Faith Comes By Hearing (Mission Festival Sermon)

Texts: Romans 10:11-17; Luke 24:44-53

Today we gather in celebration and thanksgiving to our Lord Jesus Christ for His gracious gifts to us, chiefly the forgiveness of sins, life, and eternal salvation that we have through faith in His name. These things He gives to us freely through the preaching of His Word and in His Holy Sacraments. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit works to give us the gift of faith. It is for the use and spread of these, called the Means of Grace, that the Lutheran Church, including our own church body – the Missouri Synod – and our own congregations exist.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans that faith comes from hearing, from hearing through the Word of Christ. Apart from the Word and work of Christ, there can be neither faith nor salvation. Because it is Christ’s desire that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, He equips and commissions His Church to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all of the world. This work He began through the ministry of the Prophets and Apostles. St. Peter wrote that the prophets prophesied about the grace to come, the forgiveness that we would receive through the suffering of Christ, not to benefit themselves but those who would come after them – us. In the Gospel text Jesus commissioned the Apostles to proclaim His Word, opening their minds to the Scriptures and their mouths to preach repentance and forgiveness in His name to all nations.

As those who have benefited from the ministry of the Prophets and Apostles, and through the many generations of faithful pastors and teachers who have shared the Word of God with us, we too now reach out as congregations for the benefit of those around us. We gather here to listen to God’s Word and be forgiven our sins, to receive the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through these things He equips His Church for a life of mission, a life of calling to repentance and faith in Jesus those in the community around us and around the world.

I.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”[1] St. Paul wrote in-step with the will God, who desires that all people be saved. In this section of the letter Paul is taking special care with his congregation in Rome by connecting them – Gentile Christians – to the children of Israel. Everyone knew, after all, that the children of Israel were God’s people.

Yes, Paul says, the Old Testament children of Israel are a special people. To them belong the adoption, the covenants, the Law, the Patriarchs…but, Paul writes, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’[2] Yes, they are a special people – but not because of their connection in the flesh, but their connection to the promise given to Abraham that through Isaac shall his offspring be named. This promise is not about prolonging the line of Abraham for its own sake, but about extending the line through which the Messiah would be born.

Therefore, Paul says, the children of Israel are a nation not because of their connection in the flesh, but because of their common faith in the Promise of Jesus. This is why the Church receives the name of the Children of Israel in the New Testament. Not all descendants of Abraham are children of Israel, and not all are children of Israel because they are descended from Abraham. Who then are the children of Israel? Those who confess Jesus with their mouth and believe in their hearts. The Scripture says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”[3] There is no distinction among people in this regard, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is no one who is without sin. Every person, from the unborn child just conceived to those with a crown of grey hair, carries in themselves the guilt of sin. Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all. He died for the forgiveness of all people, which is to be received through faith.

II.

As Paul writes, faith comes by hearing. He writes to the Galatians that it is not those who do the works of the Law who are made righteous, but those who live by faith. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Now here’s the rub, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”[4] Paul wrote how people receive eternal salvation. It’s not because of who they are; It’s not because of works, no matter how loving; it is through faith in the grace of God – that rather than count our sins against us He offered up His only-begotten Son in our place, so that by faith we may be reckoned righteous in His eyes.

This faith comes from hearing, but how can people believe unless they hear? How can they hear without someone proclaiming? And how are people to proclaim unless they are sent? Jesus knows this. Therefore He sent out His Apostles in our Gospel text. It says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.[5] Though before they did not understand, Jesus now opened their minds. He gave them the key to all Scripture – that He, the Christ, should suffer for the forgiveness of sins and rise from the dead. This message, Jesus says, is to be proclaimed to all nations. Through the message of Christ’s death and resurrection the Holy Spirit calls and brings people to faith.

Jesus sent out the Apostles to be pastors, to preach the Word of God and administer the Sacraments. Through preaching the Holy Spirit calls people to faith. Through the washing of Holy Baptism we are forgiven our sins and clothed with Christ’s righteousness; we are made the children of Israel. In the Lord’s Supper you receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the continual forgiveness of your sins and the strength to love and serve those around you. Jesus sent out the Apostles so that people would hear about Jesus and call upon Him in faith even as He continues today to send pastors to do the same for us.

III.

Jesus sends pastors to preach His Word in the congregation and administer the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but that does not exclude you from the work of Christ in the Church. That is what Paul is writing to the Romans. There are plain too many people in the world for pastors to be the only ones sharing God’s Word; therefore, we have banded together as congregations and as a church body. We have joined together to be a place where the Word of God can be taught among us purely and without fear, and where we can receive the sacraments with frequency. By these things Christ claims us as His own and leads us in triumphal procession. Through preaching and the Sacraments Jesus opens our minds and places His Word of forgiveness upon our lips.

He continues His work of mission among us in our daily vocations. God has placed us all in many positions in life. We are all children. Some of us are husbands or wives. Many of us have jobs or other activities that occupy us. We are equipped by Christ to share His Word in all of these different places. It could be as overt as speaking God’s Word directly, or sharing a cup of cool water. It could be by delivering meals, or, especially, inviting people to hear God’s Word and receive the forgiveness of sins here in church. Mission work is an ongoing work of Christ, who desires that all people be forgiven their sins through faith. This is a vocation to which we are all called, and we can no more forsake it than we can forsake being a Christian. To do so would be neither right nor safe.

The Scripture says that faith comes by hearing. It is not the one who lives by the works of the Law who is justified, but the one who believes that Jesus died for the forgiveness of their sins. For us to believe this, Jesus sent the Prophets, the Apostles, and pastors to preach His Word and administer His Sacraments. Through His Word and Sacraments, He opens our minds to share His Gospel with those around us, that they, too, may believe. May He ever continue this work among us – in our lives, in our congregations, and in our Synod.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Rom. 10:10–13.

[2] Rom. 9:6–7.

[3] Rom. 10:13.

[4] Rom. 10:14-15a.

[5] Lk. 24:45–47.

Faith And Works?

Text: James 2:1-10, 14-18

We Lutherans are sometimes a fragile bunch, but I love it. Since we’ve finished up our walk through Ephesians in the Epistle readings of the last two months, we now turn to the Book of James – The dreaded James. Some people think it doesn’t even belong in the Bible. After all, isn’t it where we get the verse, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”?[1] Yeah, that’s in the chapter we’re looking at today. Doesn’t that just make your Lutheran skin crawl? Martin Luther himself couldn’t decide how he felt about the book. He didn’t go so far as many people think he did; He did not say it doesn’t belong in the Bible, just that it did its job poorly. That was in 1522 and Luther would go back and forth on the topic. As I said, Lutherans are sometimes a fragile bunch.

I’d like for us to look at this text today because I think that we Lutherans have a distinct malady, maybe an illness, in that we’re sometimes afraid to talk about good works. The Lutheran reformation happened partly because of a misunderstood relationship between faith and works. The Roman Church was teaching that works are a contributing factor to salvation. That teaching continues in the Catholic Church, and ironically, in Protestant churches that teach that one can choose to become a Christian. The correct teaching of Scripture is that works contribute nothing at all to our salvation. Jesus Christ suffered and died for the forgiveness of our sins and gives that forgiveness to us freely through faith, without any work or merit on our part. If you ever hear anything other than that, I want you to plug your ears, because it wouldn’t be the truth.

The illness that we have as Lutherans is that, because we know so well that works are not part of salvation, we end up throwing out the topic entirely. This becomes a problem because, as James so well points out, good works flow from an active faith. You cannot see in a person’s heart that they are a Christian, but you can tell it from their lives. You can also see the opposite. Therefore James exhorts his fellow Christians to be rich in good works. As we are made to hold to the faith of Jesus Christ through His Word and Sacrament, we are also led to bring forth good works as the fruit of our living faith.

I.

But, like I said, Luther went back and forth on whether James should be in the Bible or not, but we don’t hang on every word that proceeds from the mouth of a German ex-monk. We do hang on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God; As does James. The focal of James and the thrust of the Epistle is not that our good works save us. Rather, it is the salvation that we have received freely by the grace of God. James writes, “Of his own will [God] brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”[2] James says that it is not because of our works that God chose us, but purely out of His good and gracious will. If you remember the Catechism you know that God does all good things out of pure, fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness within us.

James also readily teaches in our text today, “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?”[3] The whole relationship between God and us is based on His mercy. In love He chose us out of the world, we who are poor in its eyes, to be rich in faith and heirs of heaven. That actually sounds a lot like St. Paul. St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.”[4] In 2 Corinthians Paul wrote that Christ, though He was rich, became poor for our sake, so that we might become rich in Him.

James and Paul kind of sound alike when read together. It continues. Everyone knows, “For by grace you have been saved by faith…” but the very next verse continues, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[5] Paul does it again Colossians where he prays that they, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”[6] So we see in James and Paul, who both correctly teach the doctrine of Christ, exhorting Christians to good works. The focus for both Paul and James is the salvation that we receive freely through faith. Our works have no bearing on the justification that we receive in Christ; they flow from faith in response to Christ’s love.

So now that we’ve determined that it is not against Scripture to speak about works, so long as we keep them separate from salvation, let us move to the teaching the Holy Spirit has for us through James. This Epistle is perhaps the earliest book in the New Testament. At this point Christianity was still operating within the realm of Judaism. Acts tells us that there were a great many priests that converted and were seeking to minister to the others. One of the downsides of Judaism at this time was complacency. People were content to identify as Jews and God’s chosen people, but not really anything beyond that. They were greedy, swindlers, idolaters and adulterers. It even seeped into their worship life. Therefore St. James exhorts his hearers to be rich in good works.

II.

Now we’re talking about the part that makes our Lutheran skin itch. Good works. The text says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”[7] James concludes, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.”[8] We Lutherans have been so accustomed to talk only about how we are saved by grace through faith (which is totally true) that we sometimes don’t know where to go next. Well, we can talk about works without confusing ourselves. James here is talking about sanctification, the redeemed life that we have in Christ and led by the Holy Spirit.

Scripture says that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. Stanza 9 of “Salvation unto Us Has Come,” speaks concerning this, “Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone and rests in Him unceasing; and by its fruit true faith is known, with love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; works serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.”[9] What does that mean? We are justified by God’s grace through faith alone. In Baptism we are given a new heart and a new spirit which then brings forth good fruits. Good works neither create faith, nor are they added to faith as the Catholic Church teaches, but they flow from a living and active faith and cheerful obedience to God’s Word.

Where does that put us? Well, for starters we should stand convicted. We are not as active in love as we could, should, and are called to be. What is a good work? A good work proceeds from a cheerful and willing obedience to God’s will as revealed in Scripture. Feed the hungry, cloth the sick, house the homeless, visit the sick and distressed, stand up for the unborn and the institution of marriage, showing in all things the mercy, the compassion, the love, and forgiveness of Christ. By these things the world will know that we are Christians, the body of Christ on earth. He is the one who created all things, who loves all things, and for us and all people, died on the cross.

Lutherans do have a sort of aversion to this talk. Even the word, “works,” kind of hurts coming out of the mouth, so we resist talking about it, thinking that everything will be okay. But it won’t, and it isn’t. Without the teaching that good works flow from an active and living faith, the sinful nature within us will do its best to have a field day. We behave poorly in church, and before the world Christians become no different than anyone else. For that, we must always stand convicted before the Word of God.

Our lives as Christians will never be totally perfect. We will be partial; we will be complacent to be well-wishers and not good-doers. However, hear this word from James: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”[10] Though we grow complacent and cold, the love of Christ never grows dim or tired. He forgives all of your sins and has given you His Holy Spirit. Through the preaching of His Word and the Sacraments He strengthens you and leads you to bring forth good works through the gift of a living and active faith.


[1] James 2:24.

[2] James 1:18.

[3] James 2:5.

[4] 1 Cor. 1:27.

[5] Eph. 2:10.

[6] Col. 1:10.

[7] James 2:14-15.

[8] James 2:17.

[9] Lutheran Service Book

[10] James 1:17-18.