2 Corinthians 5:6-17, Matthew 23:25-28, Ezekiel 36:26-27, 1 John 1:9, John 5:24
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. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:6-17 (ESV)
The apostle Paul encouraged the believers at Corinth to keep their focus on Jesus. Keeping our focus on Jesus might sound basic, but how often do we lose focus and get distracted away from Him and fixate on to things that ultimately don’t matter too much? We know we sin and fall short of the best that God intends for us, and we do it every day. Simul Justus et peccator– saint and sinner, and that is every one of us every day.
(Jesus said): “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:25-28 (ESV)
It’s easy to worry about what our outer appearances look like. It’s human nature. Anyone can go through the motions and think that by his or her own will and actions we can save ourselves. Every petulant toddler (the stage of human development in which God proves the truth of the depravity of man without a doubt) cries: “ME do it,” even when “ME” can’t do it. The petulant toddler- or the old Adam- in us screams the same thing. If only I do___ or earn___, but the truth is we simply can’t.
The irony here is that no good works of ours are sufficient to make us good enough for God. As C.S. Lewis (the author of Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and The Chronicles of Narnia, and many other great books) once said, our life and salvation is in Christ or nothing. So we are free from trying to earn God’s love, favor or salvation. Either we have them in Jesus, through faith, or we do not have them at all.
Thoroughly wicked and unrepentant people are capable of doing charitable acts and looking good so they can either feel good or change others’ opinions of them, but the beautiful people who seem to have it all together can turn out to be horribly ugly and evil and self-serving on the inside. Jesus wasn’t impressed with the behavior of the Pharisees who worried about outward appearances, but didn’t pay much attention to what was on the inside.
Only God can transform us and clean us up from the inside out. When God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel regarding the restoration of Israel, (see Ezekiel 36:22-27.) He didn’t tell them that they needed to clean themselves up, but that He was going to restore them and He was going to clean them up. God didn’t do this because His people are good- we are anything but. He acts to restore us because He is faithful. He is keeping His promises He made to Abraham and to David, and He is defending His good name. The people of Israel couldn’t clean themselves up then and we can’t clean ourselves up today. God Himself was doing the cleaning up on His people then, and it is God Himself cleaning us up- sanctifying us, making us holy, today.
(God says, through Ezekiel the prophet): “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV)
Only Jesus offers us true, eternal and authentic, transformed new hearts that love like His. He does this not because we are good, but because HE is good. Walking in faith means that we trust God for the ability to walk in His ways and to honor the boundaries He has set for us. It also means, as it especially did for the apostle Paul, that we walk in faith even when everything we see and experience would convince us not to believe in or to trust in an all powerful and merciful God.
When we speak of the theology of the Cross, it means that we share in the suffering, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Whether we like it or not, suffering, pain and loss are part of living in this fallen world. Instead of setting ourselves up as our own gods and only caring about our own personal wants and dreams and interests, we acknowledge that in Jesus we are new creations. We were born in trespasses and sins, but by faith, worked in us through our baptism, the Holy Spirit transforms us into the people God created us to be and sets us free from the power of sin. We have become people who are saints of God, even though we struggle daily with our “old Adam” and sinful nature.
How often do we make use of the free gift of salvation that we have been given in our baptism, that as a child of God we can come to repentance to the foot of the Cross, knowing that Jesus gives us the free gifts of forgiveness and healing and restoration no matter how many or how bad our sins are? We believe that God has all the power to re-create us, which is what He did, does and continues to do through our baptism. Martin Luther describes this for us:
Thus we must regard Baptism and make it profitable to ourselves, that when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless I am baptized; but if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body. For that is the reason why these two things are done in Baptism, namely, that the body, which can apprehend nothing but the water, is sprinkled, and, in addition, the word is spoken for the soul to apprehend. Now, since both, the water and the Word, are one Baptism, therefore body and soul must be saved and live forever: the soul through the Word which it believes, but the body because it is united with the soul and also apprehends Baptism as it is able to apprehend it. We have, therefore, no greater jewel in body and soul, for by it we are made holy and are saved, which no other kind of life, no work upon earth, can attain. – Martin Luther, On Baptism, from the Large Catechism
God comes to us in the Sacraments. Jesus instituted both Baptism (Matthew 28:16-20) and Holy Communion (Luke 22:14-20). In Baptism and in Holy Communion, God is present with us both through His Word and through a physical element, something tangible that we can see and taste and touch. God is the active force, while we are the ones being acted upon.
Our feelings aren’t a good guide to whether or not God is with us or as to whether or not we are forgiven or saved. We are forgiven because God says so- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”- 1 John 1:9 (ESV).
We are saved because Jesus says so: “Truly, truly, I (Jesus) say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24 (ESV).
It is by faith in Jesus alone (remember that faith is a gift of God that we cannot earn or deserve) that we are made people of God.
It is by the Cross alone that we can stand. We are created to be powered by the love of Christ, and made for His goodness to flow from us-from the inside out.
Faith, not sight, is the only way to follow Jesus. We are not in control. We put on our Baptism every day, knowing that we have already been named, claimed and made God’s own- because He said so!
Here’s a closing thought from Martin Luther:
Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practice all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with His gifts. In short, it is so transcendent that if timid nature could realize it, it might well doubt whether it could be true. For consider, if there were somewhere a physician who understood the art of saving men from dying, or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one’s door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive.- Martin Luther On Baptism, from the Large Catechism