Text: The Third Article, Pt. I
The Latin title for today, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, is Judica. It comes from a verse in Psalm 43 that says, “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!” (Psalm 43:1, English Standard Version) “Judica” means, “vindicate.” This verse applies well to Christ, as we heard in the Gospel how He was opposed and threatened for preaching the true Word of God. We might also use this verse ourselves as a prayer to God, that He might rescue us from death and from the clutches of deceitful and unjust Satan. The Fifth Sunday in Lent marks the beginning of what is called Passiontide, the final two weeks before our Lord’s death for us. It is a time of somber repentance, which is why the joyful words of the Gloria Patri drop from the Liturgy until the Resurrection.
This morning we’re going to move on to the next article of the Creed, the third. In it we confess our faith in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. So far we’ve confessed the First Article, where we praise our God and Father for His work of creation and His continuing care for us. In the Second Article, we give thanks to Jesus Christ for His becoming man for us and redeeming us with His blood. In the Third Article, we confess that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to take the redemption that Christ won for us and bring it to us through the Word and Sacraments. The Holy Spirit is the One who enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps us in the true faith.
Of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit is probably the least understood. Throughout history there have been a number of controversies over the Holy Spirit, especially concerning His divinity and work. Many in the world today shortchange the Spirit and downgrade Him to some impersonal force or power. Our own church body, the LCMS, has had its own struggles in this area – not about whether the Spirit is God, but about how He does His work and what it looks like when the Spirit is at work. Rather than form our own opinions, which is where problems come from, let us strive for a faith patterned after the pure words of Scripture.
Something interesting about the Holy Spirit, though, is that He doesn’t like to talk about Himself. That has a lot to do with His job, but we’ll come back to that. Nevertheless, we learn from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is God. He is not just a power or force or energy, as some might say; The Holy Spirit is complete and true God, along with the Father and the Son. The Spirit was present at Creation, as we hear in Genesis: “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1) In the Book of Acts there was a man named Ananias who, with his wife Sapphira, made a show of giving a large sum of money to the Church in hopes of gaining prestige. Their show involved a lie. St. Peter called Ananias to repentance, saying, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…You have not lied to men, but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4) There are other passages we could look at, but for the sake of time, we’ll let these words of the Athanasian Creed summarize: “Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.” But what does He do?
Jesus said on the night He was betrayed, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth…He will glorify Me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (Jn. 16:13-14) That’s what we’re building on when we say, “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The work of the Spirit is to point us to Christ, to bring us into the Christian faith. He is the one who calls us out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light. He takes the forgiveness which Christ won for us and declares it to us. In short, it is the Holy Spirit’s work to make us holy by bringing us to and sustaining us in the Christian faith. This is a necessary work, too, because without it we would without doubt perish eternally.
We say in the meaning of the Third Article that we (“I”) cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. I’m repeating myself, I know, but this is what the Creed does – it takes the teachings of Scripture and puts them into a smaller chunk. Here, the teaching that is made smaller is what the Scriptures say about our fallen human nature. In Confirmation class, we spend a good amount of time talking about Original Sin. We do it in class because it’s hard, once we’re adults, to fathom this – that ever since the Fall, human nature is corrupt. We are not good by nature. Instead, we’re really bad; dead, even. This is totally different from what the world says, and what we, even, want to tell ourselves. But remember, we want our faith to be formed by Scripture and not opinion. So, what does the Scripture say? St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “You were dead in trespasses and sins…[living] in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath.” (Eph. 2:1-3)
Original Sin means that, though we have freedom of choice in most areas of our lives, this freedom does not extend to spiritual matters. Instead, we are born at enmity with God – in hostility toward Him. We are born without faith in God, without love for Him, and without the ability to bring those things about in our own hearts. St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot;” to the Corinthians, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them.” (Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14) Jesus Himself said in the Gospel that men prefer the darkness of sin to the light of God and, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” (Jn. 5:44)
Put this all together and we’ll start to see why the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary. We were all born dead in sin and trespasses, unable to fear God, love Him, or trust in Him. We know from Scripture that salvation is by God’s grace through faith; faith that we lack by nature and are unable to create in ourselves. If left to our own, we would die and suffer eternally in hell. Thankfully, our God is merciful and kind. He sent His Son to purchase us back from death and the devil with His own blood. He sends His Holy Spirit to bring that Good News to our ears and heart. But how does that happen? How does the Holy Spirit do His work of creating faith in our hearts and sustaining us in it?
In the Lutheran Church we believe the Holy Scriptures are the true, inspired, inerrant, and ineffable Word of God. We learn and use the Creeds because they are faithful explanations of the Scriptures. We also have a collection of documents called the Book of Concord. Some of you know what this is; all of us have learned from it – the Small Catechism is in the Book of Concord. Another document in the Book of Concord is the Augsburg Confession. This will be our last thought today, as we’ll finish the Creed on Wednesday. Article V of the Augsburg Confession teaches us how the Holy Spirit does His Work. It says:
That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article5
We’ll unpack all that on Wednesday. For now, let’s end by speaking the meaning of the Third Article together.
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.
On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
This is most certainly true.http://catechism.cph.org/en/creed.html