JUDGMENT FROM WITHIN
Today we celebrate the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, who writes God's Law on human hearts. He urges us to love God, gladly obey His will, and identify with God's work. The raw material He has to start with is sinners who hate what God loves and love what God despises. Talk about a thankless job! The Holy Spirit has to change human nature.
If I am going to love God, who hates and condemns sin, then I have to stand with Him and join in His judgment upon all that I have stood for. I have to hate my pride, my accomplishments, my honor, my achievements, for these are all mixed with sin. How can anyone turn on himself like that? Philosophers have suggested that we separate the higher nature from the lower, so that the noble part of man judges the grosser part. That's no good, because it leaves the higher part unjudged. It is not just the flesh that is sinful. We all have sins of the intellect, good done for ulterior motives, ruthless zeal for what we think is God's house. Do you think the devil gives up that easily? If he can't make you proud of your works, he will make you proud of your humility, or your patience, or even your faith. Consider John Calvin as he governed both church and state in Geneva. Nobody knew the Scriptures better than he, no one could be more fair and impartial as he ruled according to the ordinances of the Old Testament. He tried t0 sit in God's seat, serving God by punishing sinners. Only God can punish sinners. What Calvin succeeded in doing was becoming a tyrant. Now we may not have the opportunity to be corrupted so spectacularly, but do we become little Caesars in our own spheres? Do pastors burden their congregations with demands for tithes and donated labor? That is pure legalism. Do parents tyrannize their children with house rules they couldn't keep themselves? Do bosses interfere in their employees' private lives? Does an elderly family member constantly complain, "All I want is..." followed by something impossible to do at the moment? We may never get in God's seat, but it's relatively easy to get in the devil's seat. It's even easier if you have good intentions.
So what can we do about this? If all of our striving just leads to another level of judgment, each one higher than the one before it, how can we escape? The answer is that God came down to our level. First Jesus came to take our place under judgment, to suffer and die to make atonement for us, to rise again after He had suffered the ultimate evil. Then came the second descent, God gave the Holy Spirit to live inside of us, to become one with our own souls, by whose power we can judge ourselves with all the sobriety and objectivity of divine judgment. By His grace we do not judge ourselves as men, but as children of God. We admit that we are sinners, not just our flesh but any higher nature that we might have as well. The Spirit does that by the Law, then He comforts us by the Gospel, for Jesus has borne all the anger of divine hatred of sin, for He has made peace with God for us.
Still, do you think the devil will be satisfied with that? He knows he can't undo the atonement, but he can fix his attack on us, at the point where we need to trust Jesus. He tries to steal our souls by getting us to think that we have lost our faith.
Satan is a Hebrew word that means "accuser." That is very descriptive. His most damaging work is to make us think that we don't have faith. He starts by whispering that we have been slow to reform our lives. No doubt he has some hard evidence to work with there, but he puts a devilish spin on it. He says, You have no intention of taking up your cross and following Jesus, so stop being a hypocrite and live like a child of hell. He lies, my friends, he lies. While it is true that human nature will never find much joy in carrying a cross, having a human nature does not make you a hypocrite. Jesus had a human nature, was He a hypocrite? Do you think Stephen wanted to be stoned, Paul wanted to be beheaded? Those great saints had the same human nature we have. While they had great courage for which we admire them, be sure they did not get a thrill out of being killed. Satan will use people to make you doubt -- an impatient spouse, an over-protective parent, an employer whose criticism goes beyond the vocational to become a personal attack. Don't be deceived by it, and watch so that you don't become Satan's instrument in deceiving somebody else. Love may demand that we point out mistakes, but it does not require us to call names.
Does your slowness to amend your life bother you? The Holy Spirit in your soul is the One who is bothering you. Because He is there you know your sin to be sin, know that perfection is far off. Those who have rejected the cross of Jesus are never in doubt; they are always certain that they are righteous, always obsessed with their own spirituality, never troubled by a sense of sin. So, if your soul thirsts for the streams of grace, you can be sure God has not given up on you. Listen to the Apostle: the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God. It isn't anything sensational. You have this deep desire to learn from Jesus.
Someone may ask, isn't this the conscience, something everybody has? This is not just the conscience. That also comes from God, but it only teaches the Law. Conscience makes you feel guilty, it condemns, but never comforts. If something inside you is telling you good news, calling you a child of God in spite of your nature, be sure that is the Holy Spirit. You can reinforce His voice by constantly studying God's Word, and boost it by Confession and Communion. It dries up if you do not drink from the Fountain of Life. But it is God's own witness, His judgment from within, assuring you that He loves you and wants to help you.
There is no way to avoid doubt, any more than one can avoid temptation. Don't let doubt lead you to despair. Doubt is evidence that we are not complacent, nor self-righteous, nor ignorant of our sin. Doubt is an occasion for prayer. Doubt is an occasion for seeking God's truth in the Bible. Through the Holy Spirit's counsel God meets your doubts with peaceful reassurance. He bears witness with your spirit that Jesus has rescued you. He assures you that you are His subject in the kingdom of grace. He judges you from within, calling you a child of God, destined to share the inheritance of Christ. Amen.
~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross