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Except by the Holy Spirit

You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:2-3)

He stood in front of the altar rail with tears in his eyes. His lips moved in silent prayers that could only be desperate pleas judging by the look of despair on his face. Others moved behind him, careful not to disturb him. He wasn’t the only one there that day looking for some sort of divine intervention in his life. There were countless others.


But the worst part wasn’t the desperate people looking for help. The worst part is that they had absolutely no hope of receiving it. It was just a couple of weeks ago that this man stood in a temple in India before the altar, praying to the marble statue of a man with the head of an elephant. In other areas of the temple, others ascended hundreds of steps on their knees, chanting to idols who couldn’t hear them, let alone help them. Others brought offerings of money, rice or flowers. And the stone idols stared back at the people and saw and heard nothing. For the few of us Christians there, it was a difficult sight to watch.

“Dumb idols,” these statues are called in this text. They can’t speak. They can’t help. Yet people were there by the hundreds, led by devotion or desperation.

How are you led to church on a Sunday morning?  And why?  What makes you leave nice, comfortable homes and go to a church service? You may be devoted, you may be desperate.  But there is something essentially different behind your reason for going to church when compared to the people in that temple. They were led to worship out of fear.  You are led in love. They were led to make offerings to pay for divine favors. But, Jesus is the only offering needed. They were led by their consciences, in fear, to worship idols of stone. You are led by the Holy Spirit to worship the living God, the one, true God.

The Apostle Paul, by inspiration, makes it very clear to the Corinthian Christians that faith in Christ as Your Savior is the opposite of faith in anything else. Faith in anything or anyone else can’t save us. It turns us to ourselves and our own good works.  And while we may, at times, be tempted to think that’s enough, that way of thinking can only lead us away from Christ, to desperation and hopelessness.

We’re told that, no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed. It’s unthinkable that we, as Christians, would say anything at all that is opposed to Jesus and the Gospel. It’s the sign of a very weak faith, a lack of faith, or even a hostility toward the Christian faith when someone speaks against Jesus and His Word.

Paul goes on to explain that it is only through faith created by the Holy Spirit, that we can confess Jesus Christ as our Savior. It may be true that others will call Jesus “Lord.” People of other faiths may even do that. But that’s not what is meant here. To confess Jesus, to publicly say that You believe in Christ as Your Savior, only comes through the work of the Holy Spirit.

You may have memorized it this way in the Catechism:  “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 one true faith…”

It’s the Holy Spirit working through the water and the Word in baptism.  It’s the Holy Spirit working through the Word—through preaching and Bible study. It’s not about how good you are. It’s not about how many prayers you can say, how well you can sing the hymns. It’s not about what you do for God. It’s about what He has done for you and what He continues to do.

Jesus, the King of Kings, left His perfect kingdom in Heaven and came to live as one of us in this imperfect, sinful world. He became one of us to perfectly obey God’s Laws in our place. He did what we are unable to do for us. And while we were still his enemies, we’re told, He died for us. He took all of our sins on Himself and suffered and died for us.

And we are able to believe that- we are capable of believing that- only because of the Holy Spirit. No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

I wondered, as we walked through that temple, what the people thought when they left there. Did they worry if they had done enough, if they had said prayers to the correct deity… if they had offered the right things- and enough of them? The uncertainty and fear must be terrible burdens to bear.

But, as a Christian, you don’t have the burden of wondering whether your offerings were enough, whether or not your prayers were correct, wondering whether or not God hears you. Thank God that He has saved you through the work of Jesus, His Son. And thank God, the Holy Spirit, that He has created and preserved your faith, so that you can confidently confess Jesus as Your Lord and Savior.

-Rev. Paul Fries


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