Jan/Feb 1994 The President’s Column – Christian Certainty
From the January / February 1994 issue of The Concordia Lutheran
The President’s Column
We are entering into the first quarter of the new year. Economists are busy assessing the financial situation of the country and making decisions and predictions very cautiously, simply because everything is so uncertain. There is the fear that the large increase in our taxes this year will have a deleterious effect upon our economy. There are not only the various problems within our own borders with which we must cope (crime, national health care and medical plan, etc.), but also global problems. All these things tend to increase the uncertainty already existing within the hearts of the children of this world because their attention is focused only on the things of this world with no thought concerning the life to come.
Are things any different within the pale of Christendom? Where are those Christians who profess true Scriptural certainty? Oh, indeed, we hear many nominal Christians speak about relying upon God’s goodness and grace, but as soon as they are asked if they are certain of that goodness and grace and their salvation, they will often stammer and are not able to answer with certainty. On the other hand, we observe particularly in the Holiness Bodies a vast number who extol the fact that they are certain of their salvation. In fact, at first glance, no one seems to be more certain than they. They can frequently tell you the day and hour of their conversion and even enumerate many remarkable things connected with their conversion. But only too often it becomes apparent that their certainty turns into uncertainty when they must endure severe temptations and trials. He who bases his faith upon his emotions and feelings builds upon sinking sand. Then there is the Roman Church which declares by divine authority and power in the Council of Trent that no one, unless it be by special revelation, can be certain of the forgiveness of sins and his salvation (Trid., Sess. VI, chap.IX).
In sharp contrast to all this, we hear the Apostle Paul declaring by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “For I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12) Paul’s faith was no human opinion, no self-made hope resting upon an improbability. He knew in whom he believed and upon whom his faith was based – Jesus. As scripture declares, “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Here is true Scriptural certainty!
There are those, however, who insist that this example of the Apostle Paul was an exceptional one. But what was it that brought Paul to the conviction, “I know whom I have believed?” It is true that the Lord appeared unto Paul in a miraculous manner on his way to Damascus. But this appearance was not in itself a means of grace to bring him to this certainty. It was an extraordinary means of bringing proud Saul to his senses. However during this special encounter Christ also spoke to Saul saying, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” (Acts 9:5). Then he told Saul, “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6). There, through Ananias, the Lord told him to “arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Thus the Apostle does not base his faith upon a special heavenly revelation but upon God’s Word of Truth through which the Holy Spirit worked such certainty in his heart. Therefore we hear this same Apostle declaring, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). And again, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). Therefore the Apostle Paul reminds: “the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3: 26): “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16,17).
What a blessing to possess this true Scriptural certainty! We are not to seek such certainty in extraordinary signs such as dreams, visions and revelations. Instead, we are to make use of the means which God Himself has provided: the Law and the Gospel. “By the Law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The Law of God shows us our real condition in the sight of God: conceived and born in sin and iniquity, spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God, deserving God’s justifiable wrath and everlasting condemnation. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). And the deeper that we look into the Law of God and examine ourselves on the basis of that Law, the more precious will be that announcement from the Savior of sinners, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matt. 9:2). Where the hammer-blows of the Law have smashed our self-righteousness, there the sweet Gospel lifts us up and prompts us to “give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:12-14).
Now we Christians can and should be certain of the love of our dear heavenly Father in Christ for it is not a subjective certainty which we have devised, but an objective certainty which is based solely and alone upon God’s Word and promise! That Word is the Truth (John 17:17). That Word has been given by the inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16). That Word is not the word of fallible men, but the infallible Word of the Most High (1 Cor. 2:13). That Word is the Word of Him for whom it is impossible to lie (Heb. 6:18). No wonder our Lutheran fathers declared so emphatically, “First, (then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart) the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged” (The Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration. Comprehensive Summary, Trig. page 851). And we confidently sing the words of that fine Scriptural hymn by Erdmann Neumeister,
“I know my faith is founded
On Jesus Christ, my God and Lord;
And this my faith confessing,
Unmoved I stand upon His Word.
Man’s reason cannot fathom
The truth of God profound;
Who trusts her subtle wisdom
Relies on shifting ground.
God’s Word is all-sufficient,
It makes divinely sure,
And trusting in its wisdom,
My faith shall rest secure”
(Lutheran Hymnal 381 v.1).
Therefore it is neither arrogance nor presumption on our part to declare with the Apostle Paul, “I know whom I have believed…” (2 Tim. 1:12). Such certainty is worked by God the Holy Ghost through the Gospel and dwells within the heart of every believer in Christ. While this certainty is not found among all Christians in the same degree, every true Christian possesses it. There is no doubt about it, we know that this certainty is attacked by the enemies of our souls especially when we must walk through the furnace of affliction. At such times we must often cry out, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This certainty can also be lost if we allow ourselves to be ensnared by the devil to live in the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). But as long as our faith continues to hold steadfastly to God’s Word and promise, it will never be put to shame (Rom. 10:11).
We Christians should therefore be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). His promises stand surv! “For He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb. 13:5,6).
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor M. L. Natterer, President