Christ Within the Heart

Christ within the Heart

Romans 10:9-10

The Luther seal found on the cover of today’s bulletin and on the banner to your left is an enduring symbol of the Lutheran Reformation and the teachings of Lutheranism based upon the Bible.  This seal depicts the theology of Martin Luther as noted in a letter he sent to Lazarus Sprengler on July 8, 1530.  For the next three weeks we will look at Luther’s seal and his explanation of it, and based upon Scripture behold the truth of the salvation we have in Christ Jesus and its pertinence for our daily lives.

Today we shall consider the red heart at the center of this seal and the black cross that is placed within the heart.  Martin Luther began his explanation of his seal with these words: “Grace and peace in Christ!  Honorable, kind, dear Sir and Friend!  Since you ask whether my seal has come out correctly, I shall answer most amiably and tell you to those thoughts which now come to my mind about my seal as a symbol of my theology.  There is first to be a cross, black and placed in a heart, which should be of its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us.  For if one believes from the heart, he will be justified.  Even though it is a black cross, which mortifies and which also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its natural color and does not ruin nature; that is the cross does not kill but keeps man alive.  For the just man lives by faith, but by faith in the Crucified One.”

We begin our reflection by considering the Scriptural truth that the basis of our sinfulness is found in our hearts.  Jesus stated in Matthew 15:18-19: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Jesus in these verses is dealing with Pharisees who believe they are holy and as long as they keep themselves away from unclean things, they can save themselves by their works.  Jesus here teaches us that we are not holy, but by nature have a sinful heart that cannot bring forth anything good.

The truth is that our hearts are the hearts of sinful Adam who wanted to be like God and disobeyed God in his attempt to improve on the perfect being God had created him to be.  The sinful desire of Adam lives in us from conception.  Paul put wrote: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18).   Luther rightfully noted that “man cannot be justified, freed, or saved by any outer work or action at all,” because his heart by nature is filled with “ungodliness and unbelief.”  The heart needs changing and changing of the heart cannot occur by what we do, but by what God can do within us.  This is why sinful David prayed: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

The second point of emphasis is the cross that is found within the heart.  The basis of our salvation rests on believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified.”  And upon what does justifying faith rest?  Paul wrote: “Believe that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead.”

A change of heart is needed if one is to be sorrowful over his sin and believe that Jesus is the only one Who can save him from sin.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Martin Luther noted this in his explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit calls me by the gospel, enlightens me with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps me in the true faith.”  Paul declared in I Corinthians 12:3 that “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”  Justification by faith in Jesus Christ is God’s work accomplished in us through His Word and Sacraments.

Now this faith in Christ as Lord and Savior is a conviction.  This is important to keep in mind because many people passively speak of believing in Jesus, but their lives show anything but a life centered on Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The truth is that we can make the statement, “I believe” very flippantly without any real sincerity of heart.  For example, I can lose my car keys and say, “I believe I left them on the kitchen table.”  By saying that I do not stake my life on it, but I am merely guessing that is where they might be.

We notice that when Paul talks about believing he is talking about a faith in Christ that molds one’s speech and actions.  This is why Luther has the cross in the center of the red heart.  The red heart symbolizes a Christian’s earthly life in which faith in Christ is at the center.  Faith never stands alone, but displays itself in one’s speech and conduct.  Jesus said: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, 20).  This does not mean our words and deeds save us.  No, they simply prove the faith in Christ which exists in our hearts.

This faith in Christ presents itself with a strong conviction, because true faith holds on to the true identity and works of Jesus.  In our text Paul refers to the fact that the believer confesses “Jesus is Lord” and that “God raised Him from the dead.”

Jesus is referred to as a man having a name like any other human being.  Yet, He is also acknowledged as God by being referred to as “Lord.”  Jesus is true man and true God.  He took on human flesh being named Jesus, “because He would save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  He displays Himself as the Lamb of God by paying the debt of our sin and conquering the grave through His resurrection.  Those who know and believe in the identity and saving work of Jesus “are justified and saved.”  Martin Luther has the cross in the center of the seal to emphasize that this is the central truth of Scripture.

Luther then comments on the cross being black and the heart red.  The red heart indicates that this is a picture of a Christian’s heart while on earth, and the black cross addresses what the Christian in this life has yet to endure.  The point here is that true faith leads to a constant spiritual battle in this life.  Living the Christian faith means that we take up our cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34).

In this world the Christian will undergo constant spiritual battles. Luther commented on this noting that “to believe in Christ secretly in your hearts and praise Him in a private corner is not true faith.  A Christian openly confesses with his lips before everyone what he believers in his heart.  A confession may cost you your head, for the devil and men do not like to hear it.”  Yet, Christ clearly tells us: “If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

Faith in one’s heart and confession from one’s lips is not a mere recitation of a Christian creed on a Sunday morning or a statement of faith in Christ and commitment made to Him at the Rite of Confirmation.  True faith and confession is about being so connected to Christ’s redeeming grace that one’s life centers on Christ 24/7 and is witnessed by one’s living and speaking.  Luther noted: “The man is not righteous who does much, but who believes much in Christ.  Therefore I wish to have the words “without works” understood in the following way.  Not that the righteous person does nothing, but that his works do not make him righteous, rather his righteousness creates works.  Works contribute nothing to being saved.  For this reason a Christian does not seek to become justified or glorified through works, but seeks God.”

God’s great desire for us is mentioned in Ephesians 3:19: “That we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  Luther’s black cross in a red heart at the center of his seal is meant to remind us of the fullness of Christ that God wants to exist in our hearts.  Faith in Christ is not something we achieve, but it is a gift that God gives us through the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.  It is well for us to draw near to Him where He may be found that our faith may rest in Christ, and be nurtured and strengthened in Him, so that saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we may fight the good fight of faith, finish the course, and keep the faith, knowing the crown of glory that that awaits all those who trust in Him (II Timothy 2:7-8).  Amen.

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