As part of my devotions, I’m currently reading a book entitled “The Heritage of Faith,” which is a collection of brief writings of Georg Sverdrup. Sverdrup is recognized as one of the architects of Free Lutheranism in America. There is a section in the book that deals with the congregation specifically: its nature, work, relationship to the pastor, etc. Sverdrup writes that as Norwegian congregations have been established in America, they have learned a lot through both pleasant and bitter experiences. These experiences cost tears and anguish that “are engraved upon a man’s heart so indelibly that they cannot be erased as long as he lives.”
I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness as I read that. Hurt and pain of many forms are part of the human experience: individually, as families, and as a congregation. And that’s sad. But Sverdrup’s next words brought immediate comfort. “But there is an even more precious seal engraved upon God’s church, the seal of the blood of Christ by which God has redeemed his people.” The words from the text I preached on at our Christmas Eve services are still fresh in my mind: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The shed blood of Christ has purchased our freedom. We have redemption through his blood, which Paul says in Ephesians 1, includes the forgiveness of our trespasses.
There is great comfort, hope, and peace to be found in the forgiveness that is ours through the shed blood of Christ. And Christians (the Church) are sealed, marked, by His forgiving and redeeming work. It is His work then that frees us to live for Him, to serve Him. Our lives are not defined by the hurt and pain that the devil loves to inflict upon us; rather, our lives are defined and led by the atoning, life-giving blood of Jesus Christ. Sverdrup writes that “every congregation has been bought by the blood of Christ.” And then he uses that truth to explain that that is what compels us to “join a congregation” and “be a witness for Jesus Christ.”
The implications of this are fascinating and profound. Why do we seek to serve God in holiness and righteousness? Why do we join other believers in a congregation to work together? Why do we persist in those endeavors through suffering and disappointment? Because we are redeemed. The seal of Christ’s forgiving blood upon our hearts changes us. We were bought with a price, and so we glorify God in our bodies (I Cor. 6:20). Our bodies, our lives, are living sacrifices to God, because of His mercies (Romans 12:1). When God ransoms us, purchases us sinners from slavery to sin, that doesn’t mean we are now free to go our own way. Instead, we come under new ownership, we have a new Lord. We rejoice in our freedom, because it frees us to serve Him. This is the relationship that God intended for His creatures, and we rejoice that His burden is light.
One commentary calls this “Paul’s Gospel-centered approach to ethics.” Christ purchased us with His blood. That’s the Gospel, and that glorious truth frees us to live for Him through both pleasant and bitter experiences. It frees us to work together as a congregation, a gathering of blood-bought saints, quick to forgive and encourage and edify.
I see so many examples of that at St. Paul’s, and my heart rejoices. As the calendar switches to 2020, I’m excited to see how God continues to shape us and lead us by His Word. I’m excited to see who God calls to the many opportunities this congregation has to serve God and others.
You are redeemed! Go and serve the Lord.
In Joyful Service,