Friday, September 4, 2015

The Church of Jesus Christ Is Pure

"But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” – 1 John 1:7

The Augsburg Confession defines the Church as “the assembly of saints and those who truly believe (Augsburg Confession, Article VIII).” This means that the Church consists only of true believers who have been made to be holy in the innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ through holy baptism. However, the Confession acknowledges that, “in this life many hypocrites and evil people are mixed in with [the true believers]” in our congregations, and that, sometimes, even our pastor or priest may be a hypocrite or an evil person. Therefore, what are you to make of this? How are you to tell whether your fellow parishioners are true believers or hypocrites? How are you to know this about your pastor? How are you to know that you are a true believer yourself?

To put it plainly, that is not your concern. Jesus teaches that His people will be known by their fruits and by their love (John 13:35). Likewise, hypocrites and evil persons will also be known by their fruits that are contrary to the Word and the Commandments of God. However, beyond that, Jesus also teaches that you are not to judge anyone but yourself (Matthew 7:3). But, what about your own faith and holiness? How are you to know if you, yourself, are a true believer and a part of Jesus’ Church? I believe that St. John answers this question well in his first epistle saying, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).”

You see, you do not make yourself to be holy, but you are made to be holy, and you are kept holy, by the blood of Jesus, which cleanses you from all sin. You were made to be holy when you were baptized, but you must be restored to holiness again and again throughout your life as you confess your sins and are absolved. And, you must be kept holy as you hear God’s Word, and as you eat and drink the true body and blood of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.

For, being holy, being a saint, being a member of the body of Christ that is the Church, is an ongoing sort of thing. It is not that you are baptized, and now you’re in, that’s all there is to it, but it is that you are baptized, you are born again of water and the Spirit into a new life, an ongoing life, a life that never ends, a life that is restored and sustained and kept in Jesus through confession and absolution, through regular hearing and eating of the Word of God, and through the faithful eating and drinking of the body and blood of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.

Thus, to be holy, to be a saint, and to be a member of the body of Christ that is the Church is to do all of these things – or, rather, it is to have all of these things done to you throughout your earthly life. It is to have fellowship, koinonia, with one another and to be cleansed in an ongoing and lifelong way by the blood of Jesus.

In these dark and difficult days when the Christian faith, and those who practice it, have lost favor with the popular culture and with the powers that be, you may be tempted to despair and to lose hope. But, you must never lose hope, for your Lord Jesus reigns victorious over sin, death, and Satan in a kingdom that can never fail or fall. Therefore, take refuge in the sanctuary of the holy things of God – His holy Word and blessed Sacraments – within the body of the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, the Church. And, do not succumb to the temptation to believe that baptism is all that it means to be in fellowship with Christ, but ever more fervently hunger and thirst for the fullness and the richness of everything our Lord Jesus died to give you that you might enjoy the fullness of your life together with all the saints in Him who is our Life, Jesus Christ. And, let His life and love flow through you, for your life is His life and your love is His love. Then, they will know that you are His child, when you have love for your brothers and sisters in Christ, for your neighbor, and for all.

And, do not be surprised or perplexed or fearful that the world hates you, for so they hated our Lord Jesus Christ, and you are His: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him (1 John 3:1).” Rather, take comfort that you are the body of Him who has risen from the dead, defeating sin, death, and Satan. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).” That one is God the Father, and He alone.

“The Church of Jesus Christ is pure, and through His Word She shall endure; no other source of life She knows than Him by whom She lives and grows. His Gospel is the pow’r alone that joins Her to His flesh and bone; so, though the world and Satan rage, Christ’s body lives through ev’ry age (Text: Mark A. Preus).”

In the Peace that is Christ Jesus,
+ Pastor Ellingworth

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