In one of my morning devotions last week, Luther said something rather interesting regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and the faith He instills by the Gospel in Christians. I found it almost as startling as I did comforting.
“The Holy Spirit is no skeptic,” Luther wrote. “He has not written an uncertain delusion in our hearts, but a strong, great certainty, which does not let us waver, and (may it please God) will not let us waver, but (praise be to God) makes us as sure as we are that we are now alive, and that two and three makes five” (On the Enslaved Will, 8 ff.).
Incredible. And when you consider the words of 1 Thessalonians 1:5, you know he’s right.
“Our Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”
That Greek word Saint Paul uses here, which typically translates as “conviction,” is πληροφορίᾳ (plerophoria), and it means “complete certainty and full assurance.” Paul uses the word in other places, too. Colossian 2:2 and Romans 15:29 are a couple of examples. It is a word that, unlike so many words in our English vocabulary, is unmistakable in its purpose. It can’t be bent in a way that lessens the impact of its drive. When a first century Christian heard this word while listening to Paul’s epistle being read, he or she knew that there was no mistaking Paul’s own confidence in the Gospel and the commanding skill of the Holy Spirit at work within those who trust in Jesus as the Savior of the world.
And if for some reason they didn’t quite get it, they needed only to look around to see Christians laying their lives and livelihoods at Death’s stoop rather than forsake the One who gave His life as their ransom. Luther affirmed this when he kept on in the paragraph I mentioned above.
“We Christians must be sure of our Gospel and must be able firmly and without any wavering to say yes and no and stand by it.”
Yes and no.
Yes, I believe in Christ. No, I will not deny Him. Yes, I confess His Word as inspired, immutable, and inerrant, and the only source for faith, life, and practice. No, I will not deny His Word and follow the whims of the culture. Yes, I trust in Jesus for all that I have. No, I will not put my faith in the transient and mammonous things of this world.
Yes and no.
By the way, Jesus said this way before Luther.
“Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no; anything beyond this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:36).
Part of the Lord’s point here as He preaches the Sermon on the Mount: Don’t overthink or confuse your confession in ways that can, and often do, only serve to allow loopholes of escape from what is right and wrong, true and untrue. By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel for faith, be found confident in your stance on Him as the truest foundation. He isn’t a wobbly Savior. He’s steady and sure. And He’s not out to make you a wobbly Christian. The Word He gives to you is powerful. Its force is nothing less than tidal by size. And when it comes to the information it brings—Law and Gospel—it is so much clearer than many in this day and age would ever confess it to be.
The Holy Spirit by the verbal and visible Gospel—Word and Sacrament—feeds to you the fortitude to say yes and no in a way that aligns with this. Without it, we become the wobbly ones. We become those who aren’t sure of what we believe or who we are as baptized children of the Heavenly Father.
Conviction—complete certainly and full assurance—is located in Jesus alone. He is the birthplace of salvation and the very reason we can have confidence in the forgiveness of sins He has won on Calvary’s cross. The Father sends the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name by the message of the Gospel to establish this within us. Be completely certain and fully assured by this promise. Trust that what’s being given at your church—Word and Sacrament—is of utmost importance and is good for you and your family. When you are sitting there in the pews, when you are handling the Word of God in Bible study, when you are engaged in these things, the promise is that, actually, these things are first engaging with you. You are being given things that Paul told the church of Ephesus are divine elements of “power” and “conviction.” The Holy Spirit who works through these, while at the same time being alive in you, is by no means skeptical of these heavenly gifts. He can’t be. Instead, He is devoted to them, and He’s fully committed to taking up residence and establishing the same confident devotion in you.
Thanks be to God for this!