Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (ESV)
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Have No Doubt
Wednesday of Pentecost 4
9 July 2014
Bumper stickers do not often contain enough space for a theologically complete thought. However, one that comes close is "Christians aren't perfect. Just forgiven." Those who do not understand the Christian religion can easily mock our faith by pointing out the sinfulness of the church's children. Guilty as charged! The mockers presume that the church's goal is to make sinners perfect. We Christians know from experience alone that that goal will never be reached. So what is the church "for"? The church is for proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. The church is about a prefect message of perfect forgiveness for less-than-perfect believers in Jesus Christ. And while we do not bear the cost of forgiveness, Christ does, and we are aware of its precious price. Here is why we impel ourselves to lives of good works. We can do no less. "We love because He first loved us" (1Jn 4:19
Yet we have no doubt that we fail. We feel that failure in our battle against the sinful flesh every day; pulled as we are between the first Adam and the second Adam, Christ our Lord. We feel the tug of temptation as long as we live in the flesh, for sin and depravity adhere to our constantly crucified flesh. When we fail, we do so not intentionally, but as a failure that we lament and heartily repent. There will always be temptation to sin, we will fall into it, but it will not rule over us (Rm 6:14). This is why we Christians pray the Lord's Prayer every day: "Forgive us our trespasses." If we did not have the Holy Spirit, sin would not be a failure, but a success and it would never occasion any godly repentance, it would never drive us to our knees in contrite prayer. The Spirit succeeds because sin remains our failure. He comes to convince of sin (Jn 16:8).
The world does not cease persecuting the church and her children, and does so by pointing out not only the weakness of her children but also the ordinariness of the church's piety. Her piety is shaped by the Ten Commandments. She has no piety other than those things commanded by God. What is more pious than a right faith, right worship of God, obedience to earthly authorities, service to the neighbor's body, goods, and reputation? Yet, the world mocks these as insignificant; after all, "anyone can do them." They are the works of good order and social structure. Christianity, if it is to be a religion of works and perfection, must strive for glorious and glittering works, not the mundane works commanded by God in the Ten Commandments. But our Lord expects us to live our lives in the mundane, while we are on earth. We do not live by works in God's presence, but by faith. We cannot ascend into heaven to offer our works there (Jn 1:18). They must be offered here and be of use to those on earth. Since our works gain no merit with God, they can only be offered here and are best offered here.
The ladder climbing works of self-righteousness, offered as they are for God's benefit, are truly worthless and faithless. Being a good friend and a faithful neighbor is not sufficiently high up the ladder of piety to be considered truly pious by the world. In the quiet simplicity of mundane works, the Spirit is truly working in our lives. Have no doubt.
"We exert ourselves toward piety and avoid sin as much as we can. If we sin, it is not deliberate; we sin through ignorance, and we regret it. We can fall, for the devil is lying in wait for us day and night. The remnants of sin also cling to our flesh. So far as the flesh is concerned, then, we are sinners even after we have received the Holy Spirit. Externally there is not much difference between the Christian and another socially upright human being. The works of the Christian appear cheap: He does his duty according to his calling; he rules the commonwealth; he runs the household; he tills the field; he helps, supports, and serves his neighbor. The fleshly man does not praise these works but thinks of them as common and as nothing, as something that laymen and even heathen do. For the world does not perceive the things of the Spirit of God (1Co 2:14); therefore it forms a distorted judgment of the works of the pious. It not only admires the superstition of the hypocrites and their self-chosen works but takes a religious attitude toward them and supports them with generous gifts. On the other hand, it is so far from acknowledging that the works of the pious are good, which appear cheap and meager, but are good and acceptable to God when they are done in faith, a joyful spirit, obedience, and gratitude toward God, that it denounces and condemns them as the height of wickedness and unrighteousness. Therefore there is nothing that the world believes less than that we have the Holy Spirit. But in a time of tribulation or of the cross and the confession of faith (which is the proper and chief work of believers), when one must either forsake wife, children, property, and life or deny Christ, then it becomes evident that by the power of the Holy Spirit we confess the faith, Christ, and His Word."
Lectures on Galatians, 4.6
Dear Lord Jesus, Your humble incarnation brings us into your divine life. Help us to live out that life by offering ourselves in the world to those who need our help. Amen.
For Luke George, who is undergoing chemo-therapy today, that he would be strengthened by God and be restored to health
For those who are planning to be wed, that they would have confidence in the marital estate as a precious gift of the Creator
For Joyce Burrows, that the Lord Jesus would hold her in the palm of His hands
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014