Keynote Sermon for the 65th Annual Convention

Keynote Sermon for the
65th Annual Convention
of the

Concordia Lutheran Conference

Delivered at the Service of Convocation
Friday, June 24, 2016,
by President David T. Mensing

Text: II Timothy 3:16-17

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Chief Cornerstone of His Church, dearly beloved hearers of His precious Word:

As the theme or motto of both last year’s convention and of our present convention here in Seattle, we have been considering on the basis of God’s precious Word the sufficiency of Holy Writ, that quality or attribute according to which Holy Scripture is the only source and norm (or standard) of Christian doctrine and practice — both for our faith and for our life as Christians. When we speak of “faith” in this context, we mean, as the Apostle Jude calls it by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, “the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), the faith which is believed, the entire body of doctrine which we accept and in which we confide as “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” God’s complete, authoritative, inerrant, infallible, clear and efficacious revelation of Himself to men here in this world.

Scripture,” as the word itself indicates, is God’s written revelation of Himself, “black-on-white,” as we commonly say, in a format that cannot ebb and flow according to an individual’s “private interpretation” (II Peter 1:20) but is composed of specific “words” (I Corinthians 2:13) which the Holy Spirt of God put into the minds of the “apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20) for them both to speak (II Peter 1:21) and to write “for our learning” (Romans 15:4), as the rock-solid “foundation” of Christ’s Church, “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Cornerstone” or keystone on which His Church and its foundation rests for “the truth” (John 8:31-32). That “truth” is the objective truth of God concerning Himself, and very particularly the objective truth about His mercy and grace to sinful men in Christ Jesus, the saving knowledge which God earnestly desires all men to have and to “come unto” by faith for everlasting salvation (I Timothy 2:4). That truth, the Gospel truth, “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), is set forth “in the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (I Corinthians 2:13), in “the Holy Scriptures, which (as in the case of Timothy) are able to make [us] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15), “to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the Word of reconciliation(II Corinthians 5:19), that we might “believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12b). The preaching of that precious Word of the Gospel, as epitomized by John the Baptist in his preaching, gives the “knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring from on high [our precious Redeemer] hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:77-79). O thank God for His authoritative, inerrant, infallible, clear and efficacious Word!

Last year in Oak Forest we centered chiefly upon the sufficiency of Holy Scripture for our faith, as the only source and norm of Christian doctrine and as the only source and norm of that doctrine’s consistent application. At our convention this year we continue our study, focusing in our sermons and in our convention essay on

Holy Scripture as Sufficient for Our Christian LIFE.

We first of all explore (I) WHY it is sufficient; secondly (II) for what PURPOSES it is sufficient, and finally (III) to what blessed END it is sufficient.

I.

St. Paul writes in the opening words of this well-known sedes or prooftext that even our children have diligently learned in their catechetical instruction: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.” As we briefly observed in the introduction to our sermon, it is the verbal, word-for-blessed word, inspiration of the Scriptures that gives them their divine authority and make them “profitable.” God is doing the talking; these are “the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (I Corinthians 2:13). The Scriptures did not come to us “by the will of man,” Peter writes in his second epistle, as if out of some “creative writing” class, “but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost(II Peter 1:21). Therefore, to all “gainsayers” (Titus 1:9) who would dare to speak against Holy Scripture, to twist or “wrest” it to fit their own “private interpretation,” who don’t like what a certain passage says in its very words, we say: “Take it up with the Holy Ghost! Your issue is not with US; your issue is with God Himself!”

Moreover, Scripture is inerrant (containing no errors) and infallible (incap-able of mistakes). Jesus Himself, addressing His heavenly Father in prayer, declared: “Thy Word is TRUTH” (John 17:17); and the Psalmist writes: “The Word of the Lord is RIGHT, and all His ways are done in TRUTH” (Psalm 33:4). God doesn’t make mistakes; and He is not mistaken when He speaks to us. Yea, the Holy Spirit of God needed no “dictation editor” or “spell-checker” when He, through the witness of the evangelists and apostles, “made known unto [us] the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:16). For, regarding even such minute structures of language as words and letters, the Lord Jesus said: “One jot [the smallest letter in Hebrew] or one tittle [part of a letter] shall in no wise pass from the Law til all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). Is God’s Word that detail-oriented?? Take it up with the Lord Jesus!

The Psalmist declares regarding the perspicuity or clarity of Scripture: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (119:105). Those who complain that the Scriptures are a “dark” book should read these enlightening words! Indeed, for the benefit of those who claim that only a Bible scholar can understand the Scriptures and that they are more confusing than profitable,” David adds in verse 130: “The entrance of Thy Words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.” The words of Scripture are indeed sufficient, as to their authority, as to their inerrancy, and as to their clarity and ease of understanding, and therefore are profitable “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79), to lead us “in the paths of righteousness for [our Good Shepherd’s] sake…all the days of [our] life” (Psalm 23), that we “should not henceforth live unto [ourselves] but unto Him which died for [us] and rose again” (II Corinthians 5:15).

II.

For what specific purposes, then, has God given us His all-sufficient Word with respect to our lives as Christians? The Apostle writes to Timothy that “all Scripture…is profitable for doctrine.” With respect to us who are believers, who by the same “Holy Scriptures,” specifically the Gospel, have already been made “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (v. 15), the “doctrine” or teaching for which Scripture is “profitable” for our lives as Christians still includes, of course, the efficacious Gospel, the power of God [whereby] [we] are kept …through faith unto salvation(I Peter 1:5); but then also specifically those doctrines whereby we are taught what the will of God is concerning our sanctification of life here in this world. —Sanctification in the narrower sense is that work of the Holy Spirit according to which He has by the power of the Gospel (the Means of Grace) renewed our hearts so that now we can overcome sin and do good works as the evidence and fruit of our faith (Cf. Cat. Q/A 169), “show[ing] forth the praises of Him who hath called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).

In sanctification in the narrower sense we rely upon the all-sufficient Scriptures for the “profitable” Law of God in all three of its uses: As a curb to check our flesh and the coarse outbursts of sin to which it prompts us, as a mirror to show us the sins that we commit contrary to the motions of the “inward man” (Romans 7:22) and to move us to true contrition (Psalm 51:17), and as a rule or straightedge which norms or sets the standard of what works we must do to lead a Godpleasing life. BUT we also rely upon the all-sufficient Scriptures for the “profitable” doctrine of the Gospel, which, with respect to our Christian lives, ever remains and must remain the only motivator for good works and the only source of our ability to perform them, as we confess with John in his first epistle: “We love Him because He first loved us” (4:19), and with St. Paul: “The love of Christ constraineth us” (II Corinthians 5:14).

Holy Scripture is also “profitable…for reproof” when it comes to our lives as Christians. “Reproof” is admonition, criticism, and condemnation brought to bear against sin and sinful behavior. Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (5:11). And we are able to reprove them, both in ourselves and in others, by the “reproof” of Scripture itself which identifies “iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:7) as those acts contrary to the Lord’s commandments which “have separated between [us] and [our] God, and… have hid His face from us” (Isaiah 59:2). Only God’s all-sufficient Word identifies sin as “the transgression of the Law” (I John 3:4) instead of the innocuous “mistakes,” “bad judgment calls,” “poor decision-making” and “ill-considered behavior” that the world excuses. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” asks the Psalmist (119:9). How is a fella supposed to clean up his act?? “By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.” The “profitable…reproof of Scripture will convict him of his sins, that he might repent of them. “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away” (Proverbs 4:14-15).

Scripture is also “profitable for…correction,” our text says. “Correction” is the “flip-side,” as it were, of “reproof.” It involves bringing into compliance that which is out of compliance with God’s holy Law. Both the Psalms and the Proverbs, for example, abound in “corrective” language. “Teach me Thy way, O Lord. I will walk in Thy truth. Unite my heart to fear Thy name(86:11). “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the Law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep His testimonies and that seek Him with the whole heart(119:1-2). “Cause me to hear Thy lovingkindness in the morning, for in Thee do I trust. Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk, for I lift up my soul unto Thee(143:8).

And closely connected with “correction” is instruction in righteousness.” Man by nature, and even we Christians according to our sinful flesh, foolishly despise instruction. Fools despise wisdom and instruction,” writes Solomon in the Proverbs (1:7) …“and say, ‘How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof, and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me! I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly’” (5:12-14). But it is “instruction in righteousness,” the third use of the Law, that norms Godly behavior for true believers (Romans 8:8; Hebrews 11:6). “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works [for the purpose of doing good works], which God hath before ordained (that is, commanded), that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore Luther, by God’s grace a fine Christian “instructor,” explains in his Small Catechism, in his “book of instruction in the form of questions and answers,” according to the norm of Scripture, what each of the Commandments means, first setting forth from Exodus chapter 20 what God forbids when He says, “Thou shalt NOT,” and then instructing us “in righteousness” as to what the Lord requires of us who “fear and love God” as His children by faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26), who are motivated by His grace revealed in the Gospel (I Peter 1:25). Luther, of course, had the Holy Scriptures as his model or prototype for this method of “instruction in righteousness,” as, for example, the Lord’s words to Joshua after the death of Moses: “This Book of the Law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou gayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:5-8), or in the words of David in Psalm 119: “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the Law of the Lord” (v. 1). Therefore, as we, by God’s grace, “gladly hear and learn [His Word]” in its sacred, authoritative, inerrant, complete and clear “instruction in righteousness,” may it be our constant prayer to our heavenly Father for Jesus’ sake: “Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments, for therein do I delight!” (Psalm 119:35).

III.

But now yet in the third place we want to ask, according to our text: To what blessed end does Holy Scripture all-sufficiently afford us its “profitable” doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness for our Christian life here in this world? The apostle states it clearly “in the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth,” saying, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

“The man of God” is the Christian man (Galatians 3:26-27), the regenerate man (I Peter 1:23), the man to whom Christ’s perfect righteousness has been personally imputed by faith (Romans 4:5), the blessedman, “[whose] delight is in the Law of the Lord(Psalm 1), the man who continues in Christ’s Word of Truth (John 8:31-32). It is God’s purpose (i{na) that the believer, being profitably taught, reproved, corrected and instructed in righteousness by the all-sufficient, verbally-inspired Scriptures, “may be perfect — not sinless, not perfectly sanctified, but, according to the Greek of our text, complete (a[rtio~) according to the new man as “[God’s] workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10) to fight against the devil, the world and his own sinful flesh (Romans 8:13b; Colossians 3:5), gladly and gratefully living “unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father” (Revelation 1:5).

And then Paul adds, as if in definition of that completeness, “thoroughly furnished [that is, outfitted, equipped and readied] unto all good works” as the fruit and evidence of faith in the Savior, as the “reasonable service” (Romans 12:1) that is due the Lord for all the benefits purchased, won and provided to the believer and sealed to him in the Means of Grace — his redemption by Christ Jesus in His vicarious satisfaction ( or propitiation) of God’s justice, his justification by God in view of Christ’s perfect obedience, his regeneration by the Holy Ghost through the Gospel to confidence in God’s merciful forgiveness, and his preservation in the true and saving faith by means of the Word and Sacrament. “For all this” —not merely the temporal blessings that we recognize in the First Article of our Creed, but especially for the spiritual blessings we have by means of His authoritative, all-sufficient, inerrant, infallible, clear and efficacious Word — “for all this it is our duty,” yea, our great privilege, motivated by His precious Gospel, “to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him” (Luther).

Indeed, the all-sufficiency of Holy Scripture for our Christian life “is most certainly true,” for which reason we, who by the Gospel have been made wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15) and are by His grace “the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26), should not “despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred” (Luther), love it, diligently search it, gladly hear it, learn it, meditate upon it and follow it in faith. “Yea,…blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28). — “Ye, therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware, lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness; but grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (II Peter 3:18).

Soli Deo gloria!

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