Biblical Teaching Is Important

Dr. Westwig, a professor at Luther Seminary, once said to his class in reformation church history, “For the Church to be healthy, there must be an on-going reformation. There is a natural tendency for human beings to subtract and add to the basic teachings of the Christian faith.”ÊHow right Dr. Westwig was in his statement.

The primary teaching of the Christian faith is recorded in Ephesians 2:8-9,Ê”For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift God not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” On this statement, Christianity stands or falls. We are saved by grace, trusting Christ who suffered and died for our sins, and was raised for our justification.Ê

This teaching is so simple, yet so profound, that in our attempt to understand it, we are guilty of adding to it or subtracting from it.ÊConsequently, the heart of the message is lost.

None knew better than St. Paul the importance of being faithful to the message that humans are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. The Church was not very old before Paul had to confront Peter with inconsistent behavior which confused people as to how a person finds peace with God and is assured of his or her salvation.

Peter enjoyed his freedom in Christ and never gave a thought about returning to the ceremonial laws, which had strict dietary regulations as well as restrictions as to whom Jews could share a meal. But when strict Jews came from Jerusalem, Peter observed the Jewish laws.ÊHe neither ate with Gentiles, nor partook of the forbidden foods.Ê

His hypocrisy was offensive to the Gentile believers, and they became confused about their salvation. That was enough for Paul. This was not the time to consider his relationship with Peter. He did not practice what now would be considered good pastoral ethics and not embarrass his coworker before other people. The Gospel was at stake.Ê

This is how the Bible describes the confrontation between Peter and Paul, “I said to Cephas before them all, ‘if you though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law, butÊthrough faith in Jesus Christ.Ê

And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law . . .” (Galatians 2:14-16).

Peter was rebuked sharply by a brother in the faith for denying the Gospel by his actions. The big question in the New Testament Church was, What will Jewish Christians do with these ceremonial laws, which had been meaningful to their families for hundreds of years?Ê

The Jerusalem decision tried to settle this dilemma by declaring that Jews would go on living like Jews, observing the laws, but the Gentiles were free from these observances. William Barclay writes, “Things could notÊgo on like that, because it would produce two grades of Christians and two classes in the Church.”

Paul would have none of it. Peter’s heretical lifestyle was no small matter. The Gospel was at stake. And so the Gospel has been contaminated through the centuries, making an on-going reformation necessary if the central teaching of the Church, Justification by Faith, was to be clearly proclaimed. Without the right teaching, there is no basis for what we believe, and Christianity becomes a religion that is determined byÊwhat humans think is the truth for a given situation and time, ratherÊthan the truths of God’s Word.

This was the reason for the reformation in the sixteenth century. It was on November 10, 1483 that Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany.ÊWhen Luther was 22 years old, he entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, Germany to become a monk and hopefully find peace with God. But all the hard disciplines of the Order brought him no peace.Ê

It was not until Luther was preparing his lectures on the book of Romans that the Holy Spirit made it clear to the monk that he was saved by grace through faith in Christ. The words, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'”

That was it! Luther was a free man. How far the Church had strayedÊfrom that central teaching of God’s Word. It was time for another Reformation, and you know the rest of the story. Luther pleaded with the church to correct her errors, but the hierarchy would have nothing to do with his plea, and Luther was ex-communicated from the church with the punishment that he could be hunted and killed. But GodÊprotected Luther, and from this mighty spiritual warrior, people once again could hear the Gospel.

For the Church to remain healthy, tere must be an on-going reformation,Êfor humans add to and subtract from the basic teachings of the Gospel,Êand soon its teachings are corrupted.

While reformations have been necessary in the Church, it is also true that there needs to be times of reformation in the lives of individual Christians. How many of us have not been misled by a Christianity that was legalistic? Well-meaning people in the Church felt that it was necessary to establish man-made laws to keep believers in a faithful relationship with God. We were taught that it was sin to dance, play cards, go to movies, and the list went on. If we did these things, our salvation was not sure.Ê

Today there is a new legalism. There are those who declare us out of a relationship with God if we have not been faithful in raising our voices against the social ills in society, rid ourselves of all prejudices, and denounced all wrongs that might hold people in some kind of social captivity. One woman questioned my relationship with Jesus ChristÊbecause I would not publicize a quilt that wasÊmaking its way around the country to benefit Aids victims at the worship service. Another denounced my faith because I refused to deal with the burning social issues on a Sunday morning issues like human sexuality and political wrongs to the down trodden.Ê

There is no question that we should be faithful stewards, free from all prejudices and show concern from those who suffer social injustice at the hands of the powerful, but such actions are fruits of faith and not contributors to our salvation.

When we see any form of legalism creeping into the Church, it is time for a reformation in our personal lives. I lived with legalism Christianity and had no assurance that I was God’s child for the first 19 years of my life, but when the Holy Spirit set me free from man-made laws and to trust Christ alone, I was set free. I have often said, “I walk awayÊfrom an atheist for he cannot destroy my faith, but I run away fromÊone who tempts me with legalism, for he is much more a servant of Satan in my life than is the scoffer.”

Humanistic teaching which reduces the Gospel to nonsense and influences one to believe that within him is the power to correct all that is wrong and be his own Savior is another heresy that has crept into the Church through the years. This heresy must be identified and destroyed in our lives if it begins to corrupt that simple teaching that I, a sinner, can be justified only by the atoning sacrifice and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the on-going reformation in the life of the Christian.

Well, is it enough to have the right teaching regarding the Christian faith?ÊIs it enough to instruct our youth in the Bible and catechism so they can quote the right Scripture passages and quote the catechism from cover to cover? Members from doctrinal churches have this temptation of believing this is where it all ends. I have an on-going discussion with a dear friend from a non-doctrinal church who talks about the importance of the Christian experience where we meet Christ and receive Him as Savior and Lord. In our discussion he will remind me that we Lutherans often make pure doctrine an end in itself, ratherÊthan a means to an end, and talk little about the personal relationship with God. It is a fair comment and an observation we need to hear.Ê

While the personal relationship with the Lord is very important, the foundation for this relationship is found in the Scriptures and not our emotions. Without the Scriptures from which our dogmas come, there is no foundation for our faith. If we only have an experience with Christ and little understanding of the Gospel, we have only an emotionalism that will not stand the test of time when those hard experiences face us.Ê

My experience is that the dying person does not care to talk about his feelings about Christ, but what Christ has done for him. He is ready to sing, “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” On the other hand, if we have only the right doctrinal teaching about Christ, and do not know Him in a personal way, we are victims of dead orthodoxy. Needed today and every day is a meeting with Christ in the Scriptures, for He alone is our Savior. Whenever the central truth ofÊ salvation in Christ becomes cloudy, it is time for a reformation in our own souls. When this dogma has become an end in itself, it is time for us to think seriously about our daily walk with Him.

Westwig was right. “There must be an ongoing reformation in the Church. It is natural for well-meaning people to add to and subtract from the blessed teaching that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Prayer

One of the associate pastors at our church made an astute observation after he had been with us for about six months. Sitting in a staff meeting he said, “I am amazed that so much gets done in this congregation with so little prayer. Think what could happen if we would spend more time talking to the Lord about His plans for our church.”

He was right. His words were not complimentary, nor did he plan them to be. We spent so much more time planning and relying on our own strength in comparison to the time we spent letting God lead and guide us. I wonder how many great things have been done for the Lord without a lot of time spent in prayer. There are those who say that Luther spent several hours daily on his knees in the heat of the Reformation. I can well imagine this is true.

Time alone with God is an absolute necessity for Christians if they want to grow in their relationship with Him. Jesus is our example. On one particular day, He had preached to thousands of people. Before He sent the multitudes home that evening, He fed five thousand of them from five loaves of bread and two fish. It had been a busy day with much excitement and our Lord was weary. Now it was time to be alone with His Father. He told the disciples to get into a boat and head for the other side of the sea. Then Jesus went up on a mountain side by himself to pray. If Jesus needed to be alone with God, don’t we need the same experience? What do you suppose Jesus talked about with His Father? We don’t know, but it is fun to guess, isn’t it?

During His time on earth, Jesus was “tempted in all parts as we are, yet without sin.” Satan was at Him. The task before Him of going to the cross to die for the world’s sins would be difficult. There would be physical suffering, watching a disciple sell Him for thirty pieces of silver, and another deny Him in His most crucial hour. When Jesus prayed,Ê”Father, if it is possible remove all of this suffering from me, but not my will but Yours be done,” I believe He was praying for strength to be faithful in performing the mission God had sent Him to perform.

Jesus was sinless, therefore He had no sins to confess. In our time alone with the Lord, it is important that we be open in the confession of our sins. It is no time to be defensive trying to rationalize our sinfulness. We don’t know what Jesus prayed there on the mountain, but let me share with you one of my quiet times alone.

A close friend made me angry. We spoke a few harsh words to each other, but left as friends. When I arrived home, the anger was still in my soul, so I sat down and wrote him a letter pointing out how unjust he had been in some of his remarks. Later that day I had my quiet time. Jesus spoke to me through His words recorded in the Bible, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).

I prayed, “Forgive me for being so immature in my faith.” I looked at the letter still laying on my desk, read it once more, and threw it in the wastebasket. I left a message on his voice mail asking that he call me. In a few hours he returned my call and two “big boys” laughed about our stupidity in getting so angry. He, too, had discussed this with the Lord in his quiet time.

Back to Jesus’ prayer life that night when He was all alone. I wonder if He didn’t pray for His disciples, especially those who had special problems. There was Judas. He had a love for money. Jesus could have asked the Father to confront Judas with this question, “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loses his soul?”Ê

Then He could have interceded for Peter’s temper and prayed,Ê “Help him to learn from old Solomon who once said, ‘A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.'” Peter would be a powerful witness for Christ, but that temper had to be brought under control, and only God could do it, if Peter would let Him.

Before joining His disciples, Jesus could have also talked to God about Thomas who had such a hard time believing all that he was being taught. He had that doubting mind. Thomas was one of those people who had trouble believing anything his mind could not understand.ÊMaybe Jesus prayed, “Lord, help him to learn from that father who once said in Jesus’ presence, ‘I do believe. Help me over my overcome my unbelief.'”

The quiet times give us a marvelous opportunity to pray for our family and friends. It is a time to talk with the Lord about your relationship with your spouse and children. We do have feelings, both positive and negative, as we live in the family circle. Share these feelings with your Savior. It will help you deal realistically with the irritations and empower you to see how these loved ones bless your life in so many wonderful ways.

That time alone with God might not be the most comfortable minutes of the day, but it will make life much easier for you. It will even exceed the comfort you receive after unburdening yourself to a friend you can trust. There’s a lot of baggage that piles up in our souls and minds that is unhealthy to carry around, and those minutes with the Lord is the time to share with Him who has said, “Come, and I will give you rest.”

Then there is that agonizing time when you ask others to join you in prayer about something that is bothering you. Jesus’ prayer time in Gethsemane with Peter, James, and John is a good example of such a meeting. Life gives us those tough times when we need to be with friends and family, lift our voices to God, and pour out the hurts of our soul.

I ran into an old friend one day and asked how things were going.Ê”Oh, Homer,” he replied, “it has been a terrible summer. Our daughter and her three-year-old son were out for a bicycle ride. She was pulling him behind her bicycle when a car ran into them and killed our daughter, but did not seriously injure the child. Our lives will never be the same, but I don’t know what I would have done withoutÊChristian friends praying with and for us.” Support groups are especially meaningful when prayer is a part of the gathering.

In contrast, there are times of prayer which could be called theÊ”happy hour.” This is quite different from the “happy hour” whereÊpeople gather after an emotional day to liven their spirits with a few drinks. In contrast, this is a time when we lift our voicesÊand thank God for all His blessings. Enough of the hours of temptation, frustration, anger, and all the rest that goes with living.

Now we turn our eyes heavenward and thank God for all thoseÊgood things our family, friends, work, health, material possessions, and above all, His saving grace that assures us we are His for all eternity. That was the kind of prayer Paul was thinking about when he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.ÊLet your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,Êwhich transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7). To put it in words some of us better understand, Paul is saying, I sense your presence, Lord.ÊYou are by my side. Thank you that I could bring all of my requests to you. Thanks for that peace which you alone can give. The future is unknown, but it is in Your hands, and so I am secure.

The early Church was used mightily by God. They did not have the resources we have to do minister, but they had the promiseÊthat Christ would always be with them. Grant that we may learn from those early Christians that no matter how many resources are at our fingertips, God alone is our strength, and apart from Him we can do nothing.

Confronted With Change

I believe it is fair to say that no age has experienced change as weÊhave in the last 75 years. We have moved from a house that had no

bathrooms to houses with three or more bathrooms; from the scrub board to the automatic washer and dryer; from the horse and buggy to the jet air plane; from lutefisk and brats to pizza and tacos; from the five tube radio that could barely bring in a station a hundred miles away to a television that takes you to any part of the world instantly.Ê

Most of these changes are easily acceptable because they make life easier and more enjoyable, but there are other changes which are

difficult to accept. Children leaving home, growing older, and failing health are just samples of changes that are not always pleasant.Ê

We want our children to move on in life, but the empty nest can sometimes be lonely. We know that the body wears out and with it comes health problems, but we don’t like it. Getting older is not to our liking, “But,” as some have said, “it beats the alternative.”

Every part of our lives change, including our spiritual lives. A friend made an interesting statement when he said, “I always knew that

changes were inevitable, but I did not think my church would change.ÊEven that has changed.” Yes, there are changes in the Church, and

none knew this better than Peter, the Apostle.

There lived at Caesarea a man named Cornelius. He was an officer in the Roman Army. The Bible describes Cornelius as “a devout man

who feared God with all his household.” One day he had a visionÊwhere he was told to send men to Joppa for Peter who was living with a person by the name of Simon the tanner.

While Cornelius was receiving a message from God, Peter also had a vision from God. Peter had gone up on the housetop to pray, and, while there, got hungry. While the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. The heavens were open and something like a white sheet came down from heaven. On the sheet were four-footed

creatures of all kinds, reptiles, and birds.Ê

There was a voice that told Peter to kill and eat. Peter objected saying he had never eaten anything unclean. Then the voice said,Ê”Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean.”

While Peter was puzzled about the vision, the men sent fromÊCornelius to find Peter arrived. Having heard about Cornelius’Êvision, Peter accompanied them to Caesarea. When he arrived, there were many people who had assembled. Then Peter said,Ê”You know that it is against our law for a Jew to go into a Gentile’s

house. But God has shown me that I should not call any man unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising anyÊobjection.” With this introduction, Peter began to tell them aboutÊ

Christ and how He had been crucified, but God had raised Him and He offered forgiveness to all who would receive Him asÊtheir Savior.

While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit was present and many believed. The men who had accompanied Peter from Joppa were surprised the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on these Gentiles who were present. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Later, when Peter went to Jerusalem, there were some Jewish believers who were critical of what Peter had done in Cornelius’Êhome. However, when Peter told them the whole story, they said,

“Then God has given, even to the Gentiles, the repentance that leads to life.” With these words, the Jewish Christians had experienced a big change. They were brothers and sisters with

all people Jews and Gentiles who trusted Christ as their Savior and Lord.

We know this change must have been difficult for the Jewish Christians who had been taught that God was primarily the God of the Jewish people. They were His chosen people, and now they had been shown that, in Christ, all were to be included in His Kingdom.

Change can be very difficult, especially when it effects something that is as personal as our spiritual life. Here we have to deal with the question, What can and what cannot change in the Church?

First, let it be clear that the Biblical message cannot change. God’s Law stands, and cannot be amended by society, regardless of new insights into life by other academic disciplines.Ê

The Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot change or there would be no historic Christianity. The center of the Christian faith is the message that salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who has atoned for our sins at the cross and has won for all who trust Him victory over sin, death and the devil by His glorious resurrection.

There are other things in the life of the Church that can change.ÊI had a devout friend who was committed to Christ and a faithful member of the Roman Catholic Church. He used to tell me how the changing of the mass from Latin to the vernacular was the right thing to do, but he personally enjoyed, on occasion, attending a

mass spoken in Latin.

I remember well some of the people in our congregation who had come from Denmark and enjoyed a Danish service on occasion. I tried to find a pastor who was fluent in the Danish

language to conduct a service for them during the ChristmasÊholidays. How they enjoyed that service. The message was the same, but it was delivered in their mother tongue. It was hard for some of those people to give up the language they had been raised with, but it was a necessary change if the congregation was to reach out with the Gospel to others in the community.

Now we are being introduced to the contemporary worship service. Five years ago I thought this type of service was a fad.ÊToday, I believe this service is here to stay for a long time.Ê

Is that bad?Ê

Not if the truth of God’s Word is objectively proclaimed in this subjective setting. We should note that Peter accepted the change of entering a Gentile’s house, but when he entered the house, he told them about Christ. This message had not changed.

Contemporary worship is not my type of service, but if it reaches others with the message, let God be praised. I watch people going into the contemporary worship service at our church.Ê

Their dress, in most cases, is very informal. While there areÊpeople of all ages in attendance, the average age at that service is younger than what is found in the traditional worship services.Ê

Our goal is to tell the Gospel to as many people as possible. If that means change in the form of worship, let it be so, but let it be done in love and with sensitivity for those who are struggling

with the change.

Someone said that if his grandparents returned to this earth,Êthey would not recognize the Church. I hope this would not be true. I would hope that some of the great hymns of the

Church, which have weathered the storms of history, would not be completely forgotten. I would hope that the congregation would still join in confessing their faith in the words of the

Apostles’ Creed. For the believer, this is not the mere repetition of words, but an expression of the faith which the saints have confessed for nearly two thousand years. I would hope the

Law and Gospel would be proclaimed better than ever.

I would hope that those grandparents paying us a visit from the heavenly mansions would applaud the great changes that have helped make today’s Church more vital than when they

lived on this earth. Changes, like people of all nationalities and races sitting together in the pews, that denominationsÊwould have a less prominent role as believers have found

their unity in Christ, and we would be learning from each other.ÊChanges, where worshipers would not be there to fulfill an obligation or motivated only by tradition, but would beÊ

zealous in sharing their faith in Christ with the world of which they are a part.

Change will always be with us. It will be found in the Church as well as in the rest of society. Let us welcome change that will make us more effective in evangelizing our world. ButÊlet us always guide the truth realizing Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His Word does not change.

Love One Another

Unlike other world religions, the Christian faith centers in God’s love for us and His admonition that we love one another. Love, love, love!ÊThat was a basic emphasis in the New Testament Church. Is this the same emphasis today?

Listen to Jesus, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In this familiar scripture verse it is clearly taught that those whom God created, and who walked away from Him, He now seeks to redeem through the giving of His Son.

Again, stressing the importance of love, Jesus taught, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.ÊLove the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love

your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these”Ê

(Mark 12:28-31).

Jesus continues to speak on the subject of love and says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). In many of His parables, Jesus presents God’s love for us. One of the most familiar is the story of the Prodigal Son. The parable of the Good

Samaritan is Jesus’ classic in telling us how to love one another.

This same “love message” was taught by the disciples. St. Paul’s writing on the subject in I Corinthians 13 leaves no question in the mind of the reader what love is. It is impossible to define love, but Paul describes it in this portion of scripture in a way that we can apply to the details of our everyday lives.

Both James and Peter tell us that love has to be genuine. It must beÊfree from all superficiality.Ê

John strikes the same note when he writes, “Let us not love with words or tongue, but action” (I John 3:18). Then John tells his readers who enables us to love. “We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). We must first experience God’s love before we can begin to love Him and other people.

The Bible clearly tells us that Christian people and the Church are to be known as a loving crowd, ready to reach out to others in the name of Christ.

Well, the big question is, Did the New Testament Church practice this love? It is one thing to be taught what to do, but quite another thing to put the teaching into practice. There are many examples of how the early Christians loved one another. In II Corinthians 8,Êwe learn that there was a famine in Jerusalem and many were dying. When the Macedonian Christians heard about this famine, they gave beyond what they were able to give that their brothers and sisters in

Christ would have something to eat. When Stephen was being stoned to death, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Stephen was putting into action what he had been taught, Love your enemies.Ê

In Acts 6:23, we learn that the apostles chose seven deacons to careÊfor the poor. They realized their job was to proclaim the Gospel,Ê

but while doing that, someone had to reach out to those people who were hurting from a lack of life’s necessities.

The New Testament Church was not perfect, but the Holy Spirit was at work in them that they might love one another. Do we see the Holy

Spirit at work in today’s Church? The answer is, Yes. Neither are we the perfect Church, but the love shown for one another is a strong sign that

God, who has begun the good work in us, is not done with His children.

So that we might be encouraged with the Spirit’s work in our midst,Êlook at what Christ has done through His Church in building hospitals,Êhomes for the aged, and orphanages when that was the appropriateÊway to care for children left without parents. The social serviceÊorganizations within the Church have reached out in love to those in prison,Êas well at to those who are living in society with huge problems. There are the victims of abuse, the unmarried mothers, and the handicapped,Êonly to mention a few who have experienced the loving care of God

through His Church.

If you walk into our church building on a weekday, you will see many little children receiving loving care. They have been left there by parents who both work. The first thought for many of us was not to become involved in this kind of activity, but then some in our congregation felt that we did have a responsibility for these children. If parents had to work,Êwas it not an opportunity for God’s people to care for these little onesÊin a Christian environment while they were away from their dads andÊmoms? This is love in action.

The Church has not arrived. We could list many examples of situations where we have not been as faithful as we should have been, but we thank

God for leading us as far as we have come in showing our love for God by loving people.Ê

One of these areas that is most difficult is to follow Christ’s command to love those who have hurt us. How many people live for years with

hatred towards another person who might have hurt them. Such feelings are often found in families where there have been battles over money.ÊThe will was read after mother and father died, and one son orÊdaughter received more than another.Ê

Anger developed into hatred, and years have gone by without their speaking to each other. Cousins have been raised as strangers. ItÊ

just seems impossible to take that first step in restoring the relationship,Êno matter how displeasing it is to God. What a poor witness it is to unbelievers who are wondering what this Christianity is all about,Êwhen followers of Jesus Christ carry hatred towards other people.

We also err in being insensitive to the hurts of others. We have our own agendas and they take precedence over others. “What shall I do this afternoon?” Mary asks herself. “I think it would be fun to call Sally and see if we shouldn’t have lunch together and do a little shopping.”ÊThere is nothing wrong with that kind of thinking. Mary deserves anÊafternoon to enjoy her friend’s company over a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, and a glass of iced tea. In fact, they might ignore their diets and indulge in a piece of pie. The only problem is, there is that neighbor who is terminally ill and has asked Mary to stop by for a visit.ÊHow long the hours are when you sit alone at home realizing that, if medical science is correct, it will only be a short time and you will die. Where will love move Mary in her final decision?

Jesus was very sensitive to the needs of others. Remember how HeÊrebuked the disciples for sending the mothers away when they came

to have the Lord bless their children? When he saw what they were doing, Jesus said, “Permit these little children to come to me, for to

such belongs the Kingdom of God.” Then He took them up in His arms, and blessed them. I think He probably rebuked the disciples severely

when they were alone. “How insensitive can you be?” he could have asked them. “Those children are the mothers’ dearest possessions.Ê

They wanted me to bless them, and you were willing to send them away, never giving a thought to their feelings. You didn’t want to

be bothered by those kids and their mothers. Don’t you knowÊwhat that could have done to those women? Be more loving!”

Yes, there are many positive signs showing us that God is workingÊin us to be more loving, but there are also some ugly situations that need to be corrected by reaching out to others in love. God grant that we might be so immersed in Christ’s love for us that it will become natural for us to love others.

The Human Being

How would you describe people?

If you have been influenced by our society’s teaching, you believe that people are basically good though sometimes they act immaturely

and make mistakes, some of which can be very serious.Ê

However, through education and counseling, people can learn the difference between right and wrong, and have within them the power

to correct what needs to be changed in their thinking and behavior. This is humanism’s doctrine of the human being.

With these beliefs, parents teach their children acceptable behavior so they can live successfully in society. They should be polite, have a concern for others, accept responsibility for their behavior,

and the list continues. All goes well until human weaknesses appear in the child’s behavior. You try as parents to correct these weaknesses,Êbut at times it seems the child pays little attention to what you are telling him or her. It isn’t long until the teacher at a school conference points out that your child displays some temper outbursts andÊan inability to get along with other children on the playground.

When your child’s behavior grows worse, you visit with the child psychologist. His counsel seems to help for a while, but then all hope seems to disappear when you are called to the police station and are confronted with the fact that your son has been arrested for possession of drugs. “Where have we gone wrong? We have

tried everything to make him a good person.” You are living with the assumption that your boy has the ability to change himself and just isn’t doing it.

After many difficult experiences your son completes his formal education and heads out to make a life for himself. His explosive temper and inability to control his emotions sees his marriage end in divorce, and his employers give him one last chance. Get anger management counseling or we will have to terminate your employment with our company! is the final word.

Now this might be an extreme case to make our point that society’s understanding of the human being is inadequate, but I believe it can be shown that all of us know what is right and wrong, but lack that inner power to correct what is wrong in our lives.

If you have been influenced by Biblical teaching, your understanding of people is different from humanistic teaching. St. Paul summarizes

the Bible’s teaching of people when he writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . . So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,

but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.Ê

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?ÊThanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

(Romans 7:15; 21-25).

The description of people is clear in this statement. Paul knew what was right. He wanted to do what was right, and yet somehow he

could not do it. It was like two people inside of him who were battling each other. He was being pulled in two directions. He loved and hated his sins at the same time.

This presentation of people is drastically different from the humanistic approach which says you can change what is wrong inside of yourself.ÊThe Biblical description of people is often described as pessimistic and negative. However, Christians find the Bible is realistic in describing us. It acknowledges the limitations of human knowledge in dealing with these problems of thought and behavior. We can diagnose what is wrong with us, but we can’t do much to correct our condition.

A walk through our prisons shows how helpless people are when it comes to changing our behavior. I visited with a man who was spending

time at the state prison, having been found guilty of assaulting boys. As we visited about his sentence, he said words to this effect: “I know

exactly what they will do with me. I will be sent to a prison hospital where they will work hard with me in the hopes that I will be cured of this affliction. After a number of months, I will return to my hometown where a notice will appear in the newspapers telling citizens that I am back in the community and dangerous. They are to be aware that their children are not to be around me unless another adult is present. The officials know, and I know, that my intentions to never

assault another child are good, but I have this weakness that could appear again.”

How sad to hear this man’s story. No one knew better than he how helpless the human being can be. It causes us to ask the same question

that Paul asked, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” The Christian has found the answer, Thanks be to God.ÊJesus Christ is my deliverer.

Listen to our Lord’s words, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. But

the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,Êwill teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to

you” (John 14:16-17; 26). The Holy Spirit will not only teach what is right and wrong, but He will empower us to overcome our sins.

Peter told the people in his audience on the first Pentecost Sunday,ʔRepent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ

for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). God the Holy Spirit will come to us through the

Word of God and live in us. Peter had experienced the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in his own life, as had St. Paul. Once Paul

wrote, “What I don’t want to do, and what I want to do, I don’t do.”ÊLater he said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”Ê

(Philippians 4:13). With Christ by the human being’s side, great things can be accomplished. Apart from Christ, we can do little.

Today’s Church must be reminded that Christ alone is the answer for our spiritual problems. All the moralizing in the world is of little value when the person is unable to live by the morals.

Our newspapers have carried several articles on the famous basketball coach from Indiana, Bobby Knight. This highly successful coach has

been fired by Indiana University for behavior unbecoming a coach,Êaccording to the officials of that institution. The question is raised,ÊWill Bob Knight coach again? His friend, Digger Phelps, has givenÊan interesting answer to that question: “Bob Knight will coach again if he receives some anger management counseling.”

Mr. Phelps is on the right track. The coach needs help. Resolutions to control his temper are not adequate for a future employer. However, Phelps followsÊthe humanistic philosophy that somewhere within the individual is a power that will enable him to change his own being. The BibleÊdisagrees and teaches that only Christ can change the person.Ê

The answer for Coach Knight, and all of us, is to let Christ bring about the changes in our own person. Then we will become new people. This is the blessed hope offered to all people.

The Church has always had to battle humanistic thought. In the days of Martin Luther, the humanist, Erasmus, was making life difficult for the reformers. Through his teaching, humanistic thought found its way into the Church. It continues to move into today’s Church. Recently, a clergyman speaking on television said, “The fall into sin made us spiritually wounded.” He went on to say that people are basically good and can pick themselves up from their dilemmas.Ê This sounds nice, but it is not Biblical. The Scriptures say, “We were dead in our trespasses and sins in which we once lived” (Ephesians 2:1). To be wounded is one thing. To be dead is something else.

Humanism is Christianity’s greatest enemy, for until we see our complete helplessness, there is little or no need for a Savior. Only Christ Jesus is able to change us. This continues to be the strong emphasis of evangelical Christianity. Secular society and the Church of Jesus Christ are at odds in understanding people. How do you

understand yourself? Can you save yourself, or are you in need of the Savior?Ê