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Dying to Sin, Rising to a Holy Life (Ash Wednesday)

[2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2] We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Dying to Sin, Rising to a Holy Life

True Gospel, False Gospel. You are saved by faith. The Church is a household of faith. Which faith?

The word faith is used in two ways. “Faith” is “faith that believes” – here faith means to believe and trust. To have faith in Christ is to believe in Him and trust Him.

“Faith” is also “the faith that is believed”. In other words, “faith” means a set of beliefs that are believed in, trusted. So, “the Christian faith”, or “biblical faith” means the set of beliefs that constitute what we believe and trust in.

So, we believe, we trust, by faith. And we confess a certain faith – we confess a set of beliefs.

You are saved by faith. Which one? The two are inseparable. We are saved by faith – by trusting in – the true faith, the true beliefs drawn from God’s Word. Saving faith trusts in the true faith confessed. So, in this “day of salvation”, the bedrock question – the critical question – is not just, “do I believe?”, but “what do I believe?”

True Gospel, False Gospel. You are saved by faith. If I am saved by faith, what is the devil’s main target on me? My faith. What I believe. You see, the devil might not be able to stop me from believing – but he may be able to tweak, to change, what I believe in. That’s how he gets me.

True Gospel, False Gospel. In the Sixteenth Century, the Lutheran Reformation was levied against a grand false faith, a false Gospel – a belief, a Gospel which said we are able to merit salvation by works.

Martin Luther and his fellow reformers fought hard against this false Gospel of works meriting salvation. But quickly, within the reformer’s lifetime, a new, different false belief cropped up within the Lutheran camp. This new false Gospel too was hard fought against by the Lutheran reformers.

Let’s, you and I, see if we can detect true or false Gospel – the right faith or not. Let me read a few statements here, and we’ll see what we think. Here we go:

o “God is not willing that any should perish…” True or False Gospel?

o “God desires all people to be saved…” True or False belief?

o “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree…” Right or wrong confession of faith?

o “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin...” – True or False Gospel?

All of these statements are true. They all come from Scripture. The fourth one was our reading today. And all are incomplete. They are the first half of several verses. Technically true – but left by themselves, left incomplete, over time, these incomplete statements teach us that new false belief.

What is that false belief? Let me now complete the statements by reading the whole verses:

o “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” [2 Peter 3:9]

o “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” [1 Timothy 2:4]

o “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” [1 Peter 2:24]

o “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” [2 Corinthians 5:21]

The new false Gospel that arose was a Gospel minus works altogether. A Gospel without a resulting holy life. A Gospel without the resulting righteousness. A Gospel without repentance. A Gospel without daily dying to sin and rising to a holy life. The Gospel without a dying to sin.

Today in Ash Wednesday. The believer’s death to sin is the death we joyfully remember today on Ash Wednesday in our ashes. That we might die to sin – this is our hope.

Today, we are reminded that we will die. We are mortal. Dust we are and to dust we will return. The reminder of our death reminds us of the death of our Lord and what His death means for us. We remember, in fact, that by Baptism our death has been united to His death. Now our death is a death to sin – just as our sin was put to death on the cross - and our death to sin is now lived every day in our Baptism.

The true Gospel. God calls us each to repent and to be made holy by His death and resurrection, even as we stand fully forgiven and pardoned meanwhile. Jesus’ death has atoned for all your sin. Sin is forgiven. Now that you have died to sin’s curse, you are called to no longer live as slaves to it, but instead as slaves to righteousness.

Dust and ashes. You’ve died with Jesus to daily put off the old man of dust, the man of sin, and to put on daily the holy life of the new, risen man, Christ. This is the full, free, God-worked gift of the true and right faith.

In these ashes in the shape of a cross, we remember our daily death to sin. We die to sin and rise daily to new life, as Scripture teaches. Here Romans 6:1-4“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Not by our human strength, but worked by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection – death to sin and newness of life in the baptized believer.

Hear also what our catechism says about our daily death. “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” These are the words of Martin Luther who fought for the true Gospel of faith, which is not without works, but produces a holy life.

Are you dust and to dust you will return? Yes. So, rejoice! Rejoice, because it is your sin being put to death. Rejoice, because you are being raised from that dust. Rejoice, and, in true, self-sacrificial love, give this same gift to others. Speak and show this true faith – this “what-we-believe-teach-and-confess-faith” – to others by all that you say, and by all that you do and approve in life.

You are dust, but now be Christians. Daily die to sin and rise to a holy life, by the power of the death and resurrection of your dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave His life in agony to this very end. Amen.

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