Summary: Explanation of "ministry of condemnation" and the "ministry of the Spirit". Why is anyone a marytr for the Devil?
Sermon: Devil’s Martyrs and Damnable Definitions
Text: II Cor 3:4-9 Mark 7:31-37
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, August 29, 2004
Occasion: Trinity XII
Who: Mark Woolsey
Do you know why the early Christian busnessmen had such a hard time? Because the lions kept eating up their prophets (profits)! When we look back on the history of the church we see many who endured horrible tortures in this life but gained life eternal. Do you think that was such a bad bargin? I don’t. However, there’s another group which endured extreme privations here on earth only to earn eternal misery in hell - and they did it voluntarily! Luther called them the "devil’s martyrs". It’s one thing to make a Faustian bargin with the devil for pleasures in this life in exchange for damnation in the next. Even St. Paul mentions something like this when he said, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (I Cor 15:32). Either trade anguish now for bliss then, or pleasures now for suffering then. But why would anyone purposefully choose agonies now so that they could have it multiplied inifinitly in eternity? I maintain that it is because of bad definitions. They misunderstood passages such as our Epistle text today. Thus I have titled this sermon "Devil’s Martyrs and Damnable Definitions".
II Devil’s Martyrs
At this point I imagine you are thinking to yourselves, "Who in the world would be a martyr for the devil?". Well, consider the pharisee in the parable of the publican and the pharisee. He fasted twice a week, gave tithes, etc. Although he did not die or his faith, he was in some way a martyr in that he gave up pleasures now for rewards later. And what was his reward? Jesus’ condemnation. Lest you judge the Jews too harshly, consider the gentile Galatians to whom St Paul wrote a letter. They, too, were proposing heroic self-denial in being circumcised and keeping the kosher law. Yet listen to St Paul’s criticism of their motives:
O Foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth? (Gal 3:1)
Martin Luther called some of the people around him "devil’s martyrs". He was referring to people who were taking extreme measures in order to win heaven. Some monks fasted so much that they injured their body. Yet in the end, these activities only increased their damnation, not prevented it. Why? Because they failed to understand the difference between the "ministry of condemnation" and the "ministry of the Spirit" as mentioned in II Cor.
III. MInistry of Condemnation
Over and over again God warns us in the Bible to obey His Law or suffer the consequences. From the first prohibition about eating the Tree’s fruit, thru the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, to Revelation’s command to "do His commandments", God demands obedience and promises punishment. Who dare deny this? Furthermore, life itself is the reward to those who do these things:
You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgements, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord (Lev 18:5)
Yet St. Paul calls all of this the "ministry of condemnation". You see, the law of God is all about His demands, but nothing about His supply. It’s all about what we must do, but cannot. His Law is good, even perfect, but it is also impotent to save. We may pIride ourselves that we have never murdered anyone, but Christ said that to hate without cause was to murder. We may claim our marriage bed has never been defiled, but Christ said that to look at another with lust was to break the commandment. We may never have stolen a thing, but the tenth commandment goes not after our outward obedience, but what’s in the heart when it says, "You shall not covet". Let me put it another way. Your good works that you trust in are not your deliverence, but your damnation! You are giving up pleasures now so that you can burn forever. But surely God requires something of us, right? God makes the offer of eternal life, but don’t we have to choose Him before He accepts us? If you think that, you are still mixed up about the ministry of condemnation and ministry of the Spirit.
IV. Ministry of the Spirit
Don’t you see? God has accomplished it all. That’s what Paul meant when he said in today’s reading:
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God
The ministry of the Spirit is not just an easier law for us to follow - it is no law at all. Instead, it is a complete pardon. When Christ died on the cross, He didn’t simply make it possible for us to be forgiven, He actually forgave His elect. We were set free from the bondage of obedience to please God because God pleased Himself. We were placed in Christ, and He obeyed perfectly. We get His obedience and He gets our punishment. How? By the Holy Spirit of God putting us in Christ and Christ in us. We were dead and He makes us alive. We were buried and He raises us from the grave. We trusted in our strength, but He made usI trust in Christ’s strength. He is completely sufficient to overcome all our faithlessness, disobedience, and sin. And every last bit of this is given to us from the Holy Spirit by faith in Christ alone. Where can I get such incredible faith that moves the mountain of my sin? From Body parts and Body fluids.