In the name of Jesus. Amen.
We live in a time where teachers, parents, coaches, counselors, culture, and even advertising slogans try to convince us that we are awesome and have power within. Consider some of the phrases that are out there:
“You can do it!”
“You have what it takes within you to discover your potential.”
“You can do anything you set your mind to.”
“Redefine the impossible.”
“Activate the power within you!”
Now, did you notice what all these slogans have in common? They seem to point you inward to your own resources and skills. Indeed, these phrases tend to point a person’s eyes inward - toward their abilities and power within.
While it may be true that some jobs in life require some good ol’ grit and sweat from within a person or a certain set of skills, it should be clearly noted that this is not how Christianity works. If you think Christianity is about looking inward for greatness, you could not be further from the truth about Christianity. Christianity is the exact opposite.
You see, when we focus too much on the Christian and not enough on the Christ, we begin to look at ourselves as the center of the Christian faith. And when we look at ourselves, well… we end up fixating on our own so-called spiritual abilities and powers. Looking at our spiritual abilities and powers, though, we begin to collapse inward on ourselves, which results in the destruction of the Christian faith. You and I can never be the center of the Christian faith, for there is no greatness in our hearts but only sin and darkness.
Tragically, there are thousands of people sitting in pews this morning knowing that they do not have greatness within. They know because they are failing at life. They have failing marriages, struggling jobs, unruly kids, low finances, and poor health – to name a few. Life has beaten them up, and they know it. However, they do not talk about their problems because everyone else around them seems to be doing great. But nonetheless, they drag themselves into the church every single week.
Once in the church, the preacher-man gets into the pulpit and rightly points out all of their problems. He boldly preaches that families are falling apart; husbands are not listening to their wives enough, wives are spending too much money, kids are not obeying authority, and so forth. Basically, the preacher-man tells the people in the pew that God’s people are not obedient enough. And the people in the pew will agree. But here is the main problem. The preacher-man may have correctly pointed out the problem of the sinful heart in his parishioners, but once he has done this, the preacher-man then points the people not away from their sinful hearts but back to their sinful hearts. The preacher-man points them back to themselves to fix their problems by resorting to one of the many terrible slogans that we hear in our culture. Obviously, the preacher-man will not use secular slogans but will Christianize the pagan slogan to sound spiritual.
“With faith, you can do it!”
“With your faith, you have what it takes within you to discover your potential.”
“You can do anything you set your faith upon.”
“Be legendary with mighty faith.”
“Redefine the impossible with faith.”
“Activate your faith within you.”
Now, in case you don’t know, this is insanity! This is spiritual abuse! This is wretched theology. This is complete heresy; however, people keep coming back week after week after week to these pathetic and Christless churches!
Dear friends, your relationship with God – no matter how good or bad you think you have it – cannot be based on you. If it is based on you and not on Jesus, then your salvation is only as good as you can be. And frankly, the scriptures do not paint a pretty picture of your corrupt hearts. And faith?
Faith without Jesus is not real saving faith. Faith must always have an object; faith must always connect to, cling to, and rest upon Jesus. Faith clings outward to Jesus, not inward upon yourself.
So, what this means is that we must confess that our Christian faith is not based on looking inward towards our internal abilities, but rather, we look outward to Jesus – our mediator.
We see this idea of looking outside of ourselves in our Old Testament Reading quite clearly. In our Old Testament Reading, we hear about the Israelites who were bitten by snakes in the wilderness, and many of them died. The poison ran through their veins. It infected them, poisoned them, and brought death to them.
However, amid Israel’s grumbling, impatience, and poisoned bodies, the Lord told Moses to make a pole with a bronze serpent on it, and whoever would look at it would be healed – the poison would not harm them. In other words, the Lord did not banish the snakes that were biting the Israelites, but rather He had Moses put a snake on a pole. Yes, a bronze serpent was nailed to a cross. It was then lifted, and all who looked to it were healed and lived.
Take a moment and think about this.
The Israelites were not told to disregard the snake venom. They were not given a bunch of life principles and life pointers to overcome the snake venom. They were not told that they were overcomers and had the power within to overcome the venom. But rather, they were directed away from their snakebites towards a bronze serpent on a pole that was lifted high up for them to see. Indeed, they were directed to look away from their predicament – they were directed to look outside of themselves, towards a bronze statue for healing and hope and restoration. (All of this obviously prefigures Jesus who was lifted high upon the cross, as we hear in John chapter three).
Dear Baptized Saints, when you look inward to yourself, what we see are lives full of sin. In other words, looking inward at yourself does not lead to forgiveness, life, and salvation but leads to sin and everlasting darkness. Bluntly stated, Matt Richard is not the solution to Matt Richard’s problems and sin. Jesus is.
Listen to Martin Luther on this,
“The Gospel commands us to look, not at our own good deeds or perfection but at God Himself as He promises, and at Christ Himself, the Mediator.”
Dear Baptized Saints, the nature of the Christian faith is that God has snatched you not only out of the darkness but has snatched you away from yourselves and placed you outside yourself so that you do not depend on your own strength, conscience, experience, or works.
You are not anchored to yourself and your abilities in this Christian faith, but you are anchored outside of yourself to Christ and His Gifts. You are anchored to the promises of God, which cannot deceive.  Hope is not found in the Christian but is found in and delivered by the Christ. Christianity is not about you, but it is about Christ who is for you.
So, dear Baptized Saints, when the devil sinks His teeth into you, do not go looking for preachers, books, or spiritual fads that point you within but instead look outside yourselves and behold Christ Jesus, the victor over evil.
When the world sinks its teeth into you - look outside of yourselves and behold the Lamb of God, who was lifted up and sacrificed for you and the sins of the entire world!
When your sinful nature sinks its teeth into you – look outside of yourselves and behold Jesus Christ, who died your death and is your resurrection.
Yes, look outside of yourselves to Christ Jesus, the one who is completely righteous – the one we all benefit from.
Never forget that God works from the outside in, not the inside out. It is from the outside that He places His Word into your ears. It is from the outside that His blood is laid upon your tongues and His body placed in your mouths so that you may know with certainty that you are forgiven.
Baptized Saints, do not be deceived; looking inward to your sinful hearts only results in sin yielding more sin – sin upon sin. But the One outside of you, Jesus Christ, is the fountainhead of grace, life, and truth – grace upon grace for sinners like you and especially me.
You will have troubles in this life, but take heart, look outside yourself. Do not look to the serpent on the pole but look upon Christ – He was lifted up for you! You are not left to yourselves but have unfathomable goodness and mercy in Christ Jesus, who intercedes for you and reconciles you to the Father. He is a Savior that came for you and comes to you this day – from the outside.
In the name of Jesus: Amen.
 Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 26, p. 387). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
 Ibid, 387.