March 2016

March 2016

Contending for the Faith

The Lutheran Church has always confessed that saving faith in Jesus Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit that comes to us only by the grace of God. In fact, all three persons of the Godhead are cited in the Scriptures as having the initiative in our salvation. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44). "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him" (Matthew 11:27). "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Our salvation, and thus our faith in Christ, is entirely in God's hands. 

But does that mean that we ought to sit back and let God do His work of salvation without being involved at all? Well, when it comes to our own salvation, we ought not to "resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51), but as St. Paul tells us, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12–13). God's work toward us, and our God-wrought response to His work, go hand in hand. He is responsible for it, but He doesn't save us without actually engaging our own wills. 

That informs how we relate to others as well. We are not to remain inactive and expect God to convert people out of nowhere. Rather, St. Peter tells us to "be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). That "defense" of which St. Peter speaks is what we call "apologetics," which really just means arguing for what we believe, or contending for the faith. 

Apologetics doesn't create faith. Rather it tears down intellectual barriers to the proclamation of the Gospel. For example, someone who believes that life evolved from nothing over billions of years would be unable to believe what the Scriptures say about the creation of the world (a creation that Jesus affirms; Matthew 19:4), and would therefore also have a difficult time believing what the Scriptures say about Jesus and our forgiveness through faith in Him. By engaging in the apologetic task of poking holes in the theory of evolution, and showing how the scriptural account can be reconciled with nature as we observe it, we serve as God's instruments in paving the way to a blessed hearing of the Gospel. And by presenting the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, we can remove those intellectual arguments by which the devil keeps his subjects bound in unbelief. 

In fact, the very idea that we can argue for the resurrection of Jesus based on actual evidence gets at the heart of a major gulf that separates Christianity from some other religions. For instance, in Islam, adherents are expected to believe that Muhammad received private revelations from the angel Gabriel, though there were no other witnesses. And in Mormonism, adherents are expected to take it on blind faith that Joseph Smith used supernatural spectacles to translate text written in a language recorded nowhere else in the world on golden tablets that were then taken into heaven with no one else ever seeing them. In contrast to these made up religions, in Christianity we have a Savior who "appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time" (1 Corinthians 15:6), and we receive the testimony, not of one man, but of the whole company of the disciples. 

Again, you can't argue someone to faith in Christ. But God uses your bold confession to wrest control of hearts from Satan and make straight the path before His Son. And when it comes time for our final battle against the flesh in our departure from this life, we can set aside intellectual arguments and rest in the Spirit's proclamation of the Word in our hearts, as He "bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16). Only that blessed argument of the Spirit of God will finally bring us eternally into His presence. In the meantime, God grant us boldness in proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light!


Pastor Neuendorf