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2 Corinthians 

5:1-7

 

For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened--not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

 

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.

(ESV)

 

 

 

No Power

Thursday of Lent 1

13 March 2014

One of my favorite passages from the Apostle Paul is: "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2Co 5:20-21). God's righteousness becomes ours in Christ. What could be simpler? Yet a thousand cavils are thrown at this passage. Pelagians in all generations doubt that things could be that simple. "God has given His law to some purpose. He gave us the holy ten commands to lead us into a moral life. The commandments are good in themselves." Yes, of course, all that is true. Yet, they themselves have not the power to make us right in the sight of God. Instead, they point out our human weakness and our failure to be truly moral persons in the sight of God. The failure of the law to make right is not in the law itself but in those to whom it is addressed: us. We have not the power to use rightly the lawful commands of God.

 

That powerlessness is met by a gracious God through the grace of Christ, who becomes for us our sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. This is the great exchange of which Luther taught so powerfully, and which one suspects, although I hesitate to say it, Augustine did not quite get right. Augustine leaves us with the impression that the grace of God only empowers the believer to fulfill the law and thus to become righteous by works, albeit with the help of grace, rather than righteous through Christ. That impression must be tempered by the understanding that Augustine is trying to advocate for grace in a real polemical situation and perhaps he has been able to say only what was necessary in his particular context.

 

Grace is a lynchpin and Augustine knows it. Without grace, Christianity is not Christianity; and that was where the Pelagians were heading in his day, as the new Pelagians are in our day. Traditionally, Christians argued about how grace functioned to change the status of humans in the sight of God. That would be our legitimate quibble with Augustine. However, the battle ground has now moved leftward quite significantly to a field in which grace itself is under attack and purely human goods and morality are the focus of "Christian" teaching. The box and media churches are good examples of that new battle ground. The radicality (rootedness) of grace is no longer in their preaching. This is why churches still committed to the biblical gospel must be all the more clear about grace and what it does in Christ. Without grace the church no longer has the power of God.

 

Augustine of Hippo

 

"Paul commends in glowing terms grace in the Lord Jesus Christ, until he comes to that vestment of the righteousness of faith, 'by putting it on we may not be found naked,' and while longing for it 'we groan, being burdened' with mortality, 'that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life' (2Co 5:1-4). Observe what he says: 'He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee' and a little after he briefly draws the conclusion of the matter: 'that in him we might become the righteousness of God' (2Co 5:21). This is not the righteousness by which God is Himself righteous, but that by which we are made righteous by Him.

 

"Let no Christian then stray from this faith, which alone is the Christian one; nor let anyone, when he has been made to feel ashamed to say that we become righteous by ourselves, without the grace of God working this in us (because he sees, when such an allegation is made, how unable pious believers are to endure it) resort to any subterfuge on this point, by affirming that the reason why we cannot become righteous without the operation of God's grace is this, that He gave the law, He instituted its teaching, and He commanded its precepts of good. For there is no doubt that, without His assisting grace, the law is 'the letter which kills' (2Co 3:6). But when the life-giving Spirit is present, the law causes that to be loved when it is written within, which it once caused to be feared when it was written outwardly. 

 

Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.31-32

 

Prayer

Righteous God, You grant the gift of righteousness to us in Christ by grace. Keep us steadfast in this teaching and truth, that we might never seek our own way become righteous in Your sight. Amen.

 

For Susan Hyder, that the Lord Jesus, her righteousness, would be with her to grant her His strength

 

For the blessings of clement weather, that we would thank the God who cares for us

 

For Robert Kuhn, as he mourns the passing of his wife, Judy, that he might be comforted by the promises of his Lord Christ

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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