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Bible Studies

CHRIST’S LOVE DEMONSTRATED IN THE EFFICACY OF THE MEANS OF GRACE

By Rev. John M. Brenner

Foreward
This Bible study is based on the essay, “Christ’s Love Demonstrated in the Efficacy of the Means of Grace,” presented at the synod convention held in Saginaw, Michigan, July 27-31, 2009.  

Those 
who lead this study will find it helpful to read the essay, which is printed in the convention Proceedings. The study is the result of a convention resolution which called for a series of “theological discussions” of important and timely issues.  The format allows for use in a variety of settings, including pastor and teacher conferences, adult Bible class, or leadership groups.  It also lends itself well to a selfdirected study for those who wish to use it on their own.

Each section provides more passages and questions that you may have time to use.  Leaders should feel free to pick and choose or to develop their own questions.  At times a group of several passages is followed by only one or two questions.  This may offer an opportunity for quick break out groups of two or three people.  Break out groups would also work well for the “Points to Ponder” sections.

May the Holy Spirit bless your study of these important scriptural truths.
 
Part I Human Sin and God’s Plan of Salvation
Part II God’s Law and Gospel are Powerful
Part III The Means of Grace are Always Efficacious
Part IV The Means of Grace Work Supernaturally but not Magically
Part V The Power of the Means of Grace Moves Us to Trust and to Act
 
(This study is available on WELS Connect)
 
    Part I
  • Part One

    Human Sin and God’s Plan of Salvation

    Introduction
    The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:16).  In other words, God not only shows love, love is his very essence.  It is his nature to love.  We see that truth nowhere more clearly than in his plan of salvation.  Love caused the Father to sacrifice his Son for the sins of the world.  Love caused the Son to take on human flesh and blood to live, suffer and die in our place.  We dare never grow tired of studying these precious truths.
     

    I. How many people has God justified or forgiven?
     

    Romans 5:12 – Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. 
     
    John 3:3, 6 – I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
     
    Romans 6:23 a – The wages of sin is death.
     
    • Sin originated when Adam fell into sin.  How was Adam’s sinfulness passed on to every  other human being?
    • What is the result when someone who is spiritually dead also dies physically?
    • Explain: The fact that death awaits every human being, including babies, is clear proof that every human being is sinful
     
    Isaiah 53:5-6 – He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We  all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
     
    • Explain the vicarious (substitutionary) atonement.
     
    1 John 2:2 – He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
     
    John 1:29 – Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
     
    • Use 1 John 2:2 to explain what John meant when he called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?
     
    2 Corinthians 5:19, 21 – God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them . . . God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
     
    • What does it mean that God reconciled the world?
    • What does it mean that God reconciled the world by not counting men’s sins against them?
     
    Romans 6:23-24 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
     
    • Explain: Justify and forgive are two different ways of saying the same thing.
    • According to Romans 6:23-24 all have sinned.  Demonstrate that God has also justified all.
    • Explain: God has forgiven the sins of the whole world.  This truth alone can give 
       true comfort to the burdened conscience.
     

    II. How do human beings receive the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation?

    John 3: 16, 18 – 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 . . . but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
     
    • Even though God has forgiven the sins of the world, what is the only way anyone can 
       receive the benefit of that forgiveness?
    • Universalism teaches that ultimately everyone will be saved.  What’s wrong with this teaching?

    Key Point: Every human being is a sinner who deserves to die eternally.  Yet God in his love provided a Savior.  Because of Jesus’ substitutionary death, God has reconciled the world by forgiving the sins of every human being.  This truth gives utmost comfort to the troubled conscience.
     
    Ephesians 2:8-9 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
     
    • Explain the words grace and gift as they apply to faith and salvation.
     
    Romans 3:28 – For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
     
    • Roman Catholics were critical of Luther when he inserted the word alone after faith in this    passage.  They pointed out that the word alone is not in the Greek.  Why was there 
    nothing wrong with Luther’s addition?
     
    Romans 4:16 – Therefore the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.
     
    • Explain:  Justification by faith alone guarantees that justification is by grace alone.
     
    Hebrews 11:10 – Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
     
    • Use this passage to explain what faith is.
     
    Romans 4:18-25 – Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.  That is why ‘it was credited to him for righteousness.  The words, “it was credited to him” were not written for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:18-25).

     
    Key Point: Human beings receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through faith alone.  Faith is trust in God’s promises.
     
    •  How does the account of Abraham show that the essence of faith is trust in God’s 
       promises or taking God at his word?

     
    Points to Ponder
    • How would you use these truths to reach out to someone who does not believe in Jesus?
    • How would you use these truths to comfort a friend or a relative who has a burdened conscience?
    • Explain: God has forgiven the sins of the world, but sinners receive that forgiveness only by faith, trusting in God’s promises.
     
    Summary
    God’s plan of salvation is a demonstration of his love from first to last.  The Father loved this
    world so much that he sacrificed his Son for the world.  He loved us not because we are lovable, be because he is love.  Christ Jesus loved us so much that he suffered hell so that we might inherit heaven.  When Jesus died God declared the whole world forgiven.  That truth brings comfort to the troubles conscience.  Those who believe that truth and trust in Jesus as their Savior receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

    Part II
  • Part Two

    God’s Law and Gospel Are Powerful

    Introduction
    Life as we know it in America today is dependent on a reliable source of electricity.  Electricity powers our appliances, lights our homes, runs our computers, and provides the energy to operate our businesses and factories.  It is difficult to imagine what life would be like without that source of power.  Nevertheless we know that we can live without electricity.  For most of history people got by without it.
     
    We need power for our lives as Christians and the work God has given us to do.  That power lies in his Word.  Without that power the life of a Christian is not possible.  God’s law has the power to reveal our sin and make us despair of saving ourselves.  His gospel has the power to create and sustain faith.  We will consider these familiar truths in our lesson for today. 
     
    I. Why can we be certain that God’s Word is powerful?
     
    2 Timothy 3:16 – All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
     
    • What does it mean that all Scripture is God-breathed?
     
    Jeremiah 23:29 – “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
     
    Hebrews 4:12 – The word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.
     
    • Use these to passages to describe the power that is inherent in God’s Word.
     
     
    Key Point: We can be certain that God’s Word is powerful because it is His Word and he declares it to be powerful.
     
    II. What does God use to reveal our sin, crush our pride, and hold us accountable to him?
     
    Romans 3:20 – Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
     
    Romans 7:7 – Indeed, I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what it was to covet if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 
     
    • What is the primary purpose of God’s law?
     
    Matthew 5:28 – But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
     
    1 John 3:15 – Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal; life abiding in him.
     
    James 2:10 – For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of all.
     
    Romans 6:23a – The wages of sin is death.
     
    • Why can’t anyone claim that he deserves eternal life?
     
    Ephesians 2:1, 4b-5 – As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
     
    • Children in anger sometimes say, “I didn’t ask to be born!”  Even though they are being    disrespectful, what they say is correct.  Use the passage above to demonstrate that an unbeliever cannot ask to be born again.  
     
    Romans 8:7-8 – The sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law nor can it do so.  Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
     
    • Why can’t human beings by nature please God?
     
    1 Corinthians 2:14 – The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
     
    • What does it mean that the man without the Spirit cannot understand the things that come from God (the message of the Bible)?
    • Use these three passages to demonstrate that a human being cannot cooperate in his own conversion or decide for Christ.
     
    Leviticus 19:2 – Be holy because I the LORD your God am holy.
     
    Matthew 5:48 – Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.
     
    Galatians 3:10 – Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.
     
    • The Lutheran Confessions say that the law always accuses (Apology, Article, IV, 38).  Use    these passage to show that this is true even in the life of a Christian.
    • Romans 3:19 – Now we know that whatever the law says it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
    • What does it mean that the law silences every mouth and holds the whole world accountable to God?

    Key Point: God‘s law reveals our sin, crushes our sinful pride, and holds us accountable 
    to him.
     
    III. Through what does the Holy Spirit work to create, strengthen, and preserve faith?
     
    1 Corinthians 12:3 – No one can say “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
     
    • What does St. Paul mean when he writes that no one can say “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit?
     
    2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 – But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
     
    Romans 1:16 – I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
     
    • According to these two passages, what does the Holy Spirit use to bring people to faith?
    • What is the gospel?
     
    Acts 2:38 – Repent and be baptized, everyone 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 22:16 – Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins.
     
    Titus 3:4-7 – But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
     
    1 Peter 3:21 – Baptism . . . now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.
     
    • Use these four passages to explain the blessings that baptism brings us.
     
    Luke 22:19, 20 – This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
     
    • According to Jeremiah 31:31-34 the new covenant is the forgiveness of sins.  What does    that truth tell us we receive with Christ’s true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper?

     
    Key Point: The gospel is the good news that God has forgiven our sins for Jesus sake.  The Holy Spirit works through the means of grace, the gospel in Word and Sacraments to create, preserve and strengthen faith.
     
    IV. Will anyone be saved apart from the means of grace?
     
    1 Corinthians 2:9-10 – As it is written, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
     
    • Why must God’s plan of salvation be revealed to human beings?
     
    John 20:31 – These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
     
    • What is the main purpose of the Holy Scriptures?
     
    Romans 10:13-15, 17 – “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  How then can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” . . . Consequently faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
     
    • Paul asks a series of questions.  What answer does each of these questions expect?
    • Salvation comes only through faith in Jesus.  According to these verses, what is the only    way that anyone can come to faith.
     
     
    Key Point: God has revealed his plan of salvation to us in the Holy Scriptures because human beings could not discover it on their own.  According to God’s revealed will, no one can come to faith and be saved apart from the means of grace.
     
    Points to Ponder
    • Moralizing is the attempt to use the law to produce what the gospel alone can accomplish.  Discuss the proper use of God’s law and gospel in the training and discipline of children.
    • Discuss the importance of doing evangelism in your congregation and supporting the mission work of our synod.
    • Explain the importance of the means of grace for the life of your congregation.
     
    Summary
    In his love our Savior has provided everything we need for salvation.  He gave us his powerful Word to lead us to eternal life.  His law has the power to reveal our sins and hold us accountable 
    to God.  His gospel has the power to lead us to trust in him and to preserve us in that faith.  Salvation comes only through faith in Jesus.  Faith comes only through the gospel in Word and sacrament.  We dare not ignore God’s plan and we cannot improve on it.

    Part III
  • Part Three

    The Means of Grace Are Always Efficacious

    Introduction
    How reliable are the things we use every day?  We seldom give that question much thought. For instance, most people trust the brakes on their car so much that they rarely think about their ability to stop.  When they step on their brakes they simply assume that they will work.  Once, however, the brakes on my car failed and I hit the car ahead of me.  Fortunately, I was coasting up to a stop light so there was little damage to either car and no one was injured.  That incident, however, taught me an important lesson—things that are man made can fail.  They do not always work.

    Our God, on the other hand, assures us that his means of grace always work. That is, the proclamation of his Word and the administration of his sacraments will always accomplish what he wants them to accomplish whether it is apparent to us or not.  That’s the truth we will consider today.
     
    I. Will everyone who hears the gospel be saved?
     
    When God works directly with his almighty power as he did when he created the universe and as he will when he raises all the dead on the last day, he cannot be resisted.  On the last day no one will be able to remain in the grave.  See Genesis 1, Daniel 12:2, John 5:28.  In creating faith or converting people God works indirectly, through means.  He works through the means of grace, the gospel in Word and sacrament.
     
    Matthew 23:37 – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 
     
    • What was the response of many in Jerusalem to Jesus’ ministry among them? 
     
    Acts 7:51 – You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!  You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit.
    • Why did the Jewish leaders not believe the message of the apostles and Stephen?
     

    Key Point: Not everyone who hears the gospel will be saved because people have the ability to resist the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
     
    II. What does God promise whenever we use the means of grace?
     
    Isaiah 55:10-11 – As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
     
    • Explain this statement of Luther: “Now wherever you hear or see this Word preached,     believed professed, and lived, do not doubt that . . . a Christian holy people” must be there even though their number is very small.  For God’s Word “shall not return empty” . . . And even if there is were no other sign than this, it would suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God’s Word cannot be without God’s people, and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s Word (“On the Councils and the Church.”  Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 41, 150).
       • What confidence can we have whenever we proclaim God’s Word?
     
    Romans 1:16 – I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
     
    • Why did Paul never hesitate to preach the gospel?
     
    Key Point: God promises that whenever and wherever his Word is proclaimed it will accomplish what he wants it to accomplish.  Trusting the power of the gospel, we need never be hesitant to proclaim God’s truth.
     
    III. Why is this promise of God so important for us to remember?
     
    John 3:8 – The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
    Mark 4:26-28 – This is what the kingdom of God is like.  A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.
     
    • Use these two passages to explain the way the Holy Spirit works to create faith.
     
    1 Kings 19:18 – He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty.  The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death.  I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too,” . . . The LORD God said to him, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
     
    • Elijah thought that all of his work was in vain.  Why couldn’t he see that there were still     7,000 believers in Israel?
     
    John 6:60, 66 – On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?” . . . From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
     
    • Our Savior was a perfect preacher who only spoke God’s truth.  What, however, was the     result of his discourse on the Bread of Life?
     
    Acts 2:41 – Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number on that day.
    Jonah 3:4-5 – Jonah started into the city, going about a day’s journey, and he proclaimed, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.”  The Ninevites believed God.  They declared a fast, and all of them, from greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (see Matthew 12:41).
     
    • On the basis of these two passages, describe how God sometimes shows the amazing power of his Word.
    • “For through the Word and sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God” (Augsburg Confession, V, 2)  Explain this     statement of the Augsburg Confession.  What caution do these words offer?  What comfort do these words give you?

    Key Point: The Holy Spirit often works imperceptibly to create faith according to his plan and purpose, not necessarily our plan.  Sometimes it may seem that our work has accomplished nothing.  At other times God may bless our work in a very visible way.
     
    Points to Ponder
    • Explain:  Numerical success and statistics may or may not indicate the health of a church.
    • Explain: God’s promise that his Word will never return empty encourages us to faithful proclamation of the gospel whether we see any results or not. 

    Summary
    We cannot always trust the things we use in this life because they don’t always work.  Sometimes they fail at the most inopportune times.  God’s Word is different.  It always accomplishes what God wants because it is his Word.  Although it is true that people can resist the Holy Spirit’s work, we can be confident that he will accomplish his purpose whenever the gospel is proclaimed.  Sometimes we will not see any visible results. Sometimes we will.  Results might not become apparent for years.  Perhaps we won’t see them until we go to heaven.  But we can always be certain that the Holy Spirit is accomplishing his purpose.  He has promised that his Word will not return to him empty.  And he cannot lie.
    Part IV
  • Part Four

    The Means of Grace Work Supernaturally but not Magically

    Introduction
    Just say the magic words!  More than one fairy tale or children’s story implies that if a person mutters the right syllables something will miraculously happen.  Often the magic words are unintelligible, but it makes no difference.  The right sounds will produce the right results whether a person understands the words or not.
     
    When we hear about the power of God’s Word we are sometimes tempted to think that if we go through the right motions and make the right sounds certain results will magically happen.  It is important to understand that there is a difference between “saying the magic words” and the supernatural working of the means of grace.  That is the focus of our lesson today.
     
    I. What does it mean that the means of grace work supernaturally?
     
    Jeremiah 23:29 – “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” 
     
    Hebrews 4:12 – The word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. 
     
    • On the basis of these two passages describe the supernatural power of God’s Word.
     
    1 Corinthians 1:18-24 – For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.    For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?   For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,  but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength
     
    • What does St. Paul mean when he says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing?

     
    • Why is it supernatural when people are led to believe the gospel?
     
    1 Corinthians 2:14-16 – For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
     
    • What does it mean that the man without the Spirit of God cannot understand the things that come from God?
    • How does the passage show that it is a supernatural occurrence when people are led to    believe the gospel?
     
    Ephesians 2:3-5 – Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
     
    • Use this passage to explain why conversion or regeneration is not something that happens naturally?
     
    Romans 6:3-4 – Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 
     
    • What did the Holy Spirit accomplish in us when we were baptized?
     
    Key Point: God assures us that his Word is powerful.  He demonstrates that supernatural or divine power when through the gospel he creates new life in those who are spiritually dead, instills faith in those who cannot understand the gospel, and makes them partakers of Christ’s death and resurrection.
     
    II. What does it mean that the means of grace do not work magically?
     
    1 Corinthians 14:6-11 – Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?  Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes?  Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you.  Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?  You will just be speaking into the air.  Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is not without meaning.  If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me.
     
    • Why is it necessary to proclaim the gospel in a language that people can understand?
     
       2 Peter 1:19 – And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
     
    Ecclesiastes 5:1 – Guard your steps when you go into the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
     
    Matthew 15:7-10 – You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”  Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.”
     
    • What responsibility do we have when we study God’s Word on our own or when we go to church to hear his Word proclaimed?
    • What is the difference between hearing and listening?
    • Explain: If a person reads God’s Word or goes to church without paying attention or listening, he is acting as if God’s Word works magically.
     
    1 Corinthians 11:26-29 – For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
     
    • What constitutes proper preparation for partaking of the Lord’s Supper?
    • Why is such preparation important?
     
    2 Timothy 3:14-15 – But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,  and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
     
    • Use 2 Timothy 3:14-15 to explain this statement: We are not treating baptism as a magical    rite when we baptize infants.  We are merely trusting the promises of God’s Word connected with Baptism. We treat it as a magical rite or a talisman only if we fail to keep telling our children about their Savior and reminding them of their baptism and its significance.
     

    Key Point: We cannot expect that God’s Word will accomplish anything if we do not communicate in a language that people can understand.  In the same it does people no good merely to be in the presence of God’s Word, they must listen and pay attention to it.
     
    Points to Ponder
    • Explain: The fact that the means of grace work supernaturally but not magically moves us to humility in regard to our own ability, confidence in the Holy Spirit’s power, and faithfulness and diligence in the proclamation of the gospel.
    • List some ways that we can prepare ourselves for worship so that we can get as much out of the service as possible.
     
    Summary
    God could have worked directly on the human heart to create faith or he could have used any means he wanted. But he chose to work the miracle of conversion through the means of grace.  He condescended to speak to us in human language.  His Word enters our minds and hearts through our senses to accomplish his supernatural task.  Because God works through intelligible human language we will always want to present the gospel clearly.  We will also want to be faithful in our use of the means of grace, always paying attention to what God’s Word says and not merely going through the outward motions.

    Part V
  • Part Five

    The Power of the Means of Grace Moves Us to Trust and to Act

    Introduction
    The sainted Prof. John Meyer once wrote, “But, someone might say, will not the fact that God, and God alone, grants faith and that he does so just when and where he pleases tend to make us careless?  If there is nothing we can contribute toward our own faith or toward that of others, why then make any effort?
     
    The very opposite.  It will drive us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. So St. Paul says.   He encourages the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling Philippians 2:12) and then added this reason: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (v. 13).
     
    This reason may seem odd: You work out your salvation because God is doing it for you from A to Z.  Yet this is the very nature of the faith which the Holy Spirit works in our hearts that on the one hand rejoices in the great gift of God, and at the same time begins to work as if the whole matter rested in our own hands.”1 This paradox will be the subject of our study today.
     
    I. Why is it foolish to doubt the power of God’s Word or to try to substitute personality or human methods or efforts for the means of grace?
     
    Jeremiah 23:29 – “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
     
    Hebrews 4:12 – The word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.
     
    Romans 1:16-17 – I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
     
    Isaiah 55:10-11 – As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields send for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
     
    • What does God say and promise about the power of his Word?
     

     
    1 Corinthians 3:5-7 – What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul?  Only servants through whom you came to believe—as the Lord assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
     
    • Paul and Apollos were both very gifted and capable pastors and missionaries.  Why doesn’t Paul take credit for everything that had been accomplished in Corinth?
     
    1 Corinthians 2:1-5 – When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
     
    • The Greeks prided themselves on their culture and learning.  Yet Paul did not resort to     subtle argumentation or flowery rhetoric to try to impress the Corinthians.  Why was he determined to proclaim only the simple gospel message of Jesus Christ and him crucified?
     
    2 Corinthians 4:5, 7 – For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. . . But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
     
    • What does Paul mean when he says that we have this treasure in jars of clay?
    • Why would it have been foolish for Paul to have relied on his own gifts and abilities rather     than on the power of God’s Word in his work as an apostle?
    • Luther once wrote, “It is not in my power or hand to fashion the hearts of men as the potter molds the clay and fashion them at my pleasure.  I can get no farther than their ears; their hearts I cannot reach.  And since I cannot pour faith into their hearts, I cannot, nor should I, force anyone to have faith.  That is God’s work alone, who causes faith to live in the heart . . . We should preach the Word, but the results must be left solely to God’s good pleasure . . .Take myself as an example.  I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force.  I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing.  And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26-29] . . . the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses on it.”2 Compare Luther’s confidence in the power of God’s Word with the confidence expressed by St. Paul.
     
    II. Why will we never want to be careless or lazy in our use of the means of grace?
    2 Corinthians 5:14-15 – For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for his who died for them and was raised again.

    • What moves a Christian to live his life for Christ alone?
    • Why would we never want to be lazy or sloppy in carrying out the work God has given the church to do?
     
    2 Peter 3:18 – Grow in grace and the knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
     
    • Why will we want to hear and study God’s Word regularly?
     
    Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
    Psalm 78:4-7 – We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.  He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
     
    • Why is it important for us to train our children in God’s Word?
    • Why does this require some planning and effort?
     
    2 Timothy 2:2 – The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
     
    2 Timothy 2:15 – Do your best to present yourself to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
     
    2 Timothy 2:25 – Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
     
    Titus 2:1 – You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.
     

    Key Point: It is foolish to doubt the power of God’s Word or to try to substitute 
    personality or human methods or efforts for the means of grace because the power 
    to convert sinner lies in God’s Word and not in us.  We cannot convert anyone.  Our 
    wisdom, personality, and logic cannot add a thing to the power of God’s Word.
     
    Titus 2:8 – In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that can
    not be condemned.
     
    Titus 1:9 – He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
     
    1 Timothy 3:2 – Now the overseer must be . . . able to teach. 
     
    • Using these passages, explain why it is important to provide for the careful training of     future pastors and teachers?
    • Why does being a minister of the gospel require hard work, careful planning, and diligent effort?
     
    Romans 15:24-28 – I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.  Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.
     
    • Why did St. Paul carefully make plans and report what he hoped to do even though God     sometimes overturned those plans? (see Acts 16:6-10)
     
    1 Corinthians 3:10 – By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.
     
    • What does Paul mean when he describes himself as an expert builder?
    • What implication does that have for the way we carry out the work of the church?

    2 Corinthians 11:23-29 – Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

    • What lessons about faithfulness in proclaiming the gospel can the example of St. Paul teach our congregations, congregational members, and called workers?
     
    Acts 17:19-28 – Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)  Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.  From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
     
    • Describe Paul’s approach to presenting God’s message in Athens.
    • How is his approach in Athens different from his approach in Thessalonica? See Acts 17:2-4
    • How does Paul use common sense and cultural insight to gain a hearing for his message in each place?
     
    1 Corinthians 9:19-23 – Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To 
    those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.
     
    • Why did Paul limit his Christian freedom and adjust the way he lived to the customs of the people among whom he was working?
     
    1 Corinthians 15:58 – Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
     

     
    Key Point: God expects us to offer him our best efforts.  Jesus’ death on our be  half motivates us to serve him and carry out the work he has given the church to do with all of our, soul, strength, and mind.  We can do no less.

    Points to Ponder
    • Distinguish between our role and the Holy Spirit’s role in the proclamation of the gospel.
    • What do we need to hear when we excuse our sloppy or half-hearted efforts with the thought that it makes no difference because God’s Word does everything anyway?
    • What do we need to hear when we become discouraged because all the work we do seems to be in vain?
     
    Summary
    We cannot add to the power of God’s Word.  It has the power to accomplish what God desires.  Nevertheless the Lord of the Church gives sinful human beings like us the privilege of being his messengers.  Christ’s love for us compels us to offer our best efforts for him.  We will therefore plan the work we do as a church and give our best efforts to proclaim his message of salvation.

    _____
    1 John Meyer, Studies in the Augsburg Confession (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1995)  82. 
    2 “Eight Sermons at Wittenberg, 1522,” Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 51, 76-77.

Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession! ~ A.D. 1530