Thursday, January 02, 2020

Noah: Sinner...and Saint (Like Me)

[This is the journal entry from my quiet time with God today.]

Look: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (Genesis 6:9)

This description of Noah is bracketed between two brutal assessments of the whole human race’s sinfulness, a condition so disturbing to God that He resolves to destroy the earth in a flood. (1) In verse 5, we’re told, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (2) In verses 11 and 12, we read, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.”

Humanity’s sinful condition is strikingly inclusive in these two places: “the wickedness of the human race,” “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time,” and “all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” Every. All. The human race. These are inclusive terms.

What this tells me that every human being was a sinner. (This remained the case after the flood, too: Genesis 8:21.) Given how inclusive God’s characterization of humanity’s sinfulness is, we must conclude that Noah also was a sinner.

And yet, Genesis 6:9 describes Noah as “righteous.” What gives?

Listen: Noah demonstrates a basic Biblical truth. Even those made righteous by their faith in God, a faith that God strengthens as we walk with Him, remain sinners while walking on this earth. Martin Luther said that believers in the God revealed to the whole world--including Gentiles like me--in Jesus are both saints (the righteous) and sinners. To “walk faithfully with God” as Noah did is the lifestyle of a believer who recognizes that they are born hopelessly entrapped by their sinful human nature and that it’s only the God revealed in Jesus Who, as an act of divine charity, God saves us from our sin and makes us righteous.

That we inherit the condition of sin at birth was something that King David affirmed: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This underscored elsewhere, including Psalm 51:5, cf., Ephesians 2:1-3; Proverbs 22:15; Psalm 14:2-3.

But God gives His righteousness to those who, daily, repent and believe in His Son:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,] just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (This is Romans 1:16-17, where Paul, once complicit in murdering Jewish Christians, himself a Jew, at the end quotes Habukkuk 2:4 from what Christians know as the Old Testament.)

Noah was saint and sinner. That’s true of me too. I have been made righteous and am daily being made righteous by faith in Christ, daily walking with Him and He creates faith in Him within me (Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:3). But I also sin daily.

This is true of every believer in the God revealed in Jesus.

There are a number of implications that arise from this:

1. My individual sins which I commit each day, do not intrinsically sever me from the gift of righteousness nor the salvation given to me by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus, God enfleshed, didn’t die and rise for perfect people; He died for sinners like me. “I have not come to call the righteous,” Jesus says, meaning that He didn’t come into the world to save those who don’t think they need saving, “but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) Jesus saves those who are sinners and are honest enough to admit it. The apostle John wrote to first-century Christians: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)

2. My sinfulness can only block God’s gift of righteousness to me if I insist on walking away from God when He confronts me with my sin, calling me to turn from sin and trust in Christ’s righteousness to bring forgiveness and renewed relationship with Him. Noah walked with God. We are called to walk with God, into the unfolding of a righteous life He gives to those who believe in Him: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, RSV) As we walk with Christ, He transforms us. As we walk away from Christ, His Word that gifts us with repentance and the faith that saves us from ourselves is lost to us.

3. There are grave consequences to tuning God out, ignoring His call to repentance and faith. Jesus says: “...every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:31) Our sinful nature and our individual sins can be forgiven. Jesus, His death, and His resurrection all demonstrate the truth underscored in Psalm 145:8 and many other places in the Old Testament, that God is compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and willing to forgive. But when we refuse to let the Holy Spirit convict us of sin, we erect a barrier between God and us. If we refuse to be convicted of our sin, we cannot be convinced of the power of God’s saving grace.

4. I need to be compassionate toward others. Like the apostle Paul, I could readily confess to being the worst of sinners. (I do confess that because I know myself well. I know all about the sins I conceive in my mind and commit with my life. My sinfulness gets expressed in more than just my deeds, but also in my thoughts and my words.) I know that others are weighed down by sin, whether they understand that or not. Sin causes us all to do crazy, hurtful stuff. If God can compassionately remember that I am dust in need of His forgiveness and forbearance, who am I to withhold the same things from others? While that doesn’t mean that we should allow others to habitually walk all over us and others with their sins, even ending our relationships with them if they are insusceptible to appropriate change, it does mean that we should pay attention to how Jesus has taught us to pray: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Luther saw the positive application to which the Eighth Commandment--”You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”--calls us when, in The Small Catechism, he explains: “We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do.”

Respond: This day, Lord, help me to hear Your Word as You give me forgiveness and faith. Help me to be quick to share with others the hope that is in me because as our loving God, You sent Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for my sins. You conquer my sin in Christ. While I walk in this world as both sinner and saint, teach me to walk closely with You. In His name I pray. Amen

[The Latin phrase above means, Justified (or counted righteous) AND a Sinner Simultaneously. This describes the condition of every person in this life who is saved by grace through faith in Christ before we die and are raised to eternal life with God. We are saints and sinners in whose lives God's Holy Spirit is at work. Our call is to daily turn back to God and be made new by His Word, Jesus.]

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