Fourth Sunday after Easter
May 3, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
In years past iit’s been popular in the question of religion to claim for yourself the label “spiritual but not religious.” By such a claim a person asserts that they are interested in ruminating on spiritual matters, they try to provoke spiritual emotions, they believe in the existence of things above the realm of our senses. But they don’t want their spirituality to take on any definite shape. And they certainly don’t want any outside authority to dictate what shape their various spiritualities must take.
In short they want a spirituality that has nothing to do with the Spirit. Because the Spirit of God is personal. And His job is to convict. To convict is to set forth the truth. In other words, the Spirit is the One outside of and quite apart from yourself who gives a definite shape to spirituality. He does this in three ways: He shows that sin is a matter of unbelief; He shows that righteousness is a matter of Christ; and He shows that the judgment of God will prevail against the judgments of the world. And He does this all because
The Spirit Sets Forth Christ
The first way the Spirit sets forth Christ is by setting forth sin. Not that Christ committed sin, but that He reveals sin for what it truly is. He is the foremost interpreter of the Law—what it means and how it is kept (or broken). Sin, according to Jesus is more than morality. It’s not an arbitrary code of discipline that makes one person better or worse because of their adherence to it. Sin is a matter of faith. Of unbelief, actually. I am speaking the truth to you, Jesus says. It is beneficial for you that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Paraclete will not come to you. If I do go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes, that One will convict the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me (vv 7-9).
Jesus’ first extended commentary on the Law is during His Sermon on the Mount. He dives right into the Law—beginning with the commandments that people are most likely to claim their own righteousness by—and interprets them so that no soul can escape. You shall not murder. You think you’ve not committed murder? Have you gotten angry? Have you called someone a fool? You stand condemned. You shall not commit adultery? You think you’ve been faithful to your wife? Ever let your eyes linger on another woman, thinking in your heart how she’s more desirable than the woman you promised to hold in sickness and in health? You stand condemned.
In the explanation to the First Commandment in the Large Catechism, we learn that if your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. That’s where the Law begins. It begins with faith. Every other commandment is simply a commentary on the first. Instead of calling them the Ten Commandments, we could just as easily call them, “Ten Ways to Have a God Other than the True God.”
Let’s test out that claim? Adultery. Adultery is taking another man’s wife as your own. But God is the one who joins a man and a woman together in holy matrimony. Scripture says it a number of times: God brings the two together into one flesh; what God joins together, let man not separate. Adultery is asserting yourself as your own god over your marriage. Theft. Theft is taking another person’s property. But every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights (Jas 1:17). Theft is asserting yourself as your own god over earthly property. Profaning the Sabbath Day is asserting yourself as your own god over your time. The list goes on. Sin is unbelief as much as unbelief is sin.
Sanctification—living a life according to God’s Law doesn’t begin with discipline. It doesn’t begin with hard work. It begins with faith. It begins with fearing, loving, and trusting God above all things. And that fear, love, and trust extends into all areas of life; contrary to popular public opinion, faith is not just a private issue that only concerns you when you’re shut up in your own closet. Faith informs every area of life.
The Spirit sets forth Christ when He convicts you of sin. He digs deep into your heart, past your manicured outward appearance, past the ethical flaws hiding just under the surface, and He exposes the shameful root cause of your sin—because they do not believe in Me. Repent.
But repentance has two parts. First is contrition. Contrition is sorrow for sins and a recognition that your trust is often misplaced. The second part is faith. If your faith is right, then your God is right. And if your God is right, then you will be right. Because the Spirit also sets forth Christ by convicting the world concerning righteousness; concerning righteousness, Jesus says, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me (v 10).
Faith has a place, and that place is at the Father’s right hand. In theological terms we call this fides quae, or the faith which is believed. It’s not the act of faith, but the object of faith. And in fact, the object of faith must precede the act of faith, or else there is no faith at all.
You know how this works in life. There are certain people in your life that you trust implicitly. The reason why you trust them is because they’ve all demonstrated themselves to be trustworthy. If they make a promise, they keep it. If you need them to be somewhere, they’re there. Similarly, there are also people you don’t trust. Because they’ve demonstrated themselves to be untrustworthy. So faith is created by its object. Faith believes that which proves to be believable.
Jesus Christ has proven Himself to be trustworthy far beyond even your most reliable friend. He has followed through on everything He has said he would do. He went to Jerusalem, was turned over to His accusers, was convicted of crimes He did not commit, was beaten, bloodied, crucified, dead, and buried. And on the third day He rose, just as He said He would. And ascending to His Father in heaven, He completed everything that He promised. He is the Faithful One who is worthy of faith. And faith in Him is a righteous faith, that is, a faith that makes you righteous.
The Spirit speaks concerning righteousness in order to set before you the righteousness of God, Jesus Christ. Trust in Him; He is your righteousness. He has proven Himself to be trustworthy by completing every promise He’s made.
Except one. There is yet a promise that has not been completed. Though a new creation has begun with Christ’s glorious resurrection from the dead, the old creation still remains, hanging on by a desperate finger. But Jesus has promised to come again. It’s a major cog in our confession of faith. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. This is also a testimony, a conviction of the Spirit, and another way that the Spirit of God sets forth Christ for you. He also sets forth Christ by convicting the world concerning judgment, that the ruler of this world is judged.
The judgment of which Jesus speaks and the Spirit proclaims is not being overly critical and condescending, a spiritual elitism that seems to be the default for Christians and their critics alike. When Jesus speaks of judgment in the way He does here, He’s talking about the final judgment, the Last Day, when He returns to bring the old creation to its close, raise the dead, and usher in a new heavens and a new earth.
But in a sense that judgment has already begun. We are living in the overlap of the old creation and the new. The moment that Christ breathed new breath on the third day, a new creation was begun. Christ is the firstfruits of that harvest. But the old remains because the devil still prowls about, the world still carries on more or less as it has since the days of Noah, and the flesh is still corrupt from the first sin.
But the Spirit must supplement His testimony concerning sin and righteousness with a testimony concerning judgment, because a preview of the final judgment has already been given. The ruler of this world has been judged, the deed is done, one little word fells him like lightning from heaven. The devil’s judgment is that he is no longer welcome in the presence of God. He can no longer accuse those in Christ as he accused Job of false righteousness. He is felled by the Spirit’s conviction which is the preaching of the Church.
And for you who have received the conviction of the Spirit, you can be sure that your judgment is not that of this world’s prince, but the King who reigns from the Father’s right hand. For He is your righteousness, and no matter the sins you have committed, you have access to the presence of God through the same righteousness. No matter the sins you commit, if your faith is right, then your God is right.
This is the threefold work of the Spirit. He sets forth Christ before you, speaking the truth of Jesus concerning sin, righteouness, and judgment. He gives you a right faith to find your righteousness in Christ so that you are judged worthy of the gift of life before God.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard