The grace of God is backwards. It does not make any sense. At least that is how things look from the world’s perspective. If you want something in this world you must work for it—you put in the time and effort. You give the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to earn what it is you want. But grace doesn’t work like that; it is free and unmerited favor. It is purely a gift, it cannot be bought, it cannot be worked toward, and it cannot be stolen. It is freely offered and freely given, and that does not make any sense at all to the world. The Apostle Paul warned us that this would be the case: “…but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Christ has called us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Our calling is to go and make disciples; God supplies us with the tools of teaching and baptism. Ultimately this means that God has given to us the Word and sacraments as his means of grace to make disciples. By those means, God delivers his grace to fallen and lost sinners.
Neither the message of God’s grace nor the way in which he gives it make sense to the world. The primary means that God has given to make disciples is the gospel, found in his holy Word. And what does the world make of the Bible? They think it is an old dusty book filled with stories and fairy tales that might have some decent morals, but it is also backward and outdated. It is a book that oppresses women and represses healthy sexual expression. In the world’s eyes, to accept the Bible as truth is to be close-minded, judgmental, sexist, bigoted, and homophobic.
What about the other means of grace God has given us? Holy baptism, in the eyes of the world, is merely an outward service, just a tip of the hat. It is something likely done to appease your grandmother, rather than something with any significance to your spiritual life. To the world, the Lord’s Supper may appear a pious, yet completely meaningless, snack during the worship service.
Many people in the world ignore holy Scripture, and when they don’t, they either mock it or violently war against it. They could not care less about the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. So, what are we to do? How do we go about making disciples in this world? Well, we do what we have always done. We do exactly what Jesus has commanded us to do.
The opinion of the world doesn’t sway God. It doesn’t change God’s mind, and it doesn’t make him work in a different way. God isn’t concerned when people in the world don’t like him very much. In fact, the world has always been opposed to God, yet God has always loved his fallen, rebellious, and wicked creation.
He loved this wicked, sinful world so much that he sent his only begotten Son to put on the same flesh as mankind. He was born of a woman but born without sin. He lived the same life that we do. He faced every single temptation that we face, but faced it all without sin, and did it all in our place. Jesus was betrayed with a kiss and suffered under Pontius Pilate. He was crucified and died bearing the sins of the entire world. Jesus became the perfect propitiation, the perfect substitute for us. He paid the price for every one of our sins and paid it all in full. It is truly finished. After that, he rose again to new life, promising that all who believe in him will also rise to new and eternal life with him.
That is the gospel message that we must share with a world of people dead in their trespasses and sins, already standing condemned before God. Their only hope—and ours—is that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, the gospel is God’s power unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17).
The gospel is able to take people from the darkness and bring them into the glorious light of Christ. It is able to take people from being dead in their sins and trespasses to being alive in Christ. It is able to make God’s enemies into his beloved children. It is able to take those who are condemned already and simply awaiting hell and make them into redeemed saints awaiting the glorious return of Jesus Christ. That power of the gospel has not changed, will not change, and cannot change, because it is firmly rooted in the promise of God. God has declared that the gospel is his power unto salvation, and it remains so, both now and forever.
When the world sees holy baptism, they might just see some outdated ritual. The world might see only water that could wash away dirt, but because of the unchanging promise of God, this water washes away sin. When the world sees the Lord’s Supper they see some pious snack, but because of the unchanging promise of God, what we receive is the body and blood of Jesus Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. God has made promises, and he is always faithful to keep them.
God still uses his means of grace—Word and sacrament—to save lost sinners. He has made promises and those promises will stand true for all time and eternity. So, hold tightly to the means of God’s abundant grace. Cling to the Word of God. Remember your baptism. Cherish the body and blood of your crucified and risen Lord given at his table. And point lost sinners to the place and Person where they too can be redeemed, at the foot of the cross of Christ.
Rev. Michael Hussey is Pastor at Sidney Lutheran Brethren Church in Sidney, Montana.