Deuteronomy 5:1-6; Galatians 2: 15-16; 3:19-29
June 26, 2022
- Jesus’ faith is FOR US ALL
Since the last time we met, a lot has happened. I have driven 1100 miles to participate in our national church’s governing body, shared in hours of uplifting, challenging worship, rejoiced in the remembrance of Juneteenth, and tried to find some extra rest this week in vacation. Even this week of vacating was a little busy with some family trips and good times. I have done a lot since my last time here. You know how sometimes you need a vacation after a vacation….
While business and busyness tend to define our lives, we are more than the sum of our actions. Just think about it… This is a pretty important point. We focus so much on who does what when and where that it rules our lives. We judge people by their actions, and while a tree is known by its fruit, it still does not tell us the heart of the tree. Our legal system is the same. The judgment of law may try to weigh the heart, but it is very limited in this way. Lady Justice is blind because of this. The focus is on what you do or fail to do and how what you do hurts others. The law views people by their actions first and foremost and really does not see much beyond. Sometimes this is a real problem. Someone may be speeding because of a medical crisis or just because they want to. Someone may be stealing food because they do not have food at home or just for fun. Someone may hurt another out of self-defense or out of cruelty. We need to think more about the things we do, in other words – our works.
Works have been our measure since the very beginning. The law of works was a gift of God’s covenant. When God gave the law through Moses, it is the first time since the Garden of Eden that people have been given a system of behaviors or actions. This was their new way of life. You heard Moses emphasize that the covenant was not some old, outdated, historical event but a living, present, active reality. That old covenant was with them. The promise was with them then. The covenant, God’s promise, is also alive with us. Somehow, we still have to figure out what to do with all of those law things. Somehow, we still have to figure out what we need to do.
The strange reality is that we pick and choose which of the laws to follow. Isn’t that a bit odd. We have decided which of the laws are important and which are not. Generally, we agree that the Big Ten are all worth keeping, but we also tack on others that are convenient or comfortable. No seems to worry about eating pork, for instance, or wearing clothes made of different fabrics or laws about female cleanliness with menstruation. We are even fairly loose about the observance of the Sabbath. Exodus 31 and 35 both order us to put to death anyone who works on the Sabbath. Who is following that law which is even one of the Big Ten?
We have a very slippery relationship to works. The law is the brightest example of doing works for God in the Bible, but this is like walking into a haze. What should we do with the law of works?
Some boil it down to just being nice. The big thing is that we are nice to each other, that we are nice people, that we need to keep niceness at the heart of our conduct. Being “nice,” however, has never been a standard for God’s people or the life that we believe God demands from us.
Others take the works and the law far more seriously and try to actually uphold more of the actual listed laws. What we do should focus on what the Bible literally says we should do and not do. Out of this, we have Christians who refuse to take oaths, for instance, or refuse to engage in any kind of harm to another as nonresitant pacifists. We also have people who try to take laws from 3000 years ago and make them fit the world today, as if society has not changed. Again, there is a lot of picking and choosing here. There are churches out there that will rebuke or censure someone for having fun or working on Sunday, but they won’t put them to death for it – and I might add thankfully.
Even though we like to define our existence by what we do, after all, what is the first question we ask someone at a social event (What do you do for a living?) – we really cannot make our works, our deeds, our actions, the defining quality of our lives. We cannot measure our lives strictly by what we do in this world. The Pharisees went overboard measuring people by how well they were carrying out the law. Jesus rejected this. Paul rejected the law and its requirements completely.
It is absolutely important what we do, how we act, and what works we carry out as people of faith, but we should all remember that works will never be our salvation. This is what Paul gives us in Galatians when he shows us what is our salvation or rather who.
We think about Jesus being our Savior because he died for us on the cross, but I like to think of Jesus saving us in an even bigger way. The Bible is full of people who struggled to put their faith in God. There were some successes but mostly failures. It would not surprise me if that is why people focused more on works and law as salvation, but they failed there, too. No one has kept the faith; no one has lived up to the works; no one has been worthy of God’s love; no one has earned salvation – except for Jesus.
The best part of the Galatians passage to me is where Paul says we are saved by the faith OF Jesus. Please, please, please do not skip over that. It is a HUGE point. Your Bible might read saved by faith IN Jesus, but I need you to realize that it actually says “the faith OF Jesus.” We are not saved by our own faith, friends, but by the only person in all of human history who had saving faith, and we rely on him. We put our faith in him, and by grace and only grace, we are counted good enough, right, and holy because Jesus is good enough, right, and holy.
No amount of faith on my part can save me. I will never have saving faith, myself, but I know someone who does have saving faith and he is my Lord and Savior. Yes, that is why Jesus is my Lord and Savior. His faith is my faith; his life is my life.
I have been accused of preaching heavy on grace in the past. That’s why I named my middle child, Grace, so that I could talk about grace as much as I wanted. Seriously, I was raised as someone who was focused on the right things to do. I had to be perfect as God in heaven is perfect. I would have made a good Pharisee because I genuinely believed I needed to live a holy life to be approved of God. That is a LOT of responsibility on one set of human shoulders. As I struggled more and more with feelings of faiulure and the guilt of not living up to my expectations for myself, I saw another side of Jesus that I had never seen before. I saw the side of Jesus that drew the sinners and outcasts. I saw the side of Jesus that forgave the very people who were killing him. I saw the side of Jesus that taught of a Kingdom where the lowest and least of people would be invited to the banquet. I saw the side of Jesus that gave us a yoke we could carry because he is holding it himself.
I love being in Christ and being in Christ with all of my sisters and brothers. Being in Jesus makes me want to be better and to do better. It makes we want to do right by my neighbors, my friends, and even my enemies. It pushes me to grow in ways that have made me a different person than I have ever been. I know I am a long way from being where I will end up, but I know that Jesus is with me, and I will not fail God’s love.
Thinking about this and this relationship with Jesus Christ made me think about how a long marriage might be similar to that. You spend the years DOING for each other. Right? That’s the point – doing for each other, but what happens is that the more time you spend doing for each other in love, you learn to grow in trust and faith and confidence. And I think that is really the point of what Jesus is inviting us into. It is not just about doing things for each other. It is about what is behind that, about what we are growing into. The trust, the faith, the confidence we build begins with whom? It begins with Jesus. To God be the glory. Amen.