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Acts

13:43-52

 

And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sinlessness?

Friday of Lent 2

21 March 2014

Many years ago, while involved in a door-to-door evangelism campaign, I heard the claim to sinlessness. A woman came to the door of one of the homes I visited announcing that she had no need to compose her faith in preparation for death, for she had committed no sin for the previous two years. This came as an enormous shock to me, brought up in the Lutheran Church as I was. "Are you sure?" "Why yes, for at least two years." I was quite clear on the total depravity of the human race after the fall (Rm 3:11-20). When I got over my stammering amazement, I found myself unable to break through her self-generated patina of piety. No, there was no need of forgiveness. She hadn't done anything to require it. As a naïve teen, I was deeply shocked by such a profession of holiness.

 

One wonders if she thought that two years of sinlessness would be sufficient to make up for whatever spiritual gaffs she had made previous to her long run of a perfect batting average. I suppose that such a batting average might be possible, but to make the claim to sinlessness is itself to whiff in the most crucial at bat; it is to commit a blasphemy. For who on earth, but our Lord Jesus, is capable of making this claim, and even He makes it only indirectly? (Jn 8:46). No mere human who genuinely felt himself to be without sin would ever say so in public.

 

To be without sin, though theoretically possible, would never occur. How much better it is to be among those weak who must depend on the mercy of God. No matter how far we think we are progressing, it is better to be dependent upon the work of Christ, which is complete in Him. If in our pride we make the claim to some sort of sinlessness, whether for two years or two minutes, our pride will be resisted by God. Our own righteousness (whatever that is) will never suffice in His presence. While Augustine must affirm that every human mouth God has stopped in the praise of their own righteousness (Rm 3:19), he is unsure why. Yet what could be clearer?

 

When our mouths are stopped God speaks and "bespeaks us righteous" for the sake of Christ. Only the righteousness of the One who could credibly claim that no one could accuse Him of sin, is sufficient to shelter us under the divine verdict of righteous on that last and greatest day. To stand in that righteous verdict of God in Christ is to praise rightly both our Father and His crucified Son through the Holy Spirit.  We must be silent where God has spoken in His Son. Thus when we speak it is in praise of the righteousness of another. For who can claim us righteous better than Him? The righteousness that we praise is His own, and ours by faith and not by sinlessness, unless the sinlessness is His.

 

Augustine of Hippo

 

"Let objectors find, if they can, any man, while living under the weight of this corruption, in whom God has no longer anything to forgive. They will incur the charge of ungodliness itself, not of this or that particular sin, unless they acknowledge that such an individual has been aided in the attainment of his good character not merely by the teaching of the law which God gave, but also by the infusion of the Spirit of grace. Of course, they are not at all able to discover such a man, if they rightly understand the testimony of the divine writings. Still, for all that, it must not by any means be said that the possibility is lacking to God whereby the will of man can be so assisted, that there could be accomplished in every respect even now in a man, not only that righteousness which is by faith (Rm 10:6), but that also in accordance with which we shall by and by have to live forever in the very vision of God. For if He should now wish even that this corruptible in any particular man should put on incorruption (1Co 15:53), and to command him so to live among mortal men (although not destined to die himself) that his old nature should be wholly and entirely withdrawn, and there should be no law in his members warring against the law of his mind (Rm 7:23), and moreover, that he should discover God to be everywhere present, as the saints shall hereafter know and behold Him, who will madly venture to affirm that this is impossible?

 

"Men, however, ask why He does not do this. But they who raise the question do not fully consider the fact that they are human. I am quite certain that, since nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1:37), so also there is no iniquity in Him (Rm 9:14). I am equally sure that He resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6). I know also that to him who had a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be too elated, when he asked God for its removal once, twice, no three times, it was said to him: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2Co 12:7-9). There is, therefore, in the hidden depths of God's judgments, a certain reason why every mouth even of the righteous should be shut in its own praise, and only opened for the praise of God. But what this certain reason is, who can search, who can investigate, who can know? 'How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen' (Rm 11:33-36)." 

 

Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.66

 

Prayer

Almighty God, by Your Son, our Savior, You have always given to Your Church on earth faithful shepherds to guide and feed Your flock. Therefore we pray, make all pastors diligent to preach Your holy Word and administer your means of grace, and give Your people wisdom to follow in the way that leads to eternal life; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

For the Capital Campaign of Memorial Lutheran Church: "A Memorial for the People," that God the Lord would continue to lead the people of the congregation to support the mission of Christ through sacrificial gifts

 

For the seminary students in Fort Wayne and St. Louis who wait anxiously for call night, that the Lord would be with them as they prepare to receive their calls and thus to be sent out with the gospel of new life

 

For Cliff Scherer, Sr., who is preparing to return home after convalescing from surgery, that he would be granted every joy in his homecoming 

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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