"The True Author of Your Life Story" #82-26
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 1, 2015
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: 2 Corinthians 7:10
The Bible teaches, "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death."
Christ is risen; He is risen indeed, and only the power of faith in Him can overcome the grief that so often comes in life. Amen.
It's amazing to me how easily folks can be persuaded to follow a new fad. For example, have you noticed the increase in the number of heavily bearded men out there? Here's how simple things like that can get started. It is said to have started with some male models a few years ago. The fashion statement caught on in Hollywood and in the sports world. And with TV, ads, and marketing, well, the rest is history. If you're a man with a lumberjack beard or ZZ Top-style flowing facial hair, you're in style. Even Disneyland is starting to allow its employees to grow beards--as long as they're kept shorter than a quarter of an inch. Yes, the beard movement has hit the mainstream.
It's a fad, it's fun, it's fuzzy, but do you know what else it is? It is someone else's influence shaping your look and your behavior. That's right; someone out there started the beard trend. Someone else was the author of this beard-mania. That someone wrote the script that you may now be living.
Now, before you get too shocked or feel too controlled, let me assure you that this happens all the time. There are all kinds of people writing the script of your life. There are many authors of your story. They tell you what's fashionable to wear. They influence you into buying a certain cell phone or automobile. They persuade you to eat certain foods and sway you into the latest vocabulary. They bring you up to date about what's cool and what's not.
Voices from television, magazines, and websites show you how you should decorate your kitchen, what your body should look like, where you should go on vacation, and what medication you should take. News writers tell you what you should think about and what you should consider the "breaking news" of the day. The number of hits on a YouTube video tells you which one you should watch. Songs played on the radio tell you what tune you should hum.
Now, are you starting to feel a little uncomfortable? I know I do when I think about these things. Are you beginning to realize that we may not be the authors of our own lives? Are you feeling a sense of loss and hopelessness? Are you feeling controlled by outside forces? And what if those forces don't have your best interests in mind? What then?
When you have those feelings, you're experiencing what ancient writers called "the grief of the soul." You realize your life is, to a degree, lost. It's being authored by the world around you, not by yourself. When this is brought to your attention--either by someone like me, or by a friend, or simply by a heightened awareness that everything you've been striving for doesn't bring the satisfaction you'd hoped for, you can begin to experience this inner soul grief. The tragedy of such grief is that this broken world has never been able to figure out how to deal with it or to make it go away.
In our text for today, the Apostle Paul knew all about this kind of grief. He thought he was the author of his life. He was born into a prestigious family. He received the best education. He associated with the most powerful people. And he was on a career track that would put the world in awe.
But he came to realize, in the greater scheme of things, it was all empty and meaningless. Without a grace connection to God, the best of this world, as well the worst always comes to nothing. And as for people who hang on to the hollow pursuits of the world on their own terms, he said this, "Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame, with minds set on earthly things" (Philippians 3:19-20).
Paul knew all of this from personal experience. He knew that even the best of this world ends up being empty. And pride in such things cuts us off from the God who loves us and is the source of our life and salvation. Grief of the soul brings only hopelessness and helplessness. And that's what he's trying to tell a group of young Christians in Corinth. Yes, they believed in Jesus, but they were a bit full of themselves. That's why Paul has to lay it on the line with them. If they let their pride run amok, if they let the ways of the world write their story, he says it plainly, "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Worldly grief. When the empty pursuits of the world write your story and when you feel the soul-grief that comes with it, it is a grief that leads to death. There's no way out.
But, as you heard, there is a grief of the soul that leads to something better: to salvation, hope, and restoration--to new life. God is its author. It is a story not of the vain and exasperating pursuits of the world, but one that is written by God with the Savior of the world as the main character. It is a story of rescue from the outside. It is the truth of Jesus eliminating meaninglessness, sin, and slavery. It is an answer to the grief of your soul--an answer that saves you from despair. It is an answer of faith in Jesus Christ.
But maybe you're thinking...wait a minute. Do I really need Jesus to be the Author of my story? Can't I just take control of my own life? What if I just write my own script?
Now, that's a good question because there's a pride in all of us that says, "Well, this may be true for Paul and for those Corinthians, but true for me too?"
In late 1999, Jayson Blair became a reporter for The New York Times. He reported on important stories like the Washington D.C. sniper, the recovery of captive U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and the heartbreaking death of a pastor's son who lost his life fighting in the Middle East. The stories were moving, captivating, and very detailed. There were just two problems. The stories weren't completely true and Jayson didn't write them.
In 2003, thirty New York Times staffers signed a letter that reported his errors and plagiarism. Newspaper editors from around the country and even the people involved in some of his writing let the Times editors know that some of the "facts" stated in the articles weren't facts at all. Other segments of the articles were copied from other reporters. After an investigation, Blair resigned in disgrace.
The stories weren't true. Fear, pride, and a desire to impress led Jayson Blair to create false tales for his readers.
That's what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, "Worldly grief, it produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). As sinners, left to ourselves, we have only the twisted and toxic resources of a broken world at our disposal. And, instead of finding ways out of our brokenness, we get further and further intertwined into our own lies and deceptions.
The Bible speaks plainly about this; when you and I try to be the sole authors of our own life story, the main theme will ultimately be denial--denial of our real needs, denial of our true vulnerabilities, and denial of how we need to grow and where we need help; and that sinful denial will eat us up alive.
That denial goes deep into our hearts and souls. We might mask it for a while, but such things have a way of bubbling up when we least expect it.
And then there's guilt. We know about that. But, even as we deny it, guilt builds up because we know our faults. We know our failures. Soon, the heavy weight of guilt breaks us down, leaving us in pieces, lost.
Those are the kinds of personal stories we write when left to our own resources. They are the result of a world-produced grief. Without faith in Jesus, our soul-searching results in emptiness. It ends in a lostness that never emerges from the darkness.
In fact, any story of your life authored by someone other than God is a fake. At best it is a distorted copy of the truth and at its worst it is a complete lie; denial, fake exuberance, and game playing may help you power up each day to fight what's raging inside, but it will all come crumbling down at some point. It won't bring the real answer that you need.
So, please hang in there with me on all this. This isn't just a sermon about guilt. In fact, God doesn't want you to feel guilty for guilt's sake or just so that you realize you're imperfect. That kind of guilt leads to hopelessness. It leads to the death of your spirit and a grief of the soul that destroys you and me.
Feeling badly will only take you so far. Saying "I'm sorry!" isn't enough to turn your life around. Carrying the heavy burden of your own failures doesn't bring you life. That's why we need good news, a new story that really leads to life and salvation. And the Bible says there is such a story, there is a script of truth, of hope, of personal restoration. And the end of that story? It is absolutely wonderful for eternity!
Paul says it plainly in this text, "Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret" (2 Corinthians 7:10).
So, if you are overwhelmed by grief, struggling with sorrow, God has a message for you and me today. There is rescue and salvation through the forgiveness of your sins. When Christ's story becomes yours by faith, life changes!
Paul puts guilt and grief in its proper context when he says, "As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret" (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). This "godly grief" is a grief of the soul authored by God. It is an awakening that comes through the power of His law in your life. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to stop you in your tracks and turn you around.
When God writes your story, your sorrow and emptiness become productive. Your confession of personal failure and sin result in forgiveness and second chances. Your remorse and repentance lead to a new life--even eternal life. That's what God can do. It's what God has done through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus on the cross for you, made certain by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and sealed by the Holy Spirit in your life in your baptism. God has written the story of your salvation in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Do you feel lost and aimless? Is the meaninglessness of the world dragging your soul into grief and despair? You don't have to rely on what the world scripts anymore. You don't have to make up a false story to cover up the blemishes of reality. God has authored a new story for you--penned in the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus cried out this Good News story from the cross when He said, "It is finished!" You don't have to ride the merry-go-round of what the world says is true. You don't have to endure repeated cycles of guilt and shame. Life changes by faith in Jesus. Paul expresses this joy, this turnaround joy, when he says, "The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20).
You have a new story. It is God's story--anchored in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, built upon the God-written story of grace. Yes, you receive God's grace, His undeserved love for you, given as a gift that changes your life now and forever. Grace is the key to the stories that last. Let me give you one last glimpse of what I mean.
Back in 1956, a woman named Lee worked for a British airline, but she was also an aspiring writer. However, she could never find time to sit down and write. Once, when she was visiting with her friends, Michael and Joy Brown, she complained that she had no time to write the story that was on her heart. Her full-time job and all of life's demands kept her from pursuing her passion. That's when the Browns had an idea. That Christmas, they gave their friend a gift, an envelope. Inside was a note that said, "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." Her good friends supported her for a year while she wrote what would become one of the bestselling books of all time: "To Kill a Mockingbird." It was Harper Lee's only published novel. It won a Pulitzer Prize. It is still read today by most high school students. But it almost never came to be. A special gift allowed Harper Lee's story to be written. And so it is with you. The gift of God's grace in Jesus allows the real story of your new life in God to be written.
Are you trapped in one of the destructive stories of the world? Are you living a story written by someone else, or by difficult circumstances, or by your own seemingly endless guilt and failure? Today, God closes that book of falsehood and destruction. Faith in Him silences the evil and regret that would otherwise destroy you. You have a new story scripted by a crucified and risen Savior, one that lifts you up and takes you to new places. Once again, Paul articulates it so well in Ephesians 2: "You were dead in the trespasses and sin in which you once walked, following the course of this world" (Eph. 2)." But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive with Christ" (Ephesians 2:4-5). Or as Paul continues, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
The Apostle Peter, whose own life was brought back from the abyss of destructive guilt, echoed the new story written by God when he wrote: "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, now you have received mercy" (1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV).
That's the real story of life for everyone in this world if they would only look to God in faith. Guilt, removed; grief, overcome; grace, forgiveness, love for life now and forever! Dear friend, no matter what you are facing today, in Christ, I pray that you'll see this is the story God wants for you--authored, empowered by Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Put your faith in Him and begin to live again!
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for March 1, 2015
Topic: What Is Repentance?
ANNOUNCER: What is repentance? That'll be our question today for Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, in order to be forgiven by God, do we just need to feel really badly about our sins? Is that what repentance is?
SELTZ: Well, there's more to it than that. Let me just say this, that's an appropriate question for us in the season of Lent, Mark, because Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and has been called the season of repentance. Very often, you'll see the color purple in churches during Lent and that color symbolizes sorrow for sin, like the caller was talking about, and our humility before our King and Savior. So, the color actually helps us understand what repentance really means.
ANNOUNCER: Now, for some, repentance may have a negative connotation, having to do with sorrow and self-loathing; sounds to me you're saying there's more to it than that.
SELTZ: There is much more to it than that. In fact, the word has a nuance from the Old Testament and the New. In the Old Testament repentance is connected with the Hebrew word that means to return. God's people were called to return to Him. He beckoned them to be turned from unfaithfulness to following Him. This return was by grace through the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the result of God's rescue and deliverance.
ANNOUNCER: Okay, well, that's not dark and depressing. If anything, it sounds joyful and liberating.
SELTZ: It is! In fact, the roots of repentance in the Old Testament are very liberating. It's about salvation through God's grace. The New Testament word in Greek is also very similar: "metanoia." It means a change of mind that works complete life change. In fact, in the New Testament we hear how repentance is actually a gift from God. In Luke 5, Jesus said, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). Jesus is the One who brings us to repentance.
ANNOUNCER: In other words, God turns people around. He is the giver of that repentance.
SELTZ: Right. Repentance is God's gift by His Spirit that returns us to Himself and changes our hearts from trusting in ourselves to trusting in the saving work of Jesus for us.
ANNOUNCER: At the same time, isn't there also a sense of sorrow involved with repentance?
SELTZ: Yes there sure is, but the sorrow is connected with a heart that is grieved over sin and rebellion against God. This has been called contrition. Of course we lament over the life that separated us from God. We teach in our church "that contrition is the genuine terror of a conscience that feels God's wrath against sin and is sorry that it has sinned. This contrition takes place when the Word of God denounces sin in our lives" (Ap. XII 29).
ANNOUNCER: We recognize our desperate need, but sorrow and terror of conscience don't necessarily lead to true repentance.
SELTZ: Unfortunately, that's true. You could be very sorry and grieved over wrongdoing, but be stuck in your pain and regret. Putting your faith in God's Good News for you, that's the ultimate key to repentance. The only way out of our predicament is through the Gospel that offers, as the Bible and Church teach, "the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness of God for Christ's sake," and grants us "the Holy Spirit and eternal life," that leads "us as regenerated people to do good things" (Ap XII 29-30).
ANNOUNCER: What advice would you give our listeners to help them live in repentance during this Lenten season?
SELTZ: Let's use the Lenten color of purple to help people remember some things. First, the darkness of the color purple represents the darkness of our own sin. My first advice would be to hear what God's law says accurately, truthfully, and personally about your own sin. Let God have an honest say with you and your life. Think about how you, not your neighbor, your friend, or your family, but how you fall short and need forgiveness in your life. Be led to genuine contrition.
ANNOUNCER: But don't stop there!
SELTZ: No way. In fact God wants you to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ to hearts that are honest about such things. Let the love of God, then, release you from the burden of your real guilt and return you to the open and compassionate arms of your Savior. You are forgiven by faith in Christ. Remember the Bible says, "God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance" (Romans 2:4). Hear the Gospel--the Good News of new and eternal life through Jesus' death and resurrection for you.
ANNOUNCER: But that proclamation is also a way of life isn't it?
SELTZ: It is. We get to walk each day in repentance, trusting not in our merits, but in Christ's work for us. That's the other side of the color purple during Lent. By grace, through faith, you are a child of the King with a royal pedigree and a royal destiny as His followers.
ANNOUNCER: Very good. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Chief of Sinners Though I Be" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"Agnus Dei" by Paul D. Weber. (© Paul D. Weber)
"In the Cross of Christ I Glory" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Go to Dark Gethsemane" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)