January 14, 2019- The Law of Faith, Jesus Does the Work of Salvation FOR Us- Romans 3:19-31

obey the law 

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.  Romans 3:19-31 (ESV)

The apostle Paul clears up a lot of misunderstandings regarding Christian faith in the book of Romans.

Today we still get caught up in earning brownie points, even though the “buy your way to Heaven system” was the major impetus behind the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and other reformers protested the buying and selling of indulgences- things you could buy or do to earn special favors for yourself of your family. Just like buying saints’ bones or making pilgrimages to Jerusalem or doing various acts of penance couldn’t make Renaissance age Christians any better in God’s sight, there is still nothing we can decide to do, suffer through, or pay for that can make us “right with God.”  One of the primary pillars of the Reformation is faith alone. Faith alone, in Christ alone, by His grace alone- it all comes back to Jesus.

We are often asked, “Are you saved?” or “Have you given your heart to Jesus?” by well meaning friends in various, ironically, Protestant, Christian traditions. Decision theology is the premise that we make a decision to choose Jesus and we choose to believe in God.  It is a popular theological misconception in American Christianity.  The premise is well intentioned, and fits in well with American individualism, but no decision made by a person can create saving faith in anyone. The decision to redeem us is God’s, for Jesus’ sake. (John 1:9-13)

The honest answer to decision theology is that we are being acted upon- saved, if you will- by God. We can no more save ourselves by our own actions or volition than an infant can change its own diaper or prepare its own bottle.

The Mosaic Law, which the apostle Paul as a former Pharisee would be well acquainted, is a law of works. No one can save themselves by works of the law, and no one ever was.  Abraham was counted righteous by faith. All of the flawed and mortal saints of the Old Testament were counted righteous by faith.  The Old Testament saints’ faith pointed ahead to Jesus’ appearing, while the saints of the New Testament era until now look to the Incarnation of Jesus.  We have the good news of the life He lived and the death He endured to forgive our sins and purchase our eternal life.  We are counted righteous- made good with God- for Jesus’ sake, by His grace because the Holy Spirit gives us faith.  We can’t brag about how good we are because if we appear to be good, that goodness is the work of God in Christ through us.

The Law of Faith points us to Jesus. Jesus is the one doing the acting on us.  If we brag, we brag about Him.

This is good news for those of us who struggle with doubt. Our salvation and strength is outside of us- no matter what we think or feel, Jesus has done the work of our salvation for us.  In our baptism, through the hearing and teaching of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit gives us saving faith in the completed work of Jesus.  Because we trust Jesus, we are free to do the good works God created us to do, but our works don’t save us.

The Law of Faith is so much better than the law of works!

 

 

December 26, 2017- He Brings a Sword- Matthew 10:34, 37-39, Acts 7:57-60, Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:16-18

Jesus sword

 

(Jesus said:) “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34, 37-39 (NIV)

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:57-60 (NIV)

Ironically, the Prince of Peace did not come to live among us to bring us flowers and kittens and warm fuzzies, as much as we may have wish He did. He brought a sword. He meant business.

Sometimes being a Jesus follower can seem to be a bit of a buzz kill. We just celebrated the wonder of Christmas and the awe of being in the presence of the Babe in the manger. However, Jesus came here among us not only to redeem us from sin, but also to reveal the truth and to show us how God meant for us to live.  He came here not only to heal the sick and comfort the broken hearted, but also to upset the money changers’ tables, and to challenge the hypocrisy and corruption of the status quo. For those in power, Jesus was a threat to their power, and so were Jesus’ followers. Ultimately, for Jesus to redeem us from our sins, He had to sacrifice Himself and die.

We as Jesus’ followers share in His suffering and sacrifice as well. He has a mission and a purpose for each of us that He has determined in advance for us to accomplish. Our missions in this life will sometimes be joyful and sometimes heart wrenching and tragic.

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NRSV)

This is part of the good news of God-with-us, as difficult as it can be at times. God has created us to be where we are needed, to be the instruments through which His kingdom is built and maintained and grown. The young man named Saul from the Acts 7 passage, who stood by watching as Stephen the martyr gave his life defending his faith in Jesus, was to become the apostle Paul.  Saul thought he was doing God a favor by getting rid of Jesus followers- only to be set straight on the Damascus road, redeemed by divine intervention, and made into one of the most influential Jesus followers of all. God has ways of naming, claiming and redeeming His own, not to mention, at times, a very catty sense of humor.  As the prophet Jonah found out, if God asks you to do something- it was what He made you for, and you will end up doing it.  It’s far more pleasant to do God’s work the easy way and not have to find out about the hard way, but we humans are stubborn.

Our faith in Jesus may make us unpopular or controversial. We may upset the status quo.  We may cause conflict and strife even within our own families, for standing for what is right.  Even today in some places, standing for Jesus can lead to persecution- including starvation, imprisonment and even execution.

It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.  But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:16-18 (NRSV)

We are all called in some way to give of ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God- some in living lives of generosity and sacrifice, and some even to give their lives, like the martyr Stephen.

The wonder of the manger and the tender heart of Mary are part of the same story of our redemption as Jesus’ sorrow of the garden, His bitter crucifixion, and His miraculous resurrection. As we look into that makeshift cradle, we are also looking at the cross- and we are drawn into the story we were created to participate in.