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“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Proverbs 14:12 (cf. Prov. 16:25).
This verse appears in two places in the Book of Proverbs (the verses are identical in the Hebrew) and that, perhaps, should draw our attention to the truth expressed by these words: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”
What does it mean? People think they are doing right and walking in the right way but they are wrong! Instead of leading to life eternal, the end result of their path in this life is death and eternal damnation!
And, how true this is! People are convinced that they know God and are walking in His ways when, in fact, they have formed an image of God in their minds which is inconsistent with the God who has revealed Himself to mankind in the Bible.
Thus, so many assume that God just loves and accepts everyone as they are and would condemn no one to hell — except for, maybe, the worst of criminals. They think that the way to be acceptable to God is through love and tolerance of the views and lifestyles of others — except, maybe the views and lifestyles of Bible-believing Christians, whom they regard as unloving and intolerant.
And their way seems right to them. It fits their way of thinking and their views regarding God.
“But the end thereof are the ways of death.”
Instead of receiving in faith the life that God offers and gives through faith in the Son, Christ Jesus, they are on their way to eternal death and damnation while thinking they are on the path of life.
And, of course, this is a danger for all of us. We are convinced we are on the right path, that we are headed to eternal life and joy in heaven, but are we? The only way to know is to compare our views about God and our lives to His revelation in the pages of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are infected and corrupted by sin and easily deceive us, but His Word “is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19:8; cf. Jer. 17:9).
The Bible teaches that God’s commandments are good and right and reveal His will for us (Rom. 7:12). The problem is that we fail to keep them as He requires (Rom. 7:10ff.). As the Bible says, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Eccl. 7:20).
And what does the Bible say of God? It teaches us that He is a just God who punishes sin but also a merciful God who forgives transgression and sin when we repent and look to Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for pardon and forgiveness.
God Himself says, “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:5-6; cf. 34:6-7).
In Psalm 130, we read: “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared … Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (3-4,7-8; cf. Ps. 32:1-5).
The Bible calls upon all to “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19; cf. Luke 24:46-47).
If we continue on in our sinful ways, the end result is death, spiritual and eternal. If, by the grace of God, we repent and look in faith to the perfect life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus in our stead, the end result is God’s pardon and forgiveness and His gift of life eternal! “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
What does all this mean for you and for me? The answer is quite clear:
1) Don’t assume you are on the right path. Rather, examine your faith and life in the light of Holy Scripture that you might know the truth and see your sinfulness and your need for a Savior.
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Cor. 13:5).
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).
2) Don’t assume you are righteous and acceptable to God because of your belief in God and your Christian life, but acknowledge and repent of your sins and place your faith in the blood of Christ shed for you to atone for your sins and the sins of the world.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:7 — 2:2).
3) Don’t assume you can maintain your faith and life apart from God’s means but continue in His Word and Sacraments that the Holy Spirit may continue His gracious working in you and preserve you in the true faith unto life everlasting.
“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-15).
In regard to the Lord’s Supper, Jesus commanded His disciples: “This do ye…” (1 Cor. 11:25).
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
God graciously grant to you a right knowledge of the truth that you may repent of all sins and evil and trust in the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ for pardon and forgiveness. Amen.
I now ask you in the presence of Almighty God, who searcheth the heart: Do you truly acknowledge, confess, and lament that you are by nature sinful and that by omitting to do good and by doing evil you have in thought, word and deed, grieved and offended your God and Saviour, and thereby justly deserved His condemnation? If this be the sincere confession of your hearts, declare it by saying: Yes.
Do you truly believe that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and that all who believe on His Name receive the forgiveness of sins? Do you, therefore, earnestly desire to be delivered from all your sins, and are you confident that it is the gracious will of your Heavenly Father, for Christ’s Sake, to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness? If so, confess it by saying: Yes.
Is it your earnest purpose, henceforth, to be obedient to the Holy Spirit, so as to hate and forsake all manner of sin, to live as in God’s presence, and to strive daily after holiness of heart and life? If so, answer: Yes.
Let us humbly kneel, and make confession unto God, imploring His forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord.
O God, our Heavenly Father, I confess unto Thee that I have grievously sinned against Thee in many ways; not only by outward transgression but also by secret thoughts and desires which I cannot fully understand but which are all known unto Thee. I do earnestly repent, and am heartily sorry for these my offenses, and I beseech Thee of Thy great goodness to have mercy upon me and, for the sake of Thy dear Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to forgive my sins and graciously to help my infirmities. Amen.
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, hath had mercy upon us and, for the sake of the sufferings, death and resurrection of His dear Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, forgiveth us all our sins. As a minister of the Church of Jesus Christ, and by His authority, I, therefore, declare unto you who do truly repent and believe in Him, the entire forgiveness of all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
[On the other hand, by the same authority, I declare unto the impenitent and unbelieving, that so long as they continue in their impenitence, God hath not forgiven their sins, and will assuredly visit their iniquities upon them if they turn not from their evil ways and come to true repentance and faith in Christ ere the day of grace be ended.]
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven: Hallowed be Thy Name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven; Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil; For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
The Collect for Peace
O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels and all just works do proceed, give unto Thy servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Thy commandments, and also that by Thee, we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.]