Sermons > 2014 -Aug 17, 2014, Belief and Confession
"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." This is what Paul says today in Romans chapter 10 verse 9. Mouth and heart are meant to be understood together. You say what you believe. That's consistency, right? If someone says something they don't believe it sounds deceitful. If someone believes in something they don't say, it sounds like they're hiding the truth. Mouth and heart go together.
Now see, what we're really talking about here is the understanding of private and public. The belief in your heart is private. It's your own belief. No one can read your thoughts. At least not yet. Let's hope that doesn't happen for a long time. But your private belief is specific just to you. Now think about what happens once you speak that private belief out loud. Well, then it becomes public. Then it's not just yours anymore. Now, in a sense, it belongs to everyone and anyone can judge you for it or hold you accountable. The reverse is also true. Going public can draw others to you who feel the same way.
Belief/Confession Private/Public. It sounds simple, but the reality of our day and age is that we have made things a bit complicated. See, I think confessions today have fallen on hard times. Changes in our culture have put confessions of faith in a negative light. If I really want to parse this out, which I do, I can think of several reasons why confessions of faith aren't so popular anymore.
First of all, they're divisive. They separate those who make them from those who do not. A confession is a public position on something. In the case of the Christian, a public confession is statement of faith. You're identifying yourself with a certain church and a certain understanding of the scriptures. And you're leaving yourself open to the judgment of others who might disagree or find your confession objectionable. You might be the only one at work or school who confesses this truth and it doesn't just divide others from you. It also divides you from them and that is probably the harder part because no one wants to feel alone.
Second, confessions are formal. Does anyone remember what the word formal means? Because I think that concept got uncoupled from American culture a couple decades ago. Formality implies structure and specifics. Remember some time ago when you would go to a nice restaurant and they would not let you in if you didn't abide by the dress code. I have to be honest. I miss those days. I wish someone would kick me out of a place if I showed up underdressed. A confession maintains a certain standard. That's what formality is.
And confessions are formal. They have structure and they are specific. Some confessions are concise like a Creed. We say either the Apostles' or Nicene Creed every week in our service except when we do Matins and then the Te Deum suffices as the Creed. And there are, of course, the Lutheran Confessions, which to my knowledge, are the lengthiest confessions ever written. Our confessions are a public statement of how our church interprets the Bible. Every church has a confession. Some just fit on webpage and some like ours will only fit in hardback because when it comes to doctrine, Lutherans don't ever do anything small.
Now thirdly, confessions are objective as opposed to being subjective. A confession is a written document. It's not meant to change or be changed because it's universal in character. And that means it applies to all people in all places for all times. Subjective is just something that is particular to the individual. It doesn't have a universal aspect to it.
And so those are the criteria that distinguish a confession of faith from a belief. A confession is where we make the turn from private to public. Confessions lead others to either side with you or against you.
Now did you pick up on what the confession was in our reading today? It's just three words. Three short words – Jesus is Lord. That's a confession. It meets all three of the criteria that I just described for you. It says something divisive because only a Christian can say that. If we understand Lord as God, then we're really saying Jesus is God. A Jewish person would never say that. A Muslim would never say that. Believers of other religions would never say that. Only Christians would say that, so in that sense it separates us from others.
Second, it's formal in the sense that it's not something you make up yourself. It's something you are taught. It's something that is handed down from one generation to the next. Paul actually uses this exact phrase in 1 Corinthians 12:3 when he says, "No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit." So, it comes from the Holy Spirit to the Apostle Paul to us. It's handed down. True doctrines of the church always are. In this case, Jesus is Lord is a confession of the God in whom we believe.
Third, Jesus is Lord is objective. When you say it and I say it, there is a commonly agreed upon understanding of what it means. And that understanding is true for everyone. It's not just true for you, but it's universally true. It's a confession intended for everyone.
Now stating or confessing your faith publicly has an important purpose. It's not so much about being bold as it is about creating unity and preventing schism and contending for the faith and proclaiming the truth. A confession is a public witness to Jesus Christ and His saving grace. It's a testimony to the truths of God's precious and Divine Word.
In the Scriptures, Paul's commitment to the Gospel was unyielding. Remember last week he said he wishes he were cursed for the sake of his Jewish countrymen if they would come to believe the Gospel. Paul's words and his teachings were confessional in nature. They were public proclamations that testified to Christ as the path of salvation. They heralded God's truth and they also condemned error and falsehood and misunderstanding.
Now, we can be admittedly sheepish when it comes to sharing our confession of faith. We want to be liked and included and a formal confession that unites only those who believe it is objectionable in this day and age. And our faithfulness to it in the face of opposition is not always steadfast nor have we always treasured and appreciated the heritage of our church as we should.
But in Christ, there is encouragement and inspiration. There is forgiveness for our hesitancy and our desires to please men rather than God. Peter had that opportunity to confess Jesus at His trial, but you remember Peter denied Him. But in His abundance of grace, Jesus forgave Peter and reinstated him. Peter then went on to speak and confess the faith boldly. The Scriptures never speak of him hiding his confession again.
Now, confessions are good to be spoken of within the church, but they really need to be heard outside of her. We live in a lost world that is outside of the truth and outside of Christ. The world lives by its heart or its stomach or its will. It has no anchor or truth. And so that is our opportunity-to send missionaries and teachers and pastors to confess the truth and stand united as a church body. Our belief is a result of God's grace with the end result being our justification. Our confession is the spoken and public statement of that faith shared with the world.
It dismisses the notion that God is not God of all. He is. And His Son Jesus Christ absolves of sin and cleanses from unrighteousness. Through the means of grace, namely, Word and sacrament, we are brought into faith and justified. And our mouths then proclaim and share this faith with the world through confessions. In this way, we speak what we believe and we believe what we speak. And we pray always that our confessions will be heard, received and passed. In this way, they can be brought to faith, have their sins forgiven and the lives eternally secured. May God grant this for the sake of Christ, Amen.
Pastor Chris Bramich