Friday, November 27, 2020

The Biblical Background of 'The Augsburg Confession,' Part 9

Faith and Good Works

 The Bible teaches that we are justified, counted guiltless of both of our inborn sin and the sins we commit because of that inborn condition, by God's charity (His grace) through our faith in Jesus Christ alone. So what do our good works--things like active love of God and active love of neighbor--have to do with our justification?
Nothing and everything.

They have nothing to do with our justification because, first of all, no good work we might do can warrant God's "not guilty" verdict over our sinful lives. Even the good we do in this life will be tinged by sinful self-interest. Good works containing any sin couldn't possibly save us.

They also have nothing to do with our justification because, until we physically die to this world and are raised eternally, our inborn sin nature will continue, despite our true repentance, to impel us, against our wills, to sin.

But good works that live out love of God and love of neighbor, works that we would not even consider doing apart from the Holy Spirit, sent by Christ to those who believe, living in us, also have everything to do with God graciously justifying those who believe in Jesus Christ.

Good works done by the believer in Christ are sure evidence of a person who hs been justified before God through their faith in Christ. "If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Christians are made new through the justifying grace of God covering them with the righteousness of Jesus through the means of grace: The Word and the Sacraments, through which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains saving faith within us.

The one who has faith in Jesus Christ is set free to do truly good works, that is, good works that live out love of God and love of neighbor. The justified person will, without second-thought (Matthew 25:31-46), be impelled by the Holy Spirit to do those things that sinful humanity, left to our own devices, would never do.
Paul writes: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:22-24) Our good works cannot justify us. But all who believe in Christ are saved and through that justifying faith, the Holy Spirit does good works through us.

This is why Paul goes on to say in Galatians 5:24: "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." In other words, whatever good the Holy Spirit is calling us to do, however contrary to our inborn desires or impulses, let us heed that call.

The connection between faith and good works and the fact that faith precedes good works, that faith justifies and not our works is underscored in Ephesians 2:8-10: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

John puts it even more succinctly: "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Our good works, love in action, cannot justify us. Only Christ does that. To say otherwise, pours contempt on Christ and His cross. But our good works, love of God and love of neighbor acted out in even the smallest of ways, demonstrates that we are justified, declared and actually made innocent of our sin by God's grace given to all who have faith in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Biblical Background of 'The Augsburg Confession,' Part 8

Willing to be "scum of the earth, the refuse of the world"?

[This is the logo of a congregation in Denver, Scum of the Earth Church. The inspiration for its name comes from the New Testament.]
During my morning quiet time with God today, I was struck by these words: "...we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." (1 Corinthians 4:13)

Paul writes these words to the churches in Corinth in first-century Greece. Many Christians there had become "partisans" of their favorite preacher, some of Paul, who had been with them earlier, and others of Apollos, who had come along later. They would say things like, "I follow Paul" and "I follow Apollos."

Paul upbraids the Christians there for this. "What, after all, is Apollos," he asks. "And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe..." in Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:5)

If we make ourselves partisans of this person or that person, this party or that one, this philosophy or that one, we're following the same foolish pathway that causes problems in the world: The tendency to make mortal, dying, impermanent, and sin-filled people or philosophies our gods, the grounds of our being. Human beings, human aspirations, human values, human philosophies: None of them can save us from ourselves, our sin, our death, no matter how much wisdom the world may attach to some people, philosophies, or ways of life.

The world may consider it foolish to follow Jesus. But what we see in the crucified and risen Jesus is that "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Jesus, true God and true, sinless human being, rescues us from sin and death. He shares our condemnation, though He doesn't deserve it, so that, through faith in Him, we can share in His vindication--His resurrection life with God the Father--though we don't deserve that.

And what does He save us from?

Jesus saves us from the foolishness that says we can overcome our sin and all the death and destruction it brings to the world by following mere human beings, human thoughts, human emotions, human philosophies, however exemplary they may seem to be.

Paul said that he and all his Christian sisters and brothers who shared Jesus with the world understood the score. They would never be popular. They would never be seen as wise or with it to a world on the make. It's not always a popular message to be told that we can't make it on our own, that we need a Savior. Millions have been killed for believing in and sharing that message. There are tens of thousands of Christians in places outside of America that are being persecuted, jailed, tortured, and bombed for believing in and sharing that message.

But Paul said that he and his apostolic companions were willing to be "the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world" for the surpassing, eternal privilege of being part of God's eternal kingdom solely through God's grace granted to all who believe in Jesus.

He said they were willing to accept the world's estimation of them as scum and refuse for an additional privilege: being able to share with others the good news--the gospel--of new and everlasting life for all who turn from sin and the worship of the world's dead and dying things and turn instead to Jesus for forgiveness, peace with God, and everlasting life with God.

Father, grant that today, I won't give a fig about the world's estimation of me. Make me willing to be regarded as scum and refuse by the world because I know that in Jesus Christ, by Your charitable grace, I belong to You now and always. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen