Devotion for Thursday, June 25, 2020
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Gospel: John 15:1-25
Collect: Almighty God, You Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption. Grant us courage to hold fast to His teachings, both the Law and the Gospel, and follow Him wherever He leads; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymns of the Day: “The Law of God is Good and Wise” (LSB 579) and “The Gospel Shows the Father’s Grace” (LSB 580)
What is living the faith? We have learned these last few weeks that being a Christian is to believe and hold fast to the teachings of God and to let those teachings permeate our lives and come out of us in thoughts, words and deeds. But we also know that we are horrible at this, and regularly choose slavery to sin over slavery to God as I talked a bit about in Tuesday’s devotion. So, what does ‘living the faith’ look like?
Answers to this question will vary. If you ask an unbeliever, they’ll often accuse Christians of being self-righteous and judgemental. Many say that we look down on them for their choices in life and judge them, while at that same time not seeing our blatant ‘sins’ – always pointing fingers and never taking stock of our own mistakes. Talking to other Christians, you will also get a variety of answers. Some will say that living the faith is all about doing good works – do your best and God will do the rest. Others will say that you have to make a decision for Jesus, choose to believe, and then trust in Him for everything – if you ever doubt, you’re never really believed. Still others say that you are either a Christian or not, as God made that decision for you before He created the world – you are either predestined to heaven or predestined to hell and there is no point fretting over either.
Now, if you’ve been reading my devotions over the last couple of months, and are familiar with the Lutheran church and her teachings, then none of those answers should be sounding completely correct to you. Yes, each of them has a grain of truth; a small part that you can agree with, but over all, you should notice that they all ring false at their core. In actuality, it’s bits and pieces of each of those, but not any one completely.
If you haven’t read the two hymns listed above, take a bit of a break now and read them through. Yes, I know they’re long, but they, together, are what faith in the Triune God is all about.
As the hymns explain, our lives as Christians all comes down to the Law and the Gospel; do you believe them and do they shape the way you see the world around you? You see, living the faith is nothing more than believing the teachings of God. That’s it. Sounds simple enough, but there’s a catch: if you really believe it, you would live it, it will change you – if you don’t really believe it, and only say that you do, then you won’t live it.
I had an incident of this back when I was in university. I was walking a friend home after class, and told her that I had church the next morning and so couldn’t hang out too late. Her response was one that I’ll never forget. At the time, I didn’t think anything of, I even thought it a compliment, she said: “Huh. I never thought you were a Christian.” I responded with something pithy, along the lines of ‘Ya, I believe, but that doesn’t’ make me any different than anyone else.’ I don’t remember my actual wording, but I remember hers.
Over the years, I came to realize that it was not a compliment, even if she intended it to be. I came to realize that if someone who knew me rather well (we were both music majors in the same year and shared many classes and the same vocal teacher) couldn’t tell that I was a Christian by my words and actions – then what kind of a witness was I giving about the faith? If she couldn’t tell that I believed in Jesus Christ as my Lord and God after having known me for almost a full year at that point, could I actually claim to be one of his followers?
What about you? Do the people in your life know that you are a Christian? Would it surprise you terribly if someone who knew you told you that they didn’t realize you believed in God? We have to face the fact that we are living in a post Christian society, and that the fact is that less that half the people you meet in a day are actually Christian – probably less than that.
This brings me back to the question before: What is living the faith?
From my friend’s response, I needed to admit that I wasn’t doing it. Yes, I was going to church every Sunday. I was singing in the choir at church, and even teaching Sunday School at the time, but if I was only a Christian for one morning a week, then I wasn’t really a Christian. Can you claim to be a vegetarian if you still eat meat 6 days a week? Can you claim to enjoy hiking and the outdoors when you haven’t done it in over 10 years and prefer instead to sit at home with a good book? Can you really claim to be a Christian when you would much rather live your life like everyone else in the world because they all seem to be having so much more fun than you, or making so much more money than you, or have so many less problems than you? Can you really claim to be living THE faith when you only pick and choose certain sections of the Bible to believe in and then disregard or ignore the rest – especially the parts that make you uncomfortable?
No. You really can’t. But you see, that’s also the beauty of being a Christian – it’s not all about what YOU do. It’s all about what HE did.
No, I was not a perfect Christian, and I know that I am still not a perfect Christian. According to the Law, I fall short and cannot do it on my own. The Christians that look down their nose at unbelievers, and have given this bad reputation to God and His Church, don’t realize the hypocrisy of their actions. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God – but we are Christian because we’re forgiven.
Through the Word of God we know that we are sinners, even while we are saints. That while we are forgiven, we are still stumbling regularly and need God to forgive us. Our ‘good works’ aren’t all that good because we’re usually doing them for ourseles, not for God. Our ‘good works’ don’t get us into heaven, they can’t, but we do them because we are saved already and are going to heaven. Good works are more like Carbon Monoxide than Oxygen. We are saved by the grace of God through faith He planted in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, that’s the oxygen that we breathe, and the good works are what follows as we exhale. The works are the result of the salvation, not the other way around as some would have you believe.
We also know that we cannot save ourselves, and that our decisions are sinful and broken – our emotions and our ability to tell right from wrong/ good from bad/ is tainted and skewed. We could no more chose to believe than we could choose to fly, or choose to breathe underwater. God makes us believe – He plants that faith in us. As Scripture tells us: “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
God also is a good and loving God who desires all to be saved. That is a Scriptural truth. So why are there some going to hell? Because that was their choice. “So you can’t choose to go to heaven because that’s God’s work in you, but you can choose to go to hell and it’s not God’s doing but yours? How does that work?” Short answer: That’s what the Bible tells us. Longer answer: I have no idea how, but I also know that I shouldn’t expect to be able to understand everything the Creator of the entire universe can and does do or say. If I could, I wouldn’t need a god, I’d be one. But as I’ve stated above, I do need a God – I can’t save myself, and so I cling to that which He has given me to know Him, the Bible, even if I don’t fully understand it.
So saying all of that, I know that I am a Christian, No matter how poor of one, because I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen form the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. (Meaning of the Second Article of the Apostle’s Creed)
That’s how I live my faith. I cling to that truth. I confess my sins to God and to those that I have sinned against, and trust in the forgiveness that Jesus won for me on the cross so many years ago.
I am a Christian but not because I am perfect and without sin, not because I have done enough good works, and not because I have made a choice or decision to be one either. I am a Christian because I have a loving God.
And so, my fellow Christians, I encourage you to live the faith – cling to the truth. For those time where you fall short, repent. For the times where people call you on it and point it out, don’t defend yourself in self-righteous indignation, but instead confess your transgression and receive that free forgiveness. For the times when you catch yourself doing or saying something you know you shouldn’t, turn away from it, and instead turn to your Father and asked Him to forgive you and help you not to repeat your folly.
Hold fast to all the teachings of God and revel in the free gift of forgiveness that He gives you, knowing and trusting that it is this that will one day see you in His courts singing His praises for all eternity. Amen.
In Christ and His service,