Confessing Christ

Matthew 10:32-33

Audio Version

During the time of the English Civil War in the 1600’s, the Presbyterian Scots published a document entitled briefly “An Apologetic Declaration.” In this declaration, the Scots continued their renunciation of Charles II. The reason they renounced Charles II was because Charles II had been killing all Protestants who disagreed with him. So Charles II struck back with the abjuration oath, which was instituted in 1684. This oath made everyone liable to death unless they swore it. The oath was quite broad in scope. In addition to rejecting the “Apologetic Declaration,” it also renounced the Westminster Assembly’s documents (which are very close to the Three Forms of Unity that you have in the hymnals in your seats). Obviously, then, this was a license to kill. Any registered magistrate plus two witnesses (never mind how honest) could condemn and execute any person who would not take this oath. Anyone who did swear this abjuration oath was denying the Gospel. This is the background for this martyr story I wish to tell you. Margaret Wilson, a Scottish girl of eighteen, was tied to a stake where the tide was due to come in. The water covered her while she was engaged in prayer; but before life was gone, they pulled her up till she recovered the power of speech, when she was asked by Major Windram, who commanded, if she would pray for the king. She replied that “She wished the salvation of all men, and the damnation of none.” “Dear Margaret,” said one of the by- standers, deeply affected, “say God save the king.” She answered with great steadiness, “God save him, if he will, for it is his salvation I desire.” “Sir, they cried to the major, “she has said it; she has said it!” The major, approaching her on hearing this, offered her the abjuration oath, charging her instantly to swear it, otherwise to return to the water. The poor young woman…firmly replied, “I will not; I am one of Christ’s children! let me go.” Upon which she was again thrust into the water, and drowned. Here was a girl who was ready and willing to confess Christ before men. She will receive her confession by Christ on the Final Judgment Day, as Jesus Himself here promises.

This story may be very touching and all, but we might ask what is the relevance for us today? To understand that, let’s dig a little bit into Christ’s meaning here.

Acknowledging Christ means confessing Christ in the face of persecution. We are still in that context of persecution that started in verse verse 14 with people not listening to our words of evangelism. It can start with that, but it may not end with that. Jesus just told us in the immediately preceding verses that we should fear only the One who can kill both body and soul. And that is a fear of reverence and awe. It is a fear that gives all glory to God, taking none for ourselves. Then, having comforted us with the words about the sparrows and the hairs on our head, letting us know that the Father cares for us, Jesus gives us a solemn warning which is simultaneously an encouragement. Jesus’ statement here is all or nothing, leaving no middle ground. It is impossible to be neutral, or silent. We are either confessing Christ or we are disowning Christ. So, if we are not confessing Christ, that means that we are disowning Him. And the phrase “before my Father in heaven” refers to the Judgment Day. So that is what Jesus means.

However, some of you might be thinking to yourselves, “What about Peter? Didn’t he deny his Lord three times?” Yes, he did. But denying Jesus is not the unforgivable sin. Repentance is possible for this sin just like any other. And, at the end of John’s Gospel, when Jesus asks Peter three times “Peter, do you love me,” I believe that is a threefold reaffirmation of Peter, a reinstatement of Peter. And Peter confesses his Lord for the rest of his life. In fact, tradition has it that Peter was martyred by crucifixion. Only, Peter did not feel that he was worthy of being crucified in the same way as his Master was, and so he asked to be crucified upside down. So, we can say this: is your life a confession of Christ? That is, do you acknowledge Him as Lord and Master of your life? Remember from the context here that we are to fear God rather than man. There is no need to deny Jesus. We should be ready, and pray that we may have the courage to acknowledge and confess Jesus when the time comes.

The way this applies to our everyday lives goes like this: do you sit and do nothing when the Lord’s name is taken in vain? Do you sit and do nothing when nearly 50,000,000 babies have been aborted since Roe vs. Wade? Do you sit and do nothing when the opposite group of vulnerable people, the aged, are being told that their lives are worthless, and that it is much better for them to commit doctor-assisted suicide, or, worse yet, in Terry Schiavo’s case, the decision is made for her? Do you sit and do nothing when a golden opportunity of evangelism presents itself? Do you sit and do nothing when an opportunity to give someone a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus presents itself? These are all ways in which we are either confessing or denying our Lord.

Obviously, from this it follows that none of us are sufficient. We are all sinners. We all of us deny Christ at some point or other. Two things then: don’t sin. Period. Just don’t do it. And rely on God’s strength in you not to sin. I don’t think we hear “do not sin” often enough. We think that it is okay to go on sinning since we have our security blanket underneath us ready to catch us. “Of course, Jesus will forgive me.” My friends, that is no license to keep on sinning. In fact, it is spitting on the sacrifice of Christ. So don’t sin. But secondly, if you have sinned, there is forgiveness. It involves repentance, which is NOT merely being sorry for your sin. It means turning away from that sin, and embracing Christ and the holy life He will give you. He has born the sin of many denials of Christ on the cross, Peter’s included.

So, while our witnessing for Christ may never be as dramatic as Margaret Wilson’s, she was only an extreme example. There are many ways to acknowledge and confess Christ. I said earlier that this statement of Christ’s was both a warning and an encouragement. It is a warning because we sure do not want to be those to whom Jesus the great Witness will say, “Depart from me, you evildoer, I never knew you.” This warning is real. We should all tremble at this warning. But the other side of the coin is Jesus saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” May we all be good and faithful servants.

Awake, O Child of Light!

Ephesians 5:8-14

J. Stowell says this in his book, Fan the Flame: “Discernment in Scripture is the skill that enables us to differentiate. It is the ability to see issues clearly. We desperately need to cultivate this spiritual skill that will enable us to know right from wrong. We must be prepared to distinguish light from darkness, truth from error, best from better, righteousness from unrighteousness, purity from defilement, and principles from pragmatics.” Mr. Stowell is correct. And yet, how few Christians these days exercise spiritual discernment! There are very few who even know what is right and wrong, let alone have the spiritual discipline necessary to choose the right and avoid the wrong. Fortunately, the Bible does not leave us in the dark with regard to these things. The Bible tells us to wake up and be in the light; it tells us what that light is, what darkness is, and how to do all these things. We must be awake.

This passage is not the first time in Ephesians that Paul calls us to spiritual discernment. In fact, the immediately preceding verses talk about it as well. Paul tells us not to be deceived by empty words. How do we know what empty words are? We need discernment. How do we get discernment? We read the Word of God, participate in the Sacraments, prayer, and have fellowship with other believers. Again, these four things are the means of grace. They are the normal ways in which God makes us to grow: the Word of God, prayer, sacraments, and fellowship.

Then Paul starts off these verses by talking about a contrast. It is the contrast between what we were before, and what we are now. What were we before we were converted to Christ? We were darkness. Notice that Paul does not say that we were in darkness, though that would be bad enough. But that is not what he says. He says that we were darkness. As Boice puts it, it is not so much that we were in darkness, as that the darkness was in us. Darkness reigned in us. What is darkness? Well, the darkness here is a moral darkness. Paul is talking about sin. In chapter 2, Paul told us that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. This is another way of saying that. We were darkness. However, our condition has changed. No longer are we darkness. Now, we are light. That is, our sin no longer reigns over us. We have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. Now that changes everything. Now the Holy Spirit indwells us, lives inside of us, bringing light. Now, it is said of us that we are light. Again, Paul does not say that we are in the light, but that we are the light as we are in the Lord.

The logical conclusion to this statement is that we ought to act like it. Paul tells us to walk as the children of light. Paul immediately tells us that he is talking about fruit. As farmers know well, plants cannot grow without light. There can be no fruit without light. So Paul says that if we are light, then fruit should result. What is that fruit? It is what is good, right, and true. Well, what is that? The rest of the Bible tells us that in the Ten Commandments, in Jesus’ interpretation of the Ten Commandments, and in Paul’s own writings.

And then, in verse 10, Paul gives us this command to be discerning. This is a very important command. Oftentimes, we admire people we know who can discern what is right and wrong. And sometimes we will think that we don’t really need discernment. After all, if we have a question, we can always just go to that person, and they will answer our questions. But Paul does not limit his command to those people who already have discernment. Instead, he commands us all to develop this discernment. This command is for all the people of God. And it is that: a command. The principle here is really quite simple. We are to walk in the ways of the Lord, but we cannot do that unless we know what those ways of the Lord are. So, we must learn what the ways of the Lord are, and then walk in them. It is that simple. We get into problems when we try to rationalize certain activities as being okay when they really are not. Right and wrong is not supposed to be complicated. But we like to say, “Yes, God commands us not to steal, but what about charging interest on that loan I gave to so-and-so? After all, I really need that extra money this year. I know he is a brother in Christ, but I need the money.” The Bible even tells us not to charge interest on a loan given to a brother in Christ. The Bible forbids us to exercise greed. And yet, we love to rationalize. We love to make things complicated when it comes to right and wrong. And the reason we like to do that is so that we can do what we want to do.

Verse 11 tells us that we are not to take part in unfruitful works of darkness. Notice that the light produces fruit. However, darkness produces only unfruitful works of darkness. Sin only results in more sin. That is not fruit. It is not even rotten fruit. It is no fruit at all. They are actual deeds, but they have nothing good about them. In verse 12, Paul tells us just how bad these deeds are. They are so bad, that it is shameful if we even have to talk about them.

However, it is not enough merely to avoid doing these deeds of darkness. We must also expose them by our light. The end of verse 11 tells us to expose them. How do we do that? Well, firstly, if we live our lives as children of the light, dark deeds will appear to be dark simply in comparison to our deeds. Secondly, when we see such deeds of darkness, it is our duty to expose them. Now, we must be wise about this. Sometimes we expose a deed to the entire world. This happens, for instance, if we see a crime being committed. Then we tell the police. However, there are some instances when it is not the whole world that needs to know. Sometimes it is sufficient merely to point out that sin to that person. This way, you expose that sin to that person as sin. There is not always a need to expose a particular sin to everyone. However, all too often, if we see sin happening, we do nothing, since we will be called “tattlers” if we say something. We need to stand for the truth.

In saying that we need to stand for the truth, what we must recognize is that Jesus is the truth, and Jesus is the light. Jesus is the truth, because He is the living Word. He is the Word made flesh, appearing among us. He exposed Satan’s works for what they were. He did that when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Jesus set the truth of the Bible over against the errors of Satan. Most of all, Jesus went to the cross, and suffered so that our sins could not only come to light, but be dealt with as well. It is one of Satan’s best tricks to try to get us to think that we need to keep our sins secret. The reality is the very opposite. Jesus’ work on the cross means that our sins can come to light and be dealt with. We can have forgiveness. But if we never confess our sins, and bring them before God, then we have no reason to think that God would forgive us. Of course, no sin can be hidden from God. Nevertheless, we always think we can try to do just that.

Paul concludes by a quotation from somewhere. Scholars are not actually sure where this quotation comes from. It is most likely an early Christian hymn that is based on some texts in Isaiah. Notice that the hymn talks about the sleeper. Obviously, sleepers sleep best in darkness. Paul tells us that the darkness he is talking about here is the darkness of death. That means moral death. This is very close to what Jesus told Lazarus when He told Lazarus to come out of the tomb. It is a perfect description of what happened to Lazarus. Have you awoken, O sleeper? Is Christ shining the light of the pure Gospel into your life? Are you a child of that Gospel light? And are you walking in the light?