Christians are supposed to be confident. But as they are confident, they are also supposed to be humble. Is that a contradiction?
Well, it might seem to be, if you equate confidence with arrogance, and if you equate being humble with being demeaned. From that perspective, people, in their pride, would want to avoid humility, and in their pride, they would want to embrace confidence.
But according to the true Christian definitions of confidence, and of humility, there is no contradiction at all. In fact, true humility before God is what makes confidence in God possible; and a true confidence in God is always marked by humility before God – and humility in relationships with others, too.
In today’s text from his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul talks about Christian confidence, even though he does not use that exact word. And he also talks about Christian humility. He begins by saying:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness…”
We have a calling from the Lord. Who we are – as citizens of God’s kingdom, and as members of God’s family – is not based, most fundamentally, on choices we have made.
God, in Christ, has put us on a pathway of his choosing and has entrusted to us duties and responsibilities that he knows we are capable of fulfilling with his help. Jesus once said to his disciples, as recorded in St. John’s Gospel:
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain.”
This gives us confidence: and I mean real confidence in God, not human pride and arrogance masquerading as confidence.
And there is humility in this confidence because to the same degree that we trust in God and rely upon him, to that degree we also know that we cannot rely upon ourselves in regard to these eternal matters.
We know that God is in charge. And if he has called us to a life of faith, and of faithful service – to him and to others in his name – we can trust him in this.
If it all depended on us, we could not be certain that we should really be believing and doing what we are believing and doing. But because God is God and is not a man, with all the hesitancies and doubts of a man, we can be certain that he knows what he is doing, and will help and guide us as we walk the pathway of vocation that he has laid out for us.
Confidence in this context is really a variation on faith. There’s nothing proud or boastful about it at all. Just the opposite, in fact.
But it is necessary to know how God calls us to believe and do, what he calls us to believe and do, so that we will not be misled or confused with respect to what our callings actually are. It is also important to make the distinction that St. Paul makes in today’s text: between the calling that God gives to all Christians, and the unique callings that he gives to each individual.
First, there is the calling that we share, on an equal footing, with all other members of Christ’s body, the church. Paul writes:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
For this calling, baptism is the clear and objective mechanism by which we are called. And baptism is the great equalizer. The son of a king and the daughter of a pauper receive the same baptism, if they receive baptism at all.
There is one baptism. This means not only that for each individual, his or her own baptism is unrepeatable; but it also means that everyone who is baptized receives the same baptism, and that the same baptismal gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation are offered to every baptized person.
The one baptism of the Christian church unites us to the one Christian church, which is a spiritual body that has the Lord Jesus Christ as its head.
And since God is triune – and since baptism even in its very formula unites us to the triune God – we who are baptized into Christ and into his body are also baptized into the one Spirit of Christ, and into the one God and Father of Christ – who in baptism, by the adoption of the Holy Spirit, becomes also the one God and Father of us all.
In times of weakness and fear, you as a baptized person can be comforted by the objective historical fact of your baptism. God put his mark on you, and claimed you as his own. If you, from your side, have fallen away from your baptism, you can return to it in repentance, and once again receive its blessings by faith. You will in every case be welcomed back.
It’s always a sad thing to me, when I hear someone tell me that he was baptized as an infant, but then lived a life of unbelief and debauchery – which was, of course, a betrayal of his baptism. And as the story then usually goes, this then culminated in a re-conversion to Christ, accompanied soon after by a renunciation of his infant baptism in favor of an adult immersion.
What was really going on, during that person’s time of apostasy, was that God was continually reaching out to him through his baptism. The triune God was mercifully calling him home, and calling him to return to the faith of his baptism.
But then, when this call to come home to God was finally heeded, the first thing the person thought he needed to do, was to renounce that baptism!
But there’s one baptism. The only baptism he ever really received, was the first one. And the first one was the only one he ever needed to receive.
Luther’s Large Catechism – one of the official creedal statements of our church – actually deals with these confusions, and unfolds for us what a wonderful gift our one baptism really is. Luther writes in the context of the struggle between the old sinful nature, which remains even after baptism, and the new nature that God’s Word and Spirit create within us when we are converted. We read:
“Baptism remains forever. Even though we fall from it and sin, nevertheless we always have access to it so that we may again subdue the old man. But we need not again have the water poured over us. … Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to Baptism, to resume and practice what had earlier been begun but abandoned.”
“‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved,’ that is, faith alone makes the person worthy to receive the salutary, divine water profitably. Since these blessings are offered and promised in the words which accompany the water, they cannot be received unless we believe them wholeheartedly. Without faith Baptism is of no use, although in itself it is an infinite, divine treasure.”
“How dare we think that God’s Word and ordinance should be wrong and invalid because we use it wrongly? Therefore, I say, if you did not believe before, then believe afterward and confess, ‘The Baptism indeed was right, but unfortunately I did not receive it rightly.’”
And yet again:
“Thus we see what a great and excellent thing Baptism is, which snatches us from the jaws of the devil and makes God our own, overcomes and takes away sin and daily strengthens the new man, always remains until we pass from this present misery to eternal glory. Therefore let everybody regard his Baptism as the daily garment which he is to wear all the time. Every day he should be found in faith and amid its fruits, every day he should be suppressing the old man and growing up in the new. … But if anybody falls away from his Baptism let him return to it. As Christ, the mercy-seat, does not recede from us or forbid us to return to him even though we sin, so all his treasures and gifts remain.”
We can see from these words that the Confessional Lutheran Church certainly knows that many people who are baptized in infancy do fall away from their baptism, and become unbelievers who no longer have the hope of salvation – so that if they were to die in that condition, they would be lost.
But we also know that the sacrament through which God first called them, is the same sacrament through which he calls them again, and continues to call them, so that they can return to their hope in Christ, be renewed in faith by the Holy Spirit, and become once again members of the family of God the Father.
And how blessed we are, who are living in this hope right now. Every day, when we repent of our sins, admit our faults, and acknowledge our transgressions, we have a certain pledge in our baptism that all is forgiven in Christ, who died for us.
And every day, as we seek strength and guidance from the Lord in overcoming the power of sin, and in following the pathway of faith and discipleship that he has laid out before us, we have a certain pledge in our baptism that Christ, who rose again from the dead for us and now lives forevermore, is still with us.
He is with us as we recall our baptism and are absolved through its enduring power. And he is with us as we are renewed and sustained also by the other sacrament that Jesus left for his church, through which he feeds us with his own body and blood.
Knowing and experiencing these wonderful things, humbles us before God. These things certainly do not feed pride and haughtiness, but cause us to have a deeply thankful spirit.
This is the calling we all share. And we are confident in this calling, because we know who has called us, how he has done so, and how he continues to renew us in that calling.
But Paul also mentions the special, individual callings – the special vocational gifts – that each of us has, and that we do not share with all other Christians. He writes that
“To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’”
Paul then goes on to mention the concrete examples of ministerial callings in the church, when he writes that Christ himself
“Gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
He then swerves back to the special callings of everyone, when he explains that one of the purposes and goals of the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the church is so that Christians
“may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
So, pastors and teachers, as they fulfill their unique calling by instructing the church in God’s Word and in God’s ways, make it possible for other Christians to grow into their own unique callings, for the mutual benefit of all.
Those varied callings are not limited to the realm of the church, but those callings do – at one level or another – touch on the life of the church, and effect others within the family of the church.
And insofar as this is the case, what Paul says definitely applies, when he tells us that we are to walk worthy of the calling with which we were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We accept God’s gifts and God’s vocations in humility before God. And as we use his gifts, and fulfill the vocations he had bestowed upon us, we do so in a spirit of love and humility: not only toward him, but also toward those whom we serve and take care of according to our calling.
The specific roles that we may have in the life of the church are assigned to us by God. He gives us the gifts we need for our service, and then he gives each of us as a living gift to the larger body.
But remember that God works through means. He calls us to faith through baptism. And he calls us to works of service within the church, through the voice and calling of the church, as the community of God’s baptized children.
God works through external means in assigning our duties to us in the domestic and civil realms, as well. He calls you to an office of love and service to a spouse, through your exchanging of marriage vows with that spouse.
He calls you to an office of love and service to a child, through your becoming a father or a mother to a child. He calls you to an office of love and service in the larger economy, at a place of work, through someone hiring you for a job.
In all of these positions of responsibility – when they serve a godly and positive purpose for the benefit of others – we can be confident that God has indeed called us to such duties and to such relationships. And we can, with confidence and with humility, ask for his help and guidance, with the certainty that he will hear such prayers and answer them.
In all of these things, our model is, of course, always the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us that as we grow in Christian confidence, and in Christian humility, it is all oriented around Christ and focused on Christ, because we are thereby maturing into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
We are becoming more like him. And as Jesus tells us elsewhere, he as the Son of Man came into this world not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
In humility before God the Father, and in obedience to the Father’s saving will, Jesus, while on earth, fulfilled his divine mission and calling by living perfectly for imperfect sinners, and by dying sacrificially for their sins.
And in the same spirit he fulfills his calling as Lord of the church now, as he distributes to his people, through the humble means of grace that he has instituted, all the benefits and blessings of his righteous life and of his atoning death. And across time, to all men in all nations and stations, he issues this warm invitation:
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
To be confident in the truth of God’s promises, and to be confident in the callings that God gives us, is not to be arrogant, proud, and boastful. That’s a worldly definition of confidence. That’s not what God’s Word teaches us, and that’s not what God’s Son shows us.
And, to be humble before God as we rejoice in his undeserved grace toward us, and to be humble before others as we love and serve them according to our divine vocations, is not to be demeaned, degraded, or shamed. That’s a worldly definition of humility. That’s not what God’s Word teaches us, and that’s not what God’s Son shows us.
What God’s Word does teach, what Jesus does show us by example, and what we embrace in joy and thanksgiving, is a kind of God-given confidence, and a kind of God-given humility, that the world cannot understand. But we do understand it in Christ. We receive it and have it in Christ. We sing of it in Christ.
Jesus lives! For me He died; Hence will I, to Jesus living,
Pure in heart and act abide, Praise to Him and glory giving.
Freely God doth aid dispense; This shall be my confidence. Amen.