It’s all of faith…

It’s Reformation Day!

Five-hundred years ago today Martin Luther publicized  ninety-five propositions for debate–points where he said the church was in error and in violation of what was taught in the Bible.  His arguments centered around the practice of indulgences, the idea that forgiveness could be secured with money.  He argued that this practice short-circuited genuine repentance of the heart and declared that only God could forgive sins.  This was only the start of all he would come to see but it sparked the Reformation of the church to embrace the doctrine of justification by faith rather than works.

What a perfect day to be arriving at the book of Galatians!  I couldn’t stop with just the first chapter, as per my reading plan.  I love this book.  I NEED this book.  My Pharisaical tendency is to measure my goodness by how I perceive I’m doing with rule-keeping rather than by faith in the goodness of Christ. I need these vigorous words of Paul on a regular basis!  So I devoured the first three chapters, jolted to attention by the New Living Translation’s way of interpreting Paul…

Paul was himself shocked to see the Galatians trotting gladly back down a path that pretended to be good news but was indeed very very bad news. Having started their lives in Christ by the Spirit through faith they were now trying to become perfect by their own human effort.

Sounds too familiar.

What happens, I think,  is this.  We come to Christ. We believe He died for our sins. We repent and start fresh, empowered by the Spirit to live a life that loves God and delights to live according to His design.  But sin is not absent…We don’t love like Jesus does.  Or we are still tempted by our pet comforts. Or we…whatever!

At some point we realize we are still sinners.

“But what if we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then find out that we are still sinners?” (2:17)

What then?

There are a number of options.  This is the one I am most familiar with:

Feel guilty.  Kick yourself.  Doubt that you are saved, or, if you’ve already worked through that, then assume that you are just an exception to those saints who have found permanent favor with God.  You’re still working to earn that smile, to erase His perennial disappointment…

And then, when you’ve had enough of that form of self-inflicted penance, resolve to do better next time.  To be different than you are.  To learn to imitate Jesus, somehow!  Probably some sort of ‘system’ will help.  And if self-discipline fails, well, hope that your best intentions will earn you a better standing…

And what does Paul say to that?

“Have you lost your senses?  After starting you Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Gal.3:3)

He spends the whole letter to the Galatians laying out a better way, the truly good news of the Gospel–

First he points out that the old system of using self-effort to try to conform to God’s law will only prove that we can never earn God’s approval.  The law only demonstrates that all have sinned and only dictates that the sinner must die!  But behold! Jesus took our sins and did just that.  The Law holds no case against us now.  Guilt is only meant to drive us back to faith in Christ!  This is the good news of the Gospel and it remains our only hope of living a truly Christian life.  Jesus has died to give us a new quality of life–the eternal kind, that is born of faith by the Spirit and is continually empowered by that same Spirit, through faith.

Paul puts it in a nutshell this way:

“I have been crucified with Christ.  I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (2:19,20)

There remains no place for confidence in what I can do without Him.  By believing He died for me, I am consenting to my own death and taking on a new life, His.  This is the life that matters, Christ alive and well by His Spirit living in and through me. Me saying ‘no’ to the demands of the old nature and ‘yes’ to the Spirit’s promptings.

Anytime I rely on my own ability to be good enough apart from this dependence on the Spirit, I treat the grace of God as meaningless.  I don’t need grace. I’m doing just fine.  Grace is for the weakling.

 What’s worse, this independence will always lead to guilt and defeat with its endless cycle of trying harder.  The Law is made for this. It shows up our dependence on a power beyond ourselves.

“The Scriptures have declared that we are all prisoners of sin, so the only way to receive God’s promise is to believe in Jesus Christ” (3:22)

And so we arrive at the place Luther arrived now five-hundred years ago.  The only way to live a righteous life is by faith.  Or as he put it:

“the righteous man draws his life out of his faith,” and faith is that because of which he is counted righteous before God.’*

Let us believe, and keep on believing, that God’s promises are yes and amen! in Jesus.    There’s no point in expecting the flesh to improve.  The life we now live, this kind that stretches to all eternity for the glory of God, is His gift and the work of His Spirit in us.  He will lead us through the perils of living in a body that’s destined to die.  And as we follow His promptings, saying ‘no’ to what the flesh wants and ‘yes’ to what God wants, we will live!  And when we sin, we needn’t cower before the Father.  We are His children still.   He’s given us an advocate–Jesus who died that we may have life.  He’s given us a Helper who prays for us in keeping with all God has for us and who leads us ever away from sin and toward truth and life. What more could we need?

“So, dear brothers and sister, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.  For if you keep on following it, you will perish.  But if through the power of the Holy Spirit you turn from it and its evil deeds, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Rom.8:12-14)

I will leave you with Martin Luther’s own thoughts in his commentary on Galatians.  I hope they will spur you on, as they have me, to believe what we do not always feel and to fight the good fight of faith till we stand forever grateful before God’s throne!

“If we could be fully persuaded that we are in the good grace of God, that our sins are forgiven, that we have the Spirit of Christ, that we are the beloved children of God, we would be ever so happy and grateful to God. But because we often feel fear and doubt we cannot come to that happy certainty.

“Train your conscience to believe that God approves of you. Fight it out with doubt. Gain assurance through the Word of God. Say: “I am all right with God. I have the Holy Ghost. Christ, in whom I do believe, makes me worthy….”

“….Let us never doubt the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, but make up our minds that God is pleased with us, that He looks after us, and that we have the Holy Spirit who prays for us.” (–Martin Luther, Bible Commentary on Galatians)

–LS

*from Martin Luther’s A Treatise on Good Works

Oh, and just one more thing.  You mustn’t miss this, especially if you have children in your life somewhere, but even if you don’t!  It’s a delightful video featuring Playmobil figurines retelling the life of Martin Luther and the good news he found.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

My gracious favour is all you need

My gracious favour is all you need.  My power works best in your weakness…Since I know it’s all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. (!)  For when I am weak, then I am strong.—Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you. 

O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame—LORD, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me.  My only hope is in your unfailing love and faithfulness. For troubles surround me–too many to count!

Oh, the joys of those who trust the LORD…

II Cor.12:9,10 NLT; Eph.6:10,13 ESV; II Chron. 20:17 ESV; Ps. 40:11-12 NLT; Ps.25:2-3 ESV; Ps. 40: 4

My life is not overflowing with troubles right now.  They loom, it is true, in the recesses of my imagination.  Any number of factors could change without a moment’s notice; I am only too aware of this. Truly “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7 ESV); this is part of the human condition ever since the Garden.  But I don’t think we’re meant to live in fear of what might be just around the corner. 

I tend to live in a sort of braced gratefulness.  I am very thankful for this peaceful interlude in our lives…but a niggling fear nibbles at my heart, warning me to ‘be ready’, ‘watch out!’, ‘brace yourself’ a squall is coming. This temptation to fear prompts me to rely on my own sense of ‘readiness’.  It would steal present peace in exchange for a false sense of future control.  It would undermine my trust in God’s good and sovereign hand over all of life if I yield to its incitements.  So today these verses lay down a strong foundation for faith, the perfect shield for all the enemy’s darts, leaving me free to just be thankful!

O LORD my God, you have done many miracles for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list.  If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,
I would never come to the end of them! Ps.40:5

What do you have that God hasn’t given you?

My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time–before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due. … For what gives you the right to make such a judgment? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift? … We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash, right up to the present moment. —For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. —Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”—When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 

My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. 

I Cor. 4:4-5, 7, 13 NLT; Rom 12:3 ESV; Rev 3:17-19 ESV; Mt. 9:13 ESV; Mt.9:36 ESV; I Cor. 1:28-31 ESV; Ps. 34:2 ESV

Oh my, is it ever easy to think negatively and critically of others.  I can get slinging mud in my mind without even knowing the other person–just based on a momentary glance, or a comment overheard, or some other flimsy notion of my superiority (or inferiority!).  It’s all based on appearances and it’s not only ridiculous but deplorable.  

What do you have that God hasn’t given you? is still ringing in my ears after a moment of being brought up short this week by the Spirit and having to do a little review of how out of line my own thoughts were as compared to Christ’s.  He exuded compassion, even to those He had to rebuke severely (‘white-washed sepulchres’!).  His intent was merciful–to save them from themselves and their blindness to their own condition.  I am humbled and grateful at this evidence of His presence and love–this Spirit at work to conform me to the image of Jesus, this foretaste of future glory!

–LS

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. I Jn.3:2 ESV

P.S. I was helped this week by some considerations by C.S.Lewis in his book Mere Christianity.  He suggests some factors we may not have thought of when we presume to condemn others for their behavior.  I’ve posted the quote over here, at my quote collection blog: https://dictationbydawn.wordpress.com

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is judgmentalism just part of the human condition? How have you wrestled with this tendency?

The Best Use of Mirrors

The bronze washbasin and its bronze pedestal were cast from bronze mirrors donated by the women who served at the entrance of the Tabernacle—For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men [are], extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 

For the word of God is living and active…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account—Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 

… And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” —But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Whenever they walked past the altar to enter the Tabernacle, they were to stop and wash……as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word—Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised. 

Ex.38:8 NLT; Ja. 1:23-24 ESV; Lk. 18:11 KJV; Heb 4:12-13 ESV; Ps. 25:8-9 ESV; Lk.8:13 KJV; Ja. 4:6 ESV; Ja. 1:25 ESV; Ex.40:32 NLT; Eph. 5:25-26 KJV;  Heb 10:22-23 KJV


 

The bronze basin stood between the Holy of Holies and the Altar for Burnt Offerings. Once the sacrifice had been made the priests washed their hands and feet there before entering God’s presence…

I am making my way through Exodus with all its details describing the assembling of the Tent where God would meet with His people.  Very little is said about the Bronze Basin, so this detail stands out–it was constructed using the donated mirrors of the women who served at the entrance of the Tabernacle. Would it be a stretch of analogy to suppose that once they knew what they looked like, they realized it  would be better to have a place to wash than to keep on looking?!  A mirror is of great value but after the looking must come the washing.

I have needed this reminder this week.  Looking at myself in the mirror of others or my own mental reflections can be disheartening.  There is so much of Christ that is wanting in this view.  I cringe, feeling so unlovely, and I admit, caring what others must think?!  But this looking leads me nowhere useful unless I quickly turn and look at the sacrifice that has been made on my behalf and then take time to wash in the Word, which is the best of mirrors! Only here will I see rightly,  who I am and  who God is.  As I wash here, affirming what God has said to be true, I am made ready for His presence–a saint justified despite my warts and wobbles, accepted in the Beloved, not on the basis of what I look like, but on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice.

I have loved you deeply… but I am not at all pleased with you

“I have loved you deeply,” says the LORD. 

But you retort, “Really? How have you loved us?”  

I am not at all pleased with you, says the LORD Almighty, and I will not accept your offerings…Listen to me and take it to heart. Honour my name…it was I who sent you this warning so that my covenant with the Levites may continue…the purpose of my covenant…was to bring life and peace, and this is what I gave them.  

For whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights—And scourges every son whom He receives—The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise—for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord—If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

Mal.1:2NLT; Mal.1:10;2:2,4,5; Prov. 3:12 NKJV; Heb. 12:6 NKJV; Ps. 51:17 ESV; Eph, 5:8-10 ESV;  I Jn. 1:8-9 ESV

The words we want to hear are not always the words we most need to hear. In a world gone wild grasping for Kudos the children of God must be wise in their giving and receiving of words.  I am as eager to be found pleasing as anyone.  I smart from even a perceived cold shoulder.  But I am reminded today that even the One who loves me most, especially the One who loves me most, must sometimes issue warnings and correction.  Where would I be if He didn’t?  And in my words, whether issuing from tongue or fingertips may I be guided by the wishes of the One whose pleasure matters most!