Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
Confidence in Christ Alone - October 5, 2014 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) - Text: Philippians 3:4b-14
When we are little, we like to think of ourselves as being big. Perhaps none of us remembers or would like to remember, going through potty training, but when we take our children through this ritual, we make a big deal of no longer having to be in diapers. What a big boy or what a big girl we are when we can manage our own toilet skills. As we grow older we continue to like to think of ourselves as being big. It is not until we get a little older and wiser that we realize it was all a trick. You know how it is. When you learn to make your own bed and you announce that you are big enough to make your own bed, then that chore becomes your responsibility. Now you have to make your own bed. The same with mowing the grass, carrying out the trash, washing the dishes. When we get big enough to do these things, they become our responsibility, our chore, and then, very often, we no longer want to be big nor have that responsibility. This morning Paul gives us some good advice concerning our being “big,” at least when it comes to thinking we are “big” in our own Christian faith and faith life.
When it comes to having self-confidence about one’s faith life, really no one could out do Paul. We begin by listening to him outline what might be his reasons for his own self-confidence in his faith life. We read beginning at verse four, “4bIf anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless” (v. 4-6). Paul begins by outlining why he could be confident in his own faith life, if works of the law saved. Paul was, after all, a Hebrew of Hebrews, even a Pharisee of Pharisees, a real son of the covenant. He was even out persecuting that new sect, the followers of the Way or Christians as we are known as today. If following the letter of the law brought salvation, Paul’s salvation was a shoe-in.
Of course, when we attempt to outline our good works, in order to show how good we are, what good Christians we are and how we are deserving of our own salvation, it just does not come out quite like Paul’s. Our self justification might include how we are not as bad as the next person. Our neighbor, our friend, our family member is so much worse than we are. We go to church on Sunday, well maybe not every Sunday, but at least every other Sunday. We give of some of our time to church, at least once in a while. We put some of our earnings into the offering basket, at least when we are in church. We really are pretty good people. We do not have any spiritual problems. We might even surmise that Jesus only had to die a little for me, but He had to die a lot for my neighbor. Really, we are, after all, pretty good people and does not pretty good account for something? Or so we tend to think.
Yet, for Paul, even though he might be able to justify himself, he goes on to tell us that all of this he counts as a loss. We pick up at verse seven, “7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (v. 7-11). All these good works Paul outlines, all his education, his being a Pharisee of Pharisees, his being trained in the best schools, he counts as loss, as nothing, even as rubbish or literally as dung. It is kind of like we heard last week, when we get to heaven no will be interested in what car we drove, what kind of house we lived in, what school we attended, what team we rooted for or whether they won or lost, how smart we were, all that will be nothing and mean nothing.
When it comes to attempting to justify ourselves before God, we all try. We compare ourselves to those people we know are, at least as we view them to be beneath us. We are not as bad as people who have been jailed for their crimes. We are not as bad as our neighbor who has loud parties until all hours of the night. We are not as bad as other members of our family who constantly have family problems. We are even not as bad as some members of our own congregation who are not nearly as spiritual, or religious or as holy as we think ourselves to be. And yet, Paul reminds us that all our good works count as nothing before Christ. What Paul wants us to see is that if we are going to compare ourselves to anyone in order to justify ourselves before God, then the only one person to whom we must compare ourselves is to Jesus. And of course, when we compare ourselves to Jesus, who is just and perfect and holy, then we see we always come up lacking.
Our right standing before God does not come from our being able to keep the law of God. For we know that we are unable to keep God’s law. If we were to attempt to justify ourselves before God by keeping the law, then we would have to keep the law perfectly. We would have to keep the law in thought, word and deed. We would have to not sin sins of commission, doing the things we should not be doing, nor sin sins of omission, that is we would be doing the things we should be doing. And so we see we fail. Time and again we fail. We cannot keep the law perfectly and so we cannot justify ourselves before God. We are sinners. Our greatest problem is spiritual and our need for forgiveness of sins. Even so Paul brings us good news. He reminds us that Christ gives us faith which means His work becomes our work, His life becomes our life. By faith in Jesus, faith given through the means of grace, Jesus’ life, all He did, His perfect living, His perfect life in thought, word, and deed, His never sinning sins of commission, His never sinning sins of omission, His life is counted, is credited to us. When we stand before God, by faith in Jesus, when God looks at us, He sees, not our unworthiness, but Christ’s perfection as if it were our perfection.
What this means that Christ gives faith, is that His righteousness becomes our righteousness. We are able to stand in right standing before God, by His grace, through faith in Jesus alone. What Christ did He did for us, and this is an accomplished act, it has already been done and completed so that nothing else needs to be done. So, there is nothing we have to do because everything has already been done for us and given to us.
But Paul is not finished. He reminds us that we still have a life to live, while we are alive in this world. We have a goal to press on to. We pick up at verse twelve, “12Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 12-14). Our goal is eternal life. This goal has been accomplished, not by us, but by Christ. Eternal life is ours, now, right at this moment. Certainly we will not move into heaven until we pass on from this world, but heaven is ours now.
And yet, we do not simply sit around in this world on our grace and do nothing. While we continue to live in this world we continue to press on toward our prize of heaven. Although our good works mean nothing, at least as far as earning heaven, yet while we live in this world our sin stands glaring us in the eyes. As Paul reminds us elsewhere, although we may want to do what is good and right and salutary, our nature is to go on sinning and that is what we do.
And so, we even more depend on Christ. He gives us faith. Faith gives us forgiveness. And the Holy Spirit moves us to look forward, doing the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. And we do them, not in any attempt to pay for or earn the gifts that are given, but as a response of the gifts that have been given.
What does this mean? First and foremost, contrary to the messages of our culture and our society, contrary to the messages of the media in movies, sitcoms, books and the like, our good works avail nothing for salvation. Let me say that again just in case we miss it. Our good works mean nothing when it comes to our eternal salvation. As a matter of fact, in God’s eyes, our good works are as filthy rags. We can list all the “good” things we think we have done while here on this earth and yet none of these count as anything before God when it comes to securing our eternal salvation in heaven. As a matter of fact, if we should attempt to depend on our good works for our own eternal salvation, then they become a detriment, not that doing good works is a detriment, but our depending on them would be such.
It was Christ who paid the price for our sins, including our trying to use our good works as collateral. Yes, every time we have thoughts of being good enough or not being as bad as someone else, every time we think we may not need Jesus to die too much for us because we are, after all, pretty good people, every time we have such thoughts, and yes, every time we refuse and reject the gifts God gives through absenting ourselves from where the gifts are given out, Jesus paid the price for those sins as well. He paid the complete price for all sins for all people of all places of all times. His payment was so complete that nothing more needs to be done for the salvation of all those who believe in Him.
And even more, Christ stirs in us to be the people He would have us to be so that we do live lives to His glory. Paul points us in the right direction. Paul reminds us that we get it right when Jesus is the one doing the doing and we are the ones being done to. Which is why our desire is to be where the gifts of God are being given out whenever (always when) they are being given.
If anyone could boast, it would be Paul. We simply cannot ignore this fact, that if anyone, other than Jesus, could put his life up for earning eternal life it would have to be Paul. And yet, even Paul knows that this is not the case. He knows that his good works, his birthright, his persecution and affliction are nothing and mean nothing when it comes to his salvation and he even counts them as nothing. He knows and he reminds us and encourages us that it is Christ who has done all and who gives all to us. And it is Christ who motivates us in our striving in our pressing on toward the goal of eternal life. And so, I too encourage you in your own faith life and faith walk. Do not depend on yourself, but depend on Christ. Make regular and diligent use of the means of grace. Remember your baptism. Read and come and hear the Word proclaimed. Be in divine service and Bible Class. Have personal and family devotions. Come to confession and hear those most beautify words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” Come to the Lord’s Table and eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of sins and for strengthening in faith. And have confidence in your salvation because your salvation is secure in Christ. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.