Summary: Could I Ever Fall from Faith? 1) Yes, if you underestimate sin. 2) No, if you rely on God’s promises.
“That could never happen to me.” Ever think that when you see the homeless sleeping on a park bench? Ever suppose: “I’m getting a good education. I manage my money well. And I don’t have any addictions so no, that could never happen to me”? I wonder how many homeless people too once thought that before their life somehow spun out of control and they ended up without house and home? No, you may never end up with a park bench as a bed and an address but could something even worse happen to you? Could you, for example, ever stop believing in Jesus as your savior and therefore forfeit a home in heaven for a cell in hell? “Oh Pastor, that could never happen to me!” But isn’t that what every confirmand thinks? And yet synod statistics say that four out of every ten confirmand stops attending church within two years of their confirmation.
“That could never happen to me!” I wonder if that isn’t the most dangerous sentence in the English language. Today the Apostle Paul warns us that yes, we can fall from faith if we underestimate sin. On the other hand Paul assures us that we won’t fall from faith if we rely on God’s promises.
In our text the Apostle Paul was writing to Christians in the Greek city of Corinth who were certain that since they had been baptized and received the Lord’s Supper, they were spiritually set for life. While our opening hymn rightly extolled the benefits of baptism reminding us how, by the power of God’s promise, this water of life washes away our sins and gives us faith, we shouldn’t think that just because we have been baptized, or just because we receive Holy Communion often that we’ll end up in heaven. Paul would have us look at the Old Testament Israelites as an example. He said: “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).
When Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt they received a baptism of sorts when they went through the Red Sea. This act didn’t offer them forgiveness, as does the New Testament sacrament of baptism, but it was proof of how much God loved them that he would save them in such dramatic fashion. But it wasn’t just that one time rescue from Egypt that reassured the Israelites that God loved them. Every day a bread-like food fell from the skies feeding 2 million people in the middle of a wilderness. While this miraculous manna did nothing more than fill their bellies and did not offer forgiveness as does the food of Holy Communion, manna did remind the Israelites daily of God’s love for them. The Israelites also received water in a miraculous way when it poured out of a rock Moses struck. Paul then makes this startling revelation. He says that the one providing these blessings was none other than Christ – the Son of God himself!
The point that Paul is making is this. If the Corinthian Christians thought that the blessings of baptism and the Lord’s Supper guaranteed their entrance into heaven, they only needed to look back on Israelite history to see that this was not true. The Israelites had as many blessings from Christ himself as did the Corinthians. But what happened to most of them? Out of all the hundreds of thousands of adults who left Egypt, only two, two (!), made it to the Promised Land: Joshua and Caleb. What happened to the rest? They underestimated sin and received God’s punishment as a result (this is not to say only Joshua and Caleb went to heaven). Paul describes a few of those sins when he warns: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel” (1 Corinthians 10:7-10).
Paul mentions incidents from Israel’s march to Canaan that even a Sunday School child should be able to recall. The first was the golden calf incident. After Moses had been gone for 40 days to get the Ten Commandments the people got tired of waiting. Why not have a party? Why not drink until we do stupid things that make us laugh? That will pass the time. But God didn’t find anything funny about this impromptu bash. In all he put 3,000 people to death as a result.