God to save ourselves. Look for the subject and verb of the sentence. They come later. “We” is the subject. “Appeal” is the verb. Who does Paul mean by “we”? In chapter one of 2 Corinthians, Paul refers to himself and Timothy. TSLB: As an apostle and ambassador of Jesus Christ, Paul was in essence God’s co-worker (cf 1:1; 5:19). Paul and Timothy were entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation in Christ, just as pastors today are entrusted with the same message of reconciliation in Christ. The phrase “working together with Him” does not refer to any “work” by the Christian or the unconverted in converting themselves or making a decision to be saved. Paul and Timothy are the ones “working together” with God to get God’s message out.
Paul quotes from Isaiah 49, a portion of Scripture that speaks to the spiritual restoration of Israel. Many had fallen away. The Lord had preserved a faithful remnant. Now, Paul calls all who hear his message to repentance and faith. Now is the day. Do not procrastinate about your spiritual future.
Procrastination is not the only threat to salvation. False theology is an insidious evil. In addition, spiritual warfare is real and serious. Persecution continues, even today.
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. Consider what trouble Paul had to suffer to proclaim that message to his original hearers. He tried to avoid misunderstandings. He could not avoid persecution. He had to put up with slander, threats to his life, punishment, sorrow, and utter poverty. Yet Paul, the true witness, lives and proclaims the living Christ in joy that you may have the riches of life everlasting.
Persecution continues. The news is daily filled with horrific accounts and even more horrific video of atrocities committed by ISIS, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The group’s original name was al Qaeda in Iraq, but they were forced to change it because Osama bin Laden thought their tactics were too brutal. And many are illegal even according to Sharia Law. And they are just one of the groups persecuting Christians, other non-Muslim minority religious groups, and Muslims they disagree with.
Dave Grossman tells of a conversation between himself and an old war veteran: “…the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial. “Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”
Bearing the sword is a responsibility of civil government according to Romans 13. Civil governments around the world have the God-given vocation to protect their citizens from threats that are external and internal. If recent atrocities by ISIS do not spur the world to unite against them to defeat them, what will it take? In 1 Timothy 2, St. Paul calls for us to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” That is now familiar language to us, especially after seeing it in traditional prayers. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Yes, we are given to be at peace with one another according to Ephesians 4. Yet, if others will not be at peace with us, self-defense is justified.
In spiritual self-defense, our defenses are the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6). Our only offensive weapon is the sword of the spirit, the Word of God.
Paul’s appeal is quite personal and urgent: Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Heed God’s Word. Be equipped for the spiritual battles yet to come.
This text reminds me of the spiritual application of “The Sheep Dog” to pastors, a quote shared by a friend of ours: We offer ourselves, one way or another, to try to work for God. We want, as it were to be among the sheep dogs employed by the Lord Shepherd. Have you ever watched a good sheep dog at work? He is not an emotional animal. He goes on with his job quite steadily; takes no notice of bad weather, rough ground or of his own comfort. He seldom or never stops to be stroked. Yet his faithfulness and intimate communion with his master are the loveliest things in the world. Now and then he looks at the shepherd. And when the time comes for rest, they are generally to be found together. Let this be the model of your love.
Evelyn Underhill (#219, p. 356) as cited in the Minister’s Prayer Book by Doberstein (1986).
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
The old evil foe called the devil or Satan is cunning. He uses others for his own sinister purposes. Whether those others are witting or unwitting pawns of the old evil foe is not always readily obvious.
It is very clear from all of our Scripture texts for the First Sunday in Lent that the threat is real. The old evil foe takes his opportunity to lure you away from the Lord very seriously. He desires to keep you away from the Lord, His Word, His sacramental gifts of the forgiveness of sins, and fellow faithful Christians for as long as he can, if possible, forever.
Know this: Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. Jesus, true God and true man, our only Savior, has defeated sin, death, and Satan for all time. The threat is real, but dangerous only outside of Christ and His strength, His Gifts, and His protection. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.