Independence Day

Preached: July 5, 2015

What Are We To Do for Our Country?
Proverbs 14:34

No audio recording available.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit directs us Proverbs 14:

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people” (Proverbs 14:34 NIV11)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Nine days ago the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the USA. Maybe it wasn’t so shocking for us in Minnesota since two years ago we saw it happen in the state legislature. But this again raises the question: What is our country coming too?

We love our country. We ask God to bless our native land. And he has. But our hearts ache as well. Proverbs 14 says that righteousness exalts a nation but sin condemns any people. The farther we see our country stray from God’s way, the more concerned we become.

God designed people. He knows how we work best. The Ten Commandments express that design. God established marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of family and society. Messing with that will bring problems. Maybe we can use a car illustration. Those who have designed and made the car provide you with the owner’s manual. If you follow the routine maintenance, changing the oil, keeping the air filter clean, making sure the fluids don’t run low, and the like, the car should last. If you don’t do any of those things figuring that you know better than the car makers, the car may run fine for a while, but before you know it, things will go wrong, seriously wrong.

We see the same thing in our country. There was no lightening bolt from the sky when the Supreme Court announced it decision nine days ago. And people no doubt will be able to point to same-sex couples where everything looks good and fine. But God is the one who has designed and made us. And same-sex marriage is another attack on the family just as divorce, abortion, abuse, affairs, delinquent fathers and the like have attacked the family in the past and continue to do so. How long before the family collapses and society along with it, like an engine seizing up because the oil was never changed? “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people” (Proverbs 14:34 NIV11). So our hearts ache.

What are we to do?

One of the news stories after the Supreme Court decision focused on a group of conservative, evangelical pastors mobilizing to take back America, to defend biblical values, and to train pastors to be politically active. What they were saying disturbed me more than what the Supreme Court said.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree with those pastors that same-sex marriage is completely contrary to God’s design for marriage. It is not marriage. Period. I agree that we should say this clearly and not compromise when pressured by society around us.

But what is the mission of the Church? Is it to reform society advocating for laws that reflect biblical values? That seems to be what those pastors are saying. But how many souls will be saved by banning same-sex marriage? Not one. Even if every law in our country was righteous, reflecting biblical values, how many more people would get into heaven? Not one more.

You see, right laws cannot save. You know that well. Even the laws that God himself gave to Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai did not save them. How could we imagine that any sort of law we pass could bring anyone into a right relationship with God? The Bible clearly says, “No one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law” (Romans 3:20 NIV84).

For you see, dear friends, the law does not change the heart. Laws only enforce outward obedience through threats of punishment or promises of reward. Laws cannot change hearts, because our hearts by nature are evil. Even when we outwardly do the right thing, the selfish motives that lurk within us corrupt our best. No law can change that. In fact, when a law forbids us from doing something, we become more aware of our desire to do the wrong, because our hearts are evil. And when the law tells us to do something good, we feel forced to do it against our will, because our hearts are evil.

If same-sex marriage were banned, that would not stop homosexual desires. And remember that heterosexual lust for anyone else but our spouse, earns us the same hell that any homosexual act would. The heart of every single one of us is by nature evil. No law can change that.

Only the Gospel changes hearts. Only the Good News of Jesus. The Good News that God’s Son became one of us to take our place under the law. He had no sin, but God counted all the sins of the world against him instead of us. He suffered our punishment in our place when he died on the cross. He sacrificed himself for us so that his holy, precious blood redeems you. He rose from the dead. He rose because God has declared guilty sinners to be righteous, justified, not guilty, because Jesus has paid the full penalty for each and every one. He freely credits to us his righteousness, his right record. Keep on believing this Good News.

For you, dear Christian, have a new heart through faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit created a new heart in you when you were baptized. Your new heart fully trusts in Jesus. Your new heart rejoices in his salvation. Your new heart delights to do God’s will. Your new heart fights against that old self that still lives within us.

But remember your new heart did not come from the law but from the Gospel. The Holy Spirit called you by the Gospel and he keeps you in the one truth faith through the Gospel. Keep on hearing and believing the Good News of Jesus.

And that brings us to the mission of the Church. Jesus told his followers: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NIV84). Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the only name that saves. Do you see why what those conservative pastors were saying sounded so disturbing to me? If churches focus on changing the law, then whose preaching the Gospel. And if the Gospel isn’t preached, how can anyone be saved?

So what are you as Christian citizens to do? We love our country, but our hearts ache for it. What are we to do?

Maybe the simplest way to put it is to use Jesus words from Matthew 5: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NIV84).

Let your light shine out as you give thanks to God for our country. Yes, there are many things wrong with our government, but look at how richly God has blessed us through our government despite all its problems. We are safe in our homes protected from invaders and outlaws. We have an economic system that lets us earn a living, provide for our families, save for the future, and even enjoy holidays with family and friends. We have freedom to assemble for worship, to speak God’s Word, and to believe his truth without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or death. Give thanks that, even though the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, we still have the right to speak out against same-sex marriage not only in our words but also by our actions of refusing to conduct such ceremonies in our churches.

Let your light shine out as a Christian citizen. Speak against the evils in society. Show humble love and concern toward others. Pray for our country and its leaders. Let your vote reflect your faith and values. As citizens we want to work for the good our nation.

But do so as CHRISTIAN citizens. And remember that Christian means having Christ ruling in your heart through the Gospel. So as we speak out against the evils of society, we do so with a penitent heart that confesses that we are just as bad as those out there. We point out the evil not to put others down, but to bring them to see that they need the Savior just as much as we do. As we show humble love and concern, we don’t do so to make a name for ourselves but to reflect Christ’s love. We do so praying that our deeds of love will open the door for us to tell them about God’s love that gave his Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. For you see, others can praise our Father in heaven only when they too know Jesus the Son, believing in him as their only Savior from sin and death.

As you let you light shine out in this way that leads others to Christ, telling them the Gospel, the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus, then you are sharing in the mission of the Church. The Gospel brings the righteousness of Jesus Christ to all who believe. That’s the righteousness that doesn’t merely exalt a nation for a time. But the righteousness the comes from Jesus to all who believe the Gospel, that righteousness saves for all eternity. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313