Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Simul iustus et peccator

[Please note: This may be somewhat rambling and Faulkneresque in its stream-of-consciousness style, but I merely want to put some thoughts down. My apologies up front.]

"At the same time righteous and a sinner." These words are sweet and true, but, oh, how often they sound like blasphemy to my ears! Lately there have been some sins from my past that have come to life, frustrating me to no end. While I sin, I am sometimes strangely complacent; yet afterwards, I freak out so much as to shrink back from a holy God, forgetting entirely that he is slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

I crave assurance that I belong to Christ both now and eternally and that I am indeed in his hands, never to fall. Consequently, in my natural state, I want something concrete, something I've done or am doing, to point to as proof of my salvation. I want to look at the killing of some sin (Rom 8.13) and my sanctification as a source of relief--and indeed they ought to be. But I'm not like that; secretly I want more of myself. It's like looking to when "I received Christ into my life" or when "I said a prayer" or when "I made a confession of faith." Yet Scripturally this is a total bastardization of grace. The right way is saying and believing in when God breathed new life into me. "The Sacramentarians [Anabaptists] usually denied infant baptism and instead practiced believer's baptism. Adults made their own pledges to God and were then baptized in response to those pledges. Luther rightly objected that that turned God's action of giving grace in baptism into a man-made ritual centering on human declaration" (from the introduction to Galatians in the Concordia Reference Bible). Isn't this what we want? Confirmation from something we've done?

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" (Matt 7.21-24)

This teaching is known to many, understood to precious few. Until recently, I thought this passage is law, i. e., what we must do to enter the kingdom ("he who does the will of My Father"). But this cannot be so. For these men pointed to what they did in fact do in the name of Christ as their grounds of assurance, but they were utterly rejected. It simply cannot be that anything we can do will stand to give us hope. This does not give the glory to God. Everything commanded us in sacred Scripture only kills, brings death, and condems (2 Cor 3.6-9). But the gospel brings life!

Oh, how quick I am to neglect Christ and his merits before God and trade my Christianhood for wishing to be a Jew! I trade the purpose of the law of Christ (Gal 6.2), which is identification with God and his character, thus worshiping him (indeed, this was also the purpose of the Mosaic law under the old covenant), and twist it into a way of becoming right before God. "Not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end [telos: culmination, fulfillment] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom 10.3-4; cf 2 Cor 5.21). Jesus of Nazareth perfectly met every one of God's covenant demands in both letter and spirit, thereby doing away with the old covenant.

"To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly [that's me, ungodly!], his faith is credited as righteousness" (Rom 4.5). Is it really this simple, that I only need believe--and that with a faith given me entirely from God before ever I asked for it (Eph 2.8-9)? Yes, for only this can be true, Christ-centered and -exalting grace! Soli Christo gloria!

"If by the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. . . . For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners [aorist passive indicative], even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous [future passive indicative]" (Rom 5.17,19). Ah, the beauty of grammar! Note that our righteousness is not from ourselves; we are made (or declared) righteous by God (passive voice). The indicative mood indicates certainty or actuality; this is guaranteed! Because of Christ's perfect obedience to God's covenant stipulations, God has counted Christ's very right standing as our very own right standing, all in one declaration, one fell swoop! Christ's righteousness has been given to us as a gift--given to me!--and it is in him and his work alone can we rest or find hope. This is the gospel, and I won't even pretend to know it well or embrace its depths. But God's Spirit is doing something, and I know that Christ is our hope, our firm rock. He has obtained for us all that we could never attain, and it is to this we can point before God and say, "Behold the Man! He is my righteousness, my holiness, and he alone. On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand."

3 comments:

Cassie said...

Word Drew. That was really thought prevoking and eye opening. THanks for sharing brother!

Ryan P.T. said...

Drew,
Excellent post. I'd like to prod you a little more to understand what you mean by a couple things.

"This teaching is known to many, understood to precious few. Until recently, I thought this passage is law, i. e., what we must do to enter the kingdom ("he who does the will of My Father"). But this cannot be so."

I would, in fact, contend this is some of the fiercest preaching of the Law in Scripture. And it does indeed tell us what we must do to enter Heaven: perfectly satisfy God's righteous decrees. Jesus reminds these self-righteous blokes of that, those who were hanging their hats on their hollow good deeds that fall helplessly shy of God's standard. Instead of becoming complacent in their delusions, Christ breaks them, brings them to a place where they can only throw themselves at the mercy of God, whereby they can receive the Gospel message that (as you state at the close) Christ IS our righteousness, HE has satisfied the Law and all its righteous demands, and we thus place our trust in Him for our salvation, not our dirty-rags righteousness. The Law is not abolished; it is fulfilled. See, this is why we need to understand the clear distinction between Law and Gospel, without which the Bible is a bundle of contradictions.

"I trade the purpose of the law of Christ (Gal 6.2), which is identification with God and his character, thus worshiping him (indeed, this was also the purpose of the Mosaic law under the old covenant), and twist it into a way of becoming right before God."

I'd like some clarification as to what you mean by "identification with God and his character" as the purpose of the Law.

Once again, great thoughts brother. Few challenge me like you do.
~RT

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed reading your thoughts. Like RT, I'm interested in your thoughts on the purpose of the Law, and especially how the instruction in 6:1 leads to fulfilling the Law in 6:2. I've noticed on your other blog that you are a huge fan of cycling, so I'd also be interested to know how Lance Armstrong's off circuit behavior has affected your willingness to support him. I'll also leave a comment on your other blog so you won’t think you have a stalker. Halfmom