This morning I want to begin with a question for all the parents here today.  Have you ever struggled to know how to properly discipline your child?  I mean, we all want our kids to behave. We want them to be polite, respectful, obedient.  But when they aren’t, what are we supposed to do?  Should we give them a lecture or give them a spanking?  Should I threaten to punish my child “if she acts up one more time?”  Or promise to reward her, if she’ll “be good just a little longer”?

I remember when my wife and I were just learning how to be parents.  We read a book called How to Really Love your Child by Dr. Ross Campbell.  In it, the author emphasized the importance of what he called, “keeping your child’s emotional tank filed.”  In other words, in order for a child to behave properly, that child needs to know that he is loved unconditionally.  If a child feels like his parents don’t really care about him, if dad shows no physical affection toward his daughter, if mom is always distracted, that child will often seek attention by acting in ways that are inappropriate.

Well, once that fact kind of registered in the brain of my wife and me, we started thinking a bit differently.  When our children misbehaved, we’d ask ourselves, “Hmmm, what does this child need?  Does she need a spanking?  Or does she need a hug?  As it turns out, oftentimes, she needed both.  Her sinful nature needed to know that there are painful consequences for her rebellion.  But more importantly, her New Man needed to know that I still loved her, I had forgiven her, and that I was going to be there for her.  It was that dual combination of negative consequences and positive reinforcement that had the greatest impact on her behavior.

My friends, you realize that these principles for effective parenting didn’t originate in this book.  They originated in this book, the Bible.  God teaches us how to deal with our children by showing us how he deals with us, his children.  And sometimes, like a loving father has to do, our loving father in heaven has to determine whether we need, in effect, a spanking or a hug.  Do we need to be warned by the consequences of the law or do we need to be comforted by the promises of the Gospel, God’s unconditional love in Christ?   In our text for today gives us an opportunity to reflect on that question a little more fully.  Today in terms of our text, I ask you:

Christian, Which Do You Need?

Do you need a warning?

Or do you need a promise?

Actually, because God knows that we all have a New Man and an Old Adam, here in our text God offers us both.  First, the warning.  In the opening verses of this portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the apostle offers a bit of a history lesson regarding the Old Testament nation of Israel.  Paul reviews some of the physical and spiritual blessings that God gave to his people, blessings that connected them to God and each other.  For example, Paul writes, our forefathers were all under the cloud (Paul is referring to that fiery pillar of a cloud that led the Children of Israel out of Egypt.)  Paul says, they all passed through the sea.  (That would be the Red Sea).  In fact, Paul calls that passing through the waters of the Red Sea a “baptism” of sorts.  It was an event that connected the people to Moses, God’s chosen representative.  That’s what Paul means when he says, they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  Paul goes on to say, they all ate the same spiritual food (namely manna from heaven) and drank the same spiritual drink (namely, the water that God miraculously caused to flow out from the rock).  In fact, Paul explains, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

And yet, in spite of all that God did for the Israelites, the fact is, the majority of them rebelled against God.  They refused to trust God.  They refused to obey his commands.  And because of it, there was a whole generation of Israelites who never entered the Promised Land.  How does Paul put it?  “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.”

            In fact, in verses between our two readings, the Apostle gives some examples of what happened to some of them and why.  Paul says that some of them engaged in sexual immorality and in one day, 23,000 of them died.  Some tested the Lord and were killed by snakes.  Others grumbled against God and were put to death by the destroying angel.  And why did all these terrible things happen?  And maybe more importantly, why did God record all these events in the Bible?  Paul answers that question for us. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us (1 Cor. 10:11).  Oh, you mean, people who had been given all kinds of blessings from God, people who were sure they were the children of God, in the end could lose their connection to God forever?  Yep.  And that’s why the Apostle Paul goes on to say, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  (1 Cor. 10:12).

            The question is, who is Paul talking to?  Is he talking to you and me?  “If you think you are standing firm…”  Tell me, how many of our confirmands as they step up here on their confirmation day are thinking, “I expect that I’ll lose my faith someday.  I expect that I’ll become an unbeliever.  I won’t believe anything the Bible says.”  How many wedding couples standing before this altar thought to themselves, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ll commit adultery, destroy my marriage and leave my children scarred for life?”  How many parents are thinking, “Yeah, when my kids are out of school, I’ll quit coming to church; I’ll abandon the faith and I’ll take my children down a path to hell with me.”  Who says that?  Nobody.  No, everybody says, “God, don’t worry about me.  I’ll be fine.  I’ll always be a believer.”  But you see, that’s the problem.  As soon as we think, “I’m just fine.    I’ll never fall away from God.  I’ve got this covered”—look out!  Satan has got us right where he wants us.

Do you remember what Simon Peter said right before he denied knowing Jesus, right before he in effect, became an unbeliever?  What did Peter say? “Lord, even if all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29).  My friends, it was that attitude that doomed Peter.  Even though Peter had just spent 3 years with Jesus, he was one of the inner circle, still Peter fell into the trap of overestimating his own faith and underestimating the power of Satan and his own sinful nature.

My friends, do you see why the Bible says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall”?  Is so easy for us to become “self”-confident, to put our trust in ourselves, to trust in our theological pedigree or our synodical affiliation.  It’s easy to take pride in the fact that we were raised in a Christian home, or that we attended a Christian day school, or that we’ve been members of Mount Olive our whole lives.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  All those things can be great blessings.  We can thank God for them; but we can’t put our trust in them.  Saving faith is not some kind of certificate that we receive from church that automatically remains in effect until the day we die.  No, saving faith is like a fragile plant.  It needs to be fed.  It needs to be watered to keep it alive.  And if you abuse your faith, if you ignore it, if you sin against it, your faith will go away.  It will die.  And what’s really scary, you may never realize it’s dead.  You may think everything’s fine—“always was a believer; always will be”—until your last day, when God comes looking for faith in Jesus and he finds none.  Oh, he may find faith in self, faith in your upbringing, but faith in Jesus alone?  No, Satan has snatched that right out of your heart.

My friends, do you see why God says, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall”?  Because you and I have a sinful nature, because we are so prone to the sins of arrogance and pride, spiritual laziness and self-indulgence, we need to hear God’s sternest warning.  We need to think about those corpses strewn across the desert floor.  We need to think about King Saul and King David and Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot, who all were once believers, and who at one time or another lost their faith, some temporarily, some eternally.  Do you think that couldn’t happen to you?  Then you need to hear God’s warning. Christian, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.

            Now, if you take God’s warning to heart, if you realize, “Man, I could lose my faith at any time; I’m no match for Satan.  He could take me down a thousand different ways,” it would be easy for us to fall off the pinnacle of pride—and fall right into the pit of despair.  To say, “God, my life is hopeless.  There’s no way I can overcome Satan’s temptations.  I’m doomed to lose my faith.”

But you see, when we find ourselves in that situation, our heavenly Father knows what we need.  When we are in the pit of despair, we don’t need: I. A Warning.  No, we need: II. A Promise.  A promise to assure us that our salvation is ultimately in God’s hands, and that God can give us what we need to overcome the temptations of the Evil One.  What does Paul say here in our text?  {13} No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  In other words, it’s not like Satan has some super-secret weapon that he’s planning to use on us, but has never used on anyone else, a sin that cannot possibly be overcome.  You know, a sin where “resistance is futile.”  No, the temptations which Satan uses against us in our daily lives are the same temptations which he’s used against human beings since the beginning of time.  Granted, those temptations are very powerful; they’re very effective.  I mean, Satan’s temptations prompted a pair of holy people to throw away their holiness for a piece of fruit.  And yet, no matter how powerful Satan’s temptations are, what promise does God make you?  1 Corinthians 10:13: God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  Wow!  Isn’t that an awesome promise?  But wait a minute.  God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear?  Does that mean that if you are tempted and you fall into sin, it’s God’s fault?  “God, I guess you let me be tempted beyond what I could bear.  You failed to keep your promise to me.”  No.  It’s not God’s fault.  Notice how that passage goes on.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Cor. 10:13).

            So, when you are tempted, God always provides a way out.  You might say that when you are confronted with a temptation, God always offers you an “escape hatch.”  Sometimes that escape hatch is a physical one.  The same door that led you into the bedroom can also get you out.  The same switch that turned on the computer filled with porn, can also turn it off.  Before you send off that nasty email, God provides you with a delete button.  Sometimes you have to just walk away from the argument, the fight, the juicy piece of gossip.

But more often than not, the escape hatch is not a physical one.  It’s a spiritual one.  It’s not a matter of moving away from sin.  It’s a matter of moving closer to God:  coming to God in prayer, searching his Word for strength and guidance, feeding your faith with the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Most importantly, it means believing the promises God has made to you.  Believing his promise that in Christ, all things are possible.  Believing that in Christ, there is now no condemnation; believing that in Christ, you are no longer dead in your sins, but are alive to God.  Believing that in Christ, you are a new creation.  Believing that in Christ, you can, in the words of St. James, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

My friends, aren’t these the promises we need to hear?  When we know that we are weak; when we know that our faith is fragile; when we know that we are at risk of being lost forever; when we know that our enemy, the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour—that’s when God comes to us and tells us what we need to hear.  Through his word, God comes to us, and just like a father who gathers his daughter up in his arms, he says, “I love you.  I forgive you.  I will take care of you.  You’re safe here in my arms.  Trust me.  Listen to my voice.  For then you can know that I’ll never let you fall.”  God keep us all safe in his arms, as we put our trust not in our faithfulness, but in his.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.