Pastor Mark Anderson
I knew a psychiatrist years ago who told me that one of the most difficult aspects of working with people was helping them to actually look at themselves honestly. He went on to say that this is not because we do not necessarily want to be honest about ourselves. It is because what there is to look at in ourselves can often be too painful and too convoluted. In facing the daunting prospect of self-evaluation, where do you even begin?
Some versions of Christianity tell us that the method for knowing whether or not our faith is real is to look inwardly at ourselves. These versions tell people to immerse themselves in the swamp of the inner life, to rummage around and look for evidence of faith in the midst of all the debris of the past and the present. This, it seems to me, is extraordinarily bad Christianity.
The beauty of the Gospel is that it turns us away from the self-examination project and shifts our focus onto Christ and His benefits. This is why we Lutherans (at least the ones who know better) rely upon the external Gospel given to us, from outside of us, in Word and Sacrament.
There have been plenty of Sundays when I have dragged myself to church in a state of real disappointment with my self. I have spent plenty of time during the week, looking inward and convincing myself that I am really not up to this Christian faith that I preach and teach and that perhaps an alternative form of employment would be preferable!
Then Sunday comes. I am able to return to the external promise of my baptism, confess all of this uncertainty and get it off my back. I hear the promising word of the absolution which actually sets me free. Law and Gospel proclaim my need for a Savior and the Savior I need. The Lord’s Supper is set for me and there I receive from the hand of Christ Himself, the gift of salvation.
Another self-doubting preacher, our dear brother Martin Luther who knew all of this as well as anyone ever has, once wrote,
“When I look at myself, I don’t know how I can be saved. When I look at Christ, I don’t know how I can be lost.”
This has to be the shortest, sweetest sermon he ever preached! Amen, Martin! Amen!