From Sundries, over on Facebook:
Martin Luther's explanation of the Christian's confession of the third person of God, the Holy Spirit, found in The Small Catechism, is personally important to me. (The other two persons of the three-in-one God, by the way, are the Father and the Son, Jesus.)
The Holy Spirit calls the Church into being so that people can, in fellowship with others, know Christ personally, know that by faith in Him, have life with God now and for eternity, and experience walking with Christ in a relationship through which we mature increasingly in our faith and lives.
The Church is a gift of grace to sinners like me. As part of Christ's Church, my life has been enriched, my foibles challenged, my wrongs forgiven, and my character forged in ways that never would have happened outside of the Church. As time goes on, I am more and more grateful for the Church and for all the people in it.
The true Church, the fellowship of Christ-Followers, is the only thing on earth that will survive in eternity because, no matter how many ways we human beings try to mess it up or force it to agree with our sin-tinged preferences, it's still the creation of the Holy Spirit, still freed and disciplined by God's Word.
The institutional church, the church of human regulations and power plays, will, of course, die with the rest of this universe one day.
But the fellowship of surrendered souls, who trust in the Lordship of the crucified and risen Christ and in the infallibility of God's Word in Scripture, who cherish God's gift of grace in Christ...that Church will move into eternity with God, where every disciple of Jesus will be welcomed with the words we should all crave to hear more than any others: "Well done, good and faithful servant."
And even that "well done" will not be a recognition of our accomplishments, but of the saving work done by Jesus and of the faith-creation of the Holy Spirit within people willing to believe in Christ.
In fact, all we need to be part of the eternal Church is a willingness to believe in Jesus. It's like the man who asked Jesus to heal his child, if Jesus could. Jesus asked the man, basically, "What do you mean, IF? Just believe." The man honestly told Jesus, "I do believe; help my unbelief." With that expression of a willingness to believe, Jesus honored the man's prayer request. Jesus didn't chastise the man's unbelief. He took the desire to believe and, by His grace, turned it into saving faith!
But if you're willing to believe in Jesus, I warn you...watch out!
Back when I was an atheist, I began attending the Lutheran congregation where my wife was a member, just to get her off my back for sleeping in on Sunday mornings. The more time I spent there, the more curious I became about what it is that gave the people in that congregation their hope. I wanted to have more than a superficial understanding of Christian belief. So, I attended a class at the church called 'Life with God.'
Slowly, the Holy Spirit began to pry me open. Over time, the class became less like an anthropology project in which I tried to understand people from a strange culture and more of an introduction to a Person I had never previously known, not really. That person was Jesus Christ.
As I read passages from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, found in the New Testament portion of the Bible), which tell about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I found myself increasingly pulled to this man the Christians say is also God, Whose death on the cross paid the price for my sins and Whose resurrection opened up an eternal relationship with God for anyone honest enough to own their sins and turn from them (what the Bible calls repentance) and hungry enough for relationship with God to entrust their whole lives to Jesus (what the Bible calls "believing in Jesus").
Jesus put it all succinctly in the Bible's most famous verse, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
Eventually, I began to do something that I'd never before thought to be meaningful; I prayed. I didn't know exactly how to talk with God, but I told Him that, while I found it hard to comprehend, my masculine penchant for self-reliance and my intellectual desire to be in control and have all my questions answered were evaporating and Jesus, selfless, loving, courageous, powerful, humble, was pulling me into His orbit.
I told God that I was willing to believe.
That, I think, is when the Holy Spirit really rolled up His sleeves to pull me out of the death and darkness that every human being endures apart from a saving faith in Jesus.
The Word of God on the pages of Scripture came to life for me as they never had before.
And God arranged for a woman forty years my senior, Martha, a member of the Lutheran Church my wife had "guilted" me into attending, to take me under her wing and teach me what it means to follow Jesus. She taught me how to read God's Word and how to pray. She taught me about the grace that could take a sinner like me and add another descriptor to my life, saint...not meaning perfect, but saved, and, like all the other saints and sinners who make up Christ's Church, saved from sin, death, darkness, and themselves, and grateful for the forgiveness and new life God gives them even though they don't deserve any of it, seeking always to live out the love of God and love for others that God.
Through Christ's Church, the Holy Spirit helped me to believe. Now, when my fellow believers and I confess the Christian faith on Sunday mornings, as we always do, I confess my faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loudly, with zest and true conviction! I'm grateful that through faith in Jesus Christ, God is saving me from sin, death, and darkness!
The Church's faith (my faith) in Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit.
And it's a work He wants to do in every human being.
You don't have to manufacture your faith. Or talk yourself into it. Or check your brain in at the church door. Just be willing to believe in Christ and the Holy Spirit will begin constructing a life of faith within you!
The apostle Paul explains it simply in the New Testament book of 1 Corhinthians: "...no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus be cursed,' and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:3)
No matter what your skepticism...or sins you fear are too big for God to forgive...or whatever imperfections you perceive in yourself, if you will connect with a local church where they confess and share Jesus in a loving, honest, Biblical way, the Holy Spirit can meet you and help you to live with the assurance, peace, hope, and BELIEF that belongs to all who, in the Spirit's power, can say, "Jesus is Lord! He's my Lord! I follow Him and Him alone!"
This week, for Christmas Eve and Christmas, why not worship with a church family near you? Christmas is a wonderful time for those who are willing to trust in Jesus to get to know Him and His family, the Church.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]