Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our heavenly Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen.
The text for our meditation today is the Epistle of the Day, from 1 John 3:18-24. There we read these words:
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
In the name of Jesus Christ, we begin, AMEN.
Dear Christian friends,
In today's Epistle, St. John speaks in a way that sounds contrary to the rest of the Holy Scriptures. John tells us that we must look at the things we do and by the value of those things we do, determine whether or not we belong to the truth. "Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in [God's] presence whenever our hearts
condemn us" (1 John 3:18).
For Christians who have grown accustomed to hearing that God alone saves and that God alone gives you the assurance of your salvation, St. John 's words may come as a bit of a surprise. Since when does our love, expressed "with actions and in truth" show us that we "belong to the truth?@
Christians always wisely look outside of themselves for their assurances of salvation, looking at God's pure gifts of grace that come through Baptism and Holy Communion, and clinging to the outwardly preached Word of forgiveness, despite the inward condemnations of the heart. If you listen to what your heart tells you, you will never be saved. If you listen to what God tells you in His life‑giving Word, you are already saved.
So what is this all about, this loving not "with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth" so that we may "know we belong to the truth"?
Well, think of the example of a flag flying above the parapets of a castle or fortress. The flag signifies that all is secure: no enemy has breached the wall, any attacks against the wall are successfully defended against, and the king reigns supreme. If the flag is missing, then something is wrong; something is wrong, not merely with the flag, but with the entire fortress.
Now think of Christ's work for your salvation as being like that castle or fortress. He has, through His body and blood, built for you a strong defense and an impenetrable fortress. He has done all of the work of building your salvation for you, and you need add nothing to it. His Holy Spirit has taken up residence in you, through the power of your Baptism, and He now reigns supreme in your heart and mind.
Over the parapets of this divinely constructed fortress of your salvation now flies the bright and cheerful flag of your good works. The flag is your "Amen" to all that Christ
has done. The flag signifies that all is secure: no enemy has breached the wall, all attacks against the wall are successfully defended against, and the king eternal now reigns supreme.
This is what St. John says, "Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth." It is as if he would say to you, "Let us happily raise the banner of our good works, rejoicing in the all‑encompassing salvation of our God. Let us show, by this banner of deeds done 'with action and in truth,' that this fortress of salvation rests secure in the hands of our Almighty King.
'We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts' (Isaiah 26:1). 'God is within her, she will not fall' (Psalm 46:5). If the flag of your good works still flies, then all is well within these God‑given walls. God dwells here; righteousness and salvation dwell with Him."
"Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in [God's] presence whenever our hearts condemn us" (1 John 3:18).
By way of another analogy, think of your good works as being like the temperature gauge or the oil pressure gauge on your car. Neither of these gauges make your car's engine work at all. Other things do that. These gauges merely serve as indicators that the car's engine works properly‑it is well‑cooled and it is well‑lubricated.
This is a good way for you to think about your good works: as a temperature gauge or an oil pressure gauge. Your good works do not make the "engine" of your salvation run, so to speak. Other things do that‑the work of God does that. His grace and mercy in Christ are the spark plug and fuel of your salvation.
But your works are the temperature gauge or the oil pressure gauge. Just as these gauges on the car can indicate that all is well with the engine, so also may your works indicate for you that God has faithfully given to you the complete gift of salvation. If you are able to forgive your neighbor wholeheartedly, for example, you may take this as a sign that you believe God has forgiven you. If you are able to give generously to the poor, this is made possible by the God‑given trust that your heavenly Father shall
certainly open His hand and satisfy all your earthly needs.
Your works certainly serve as signs to the world that you are a believer. But we all know that people can put on a good act; they can go through the motions of faith but really not believe at all, and in the end, be damned. But you know yourself too well for that. You know those things that you do because you believe, and you know those things you do to deceive others.
You know what sin is, and you know those times that you avoid it by the grace of God as well as those times in which you wholeheartedly embrace it, despite God's commands. You know, along with St. Paul, that "nothing good" lives within you or anyone else, except for the good that Christ bestows upon us by the power of His Word and Spirit.
Therefore you know that when you produce good works‑works that proceed genuinely from faith‑you know that these things are actually the work of God within you. "For it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). "Without faith and without Christ, human nature and human power are much too weak to do good works. Such lofty and genuine works cannot be done without the help of Christ, as He Himself says" (Augsburg Confession Article XX.37‑39). We read in today=s Gospel Lesson our Lord=s own words, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
Apart from Christ you can do nothing, it is true; but with Christ, you can do all things as Paul says to the congregation at Philippi. With Christ, you can produce in your lives good and faithful fruit, fruit which is pleasing to God. This is why John so boldly declares in today's Epistle, "Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in [God's] presence whenever our hearts condemn us" (1 John 3:18). St. John speaks of the confidence of faith! Your hearts will not condemn you, because your hearts have been set right by God, through the blood and death and resurrection of His Son.
Throughout the history of our Church, various accusers have alleged that Lutherans do not teach good works. Some have even suggested that we go so far as to prohibit good works, because we focus so much on faith and on the work of God for us. But we do not prohibit good works, dear friends, for good works of faith clearly are the command of our heavenly Father. Far be it from us to prohibit that which our God commands!
But works must always be kept in their proper place. Good works do not precede salvation, as if there were anything we could personally do to help God save us. Good works, rather, flow from salvation. God has done all things for us in giving us the eternal life of His Son, and our works flow out of that salvation, just as water flows freely and abundantly from an Artesian well.
Good works are the "Amen" to God's work in us and for us. They are the banner of praise and thanks that waves joyfully over the secure wall and rampart He has built for us. For this reason, Christians regard the commandments with the greatest sincerity and desire. There is no such thing as "no big deal" when it comes to sin, because Christians wholeheartedly pursue those things that God speaks to them in each of the commandments.
And please note. St. John speaks these words to every Christian, of every age group: "Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in [God's] presence whenever our hearts condemn us" (1 John 3:18).
Dear friends, your hearts will not condemn you, because your hearts have been filled with faith in Jesus the crucified, who forgives all sins and pardons all iniquities. Your hearts will not condemn you in the commission of good works, because these things proceed solely from His Spirit and from no other place. Your hearts will not condemn you because you have been given new hearts (Psalm 51:10) that produce good and pious works of faith. And these works shall not condemn, for they point you to the good and gracious God who makes them possible.
These works flow from the knowledge of and the joy in the good news that Christ Is Risen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds
through Christ Jesus. Amen.