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Christian Perfection

 

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

Gal. 2:15-16

 

This is Christian perfection: that we fear God honestly with our whole hearts, and yet have sincere confidence, faith, and trust that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious, merciful God; that we may and should ask and pray God for those things of which we have need, and confidently expect help from him in every affliction connected with our particular calling and station in life; and that meanwhile we do good works for others and diligently attend to our calling.”

Augsburg 27, on Monastic Vows, offers these words as contrast to those who took the taking of vows, in general, and of good works, in particular, as the means by which a Christian becomes perfect, holy, and acceptable to God. The article briefly details that monasticism, orginally, begain with good intentions, that of offering a means to study and learn God’s Word, but that in time, the practice became corrupt, as the teaching that monasticism surpassed even baptism was accepted as true.

The reformers, in their confession, which is also our own, declare that Christian perfection is not that we become perfect by making a vow, trying to keep the commandments, trying not to sin, or anything of ourselves. Changing who we are also doesn’t change our standing before God, as if we could change our standing before God.

We can’t.

Jesus says, “You will be perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Other passages reveal that such perfection is not something that we can do, earn, merit, or obtain. Perfection is not within us to achieve.

Yet, God still commands it.

This does not mean that you can then do it, that you can keep such a command as God wants it to be kept. Rather, it means that God is commanding the impossible, that you see your sin, and trust in Him who has fulfilled the commandment, each and every one, in your stead; that you trust in Him who fully paid the debt of judgment for your sin; and that you not trust yourself as you seek to keep the commandment, but trust in Jesus alone for your help and salvation.

In this, as the Reformers confessed, as do we, is Christian perfection, not that we trust at all in what we do, but trust in God our Savior, who gave His Son for us and through whom we live out our callings in the fear of God and in true faith. Amen.

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Vocation-Serving God, Serving Neighbor

 

In the Ten Commandments, God gives His people what they are to do—love Him and love neighbor (Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 22:34-40).  God even commands His people how to love others (i.e. Honor father and mother, not murdering, not bearing false witness (gossiping), etc.), as well as how to love Him (having no other gods before Him, not misusing His Name, and using His Word rightly).  By doing these, the people of God serve Him and one another.

We do not have to invent or discover “new ways” of serving God and the church.  God has already given us what to do.

We serve God by keeping His Word (not despising it, but believing it), worshiping only Him—the Holy Trinity (not committing idolatry), and hearing His Word (going to church where His Holy Word is proclaimed and receiving and rejoicing in His free gift of forgiveness and life, given through the preached Word, the Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper).

We serve God also by serving our neighbor.  This kind of service takes place in our vocation, our calling(s).  This is where we serve God and our neighbor.  Parents care for, and discipline their children, in their vocation.  Children honor and obey their parents in their vocation.  Teachers teach and instruct in their vocation.  Students hear and learn in their vocation.  Pastors preach and teach and administer the sacraments in their vocation.  Congregational members hear what is preached and receive from the Lord what He speaks and gives through the Words and the actions of the pastor.

Serving God this way, in one’s vocation, does not mean that we necessarily like or will like those who serve us.  Pastors and congregations, students and teachers, parents and children, civil authorities and citizens, and others all have their weaknesses, their quirks, and their sins.  They do not always do, act, or speak as they should within their vocation.  But rather than using these shortcomings as excuses not to honor or recognize those whom God has placed to serve us, all the more ought we to “bear with one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  Also, concerning vocation, it is the office that we are to recognize, and to help the one in that office to do as he or she should.

Vocation is how God would have us serve one another.  “Discovering new ways of serving God and the church” is not of God, for God has already given us how to serve Him and one another.

The question then is, “how are we doing” at serving Him and serving one another in the calling to which God has called us? (1 Corinthians 7).  The answer for all of us is-poorly.  We are failing.  We do not do as we should and we do as we ought not (Romans 7).  God is not first in our lives, and we seek to serve ourselves first and not others.  Instead of encouraging one another to do as God has given us to do, we complain, tear down, bicker, and intentionally hurt our neighbor for what they have done or have not done.  We take the anger we have towards ourselves out on others.  In doing so, we do not love as God would have us love.  We despise and profane the Name of God among us, and demonstrate, not service to God, but service to ourselves and the evil one.

Yet God, in His service to the Father on our behalf, completely and perfectly demonstrated, not service to Himself or for Himself, but to His Father for us, and to us in obedience to His Father (Hebrews 5:8), that His Father declare from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  In other Words, Jesus fulfilled His calling, His vocation, before the Father, for you.

Jesus kept His Father’s Word.  He truly loved His neighbor (you and me), both in saying what the Father had given Him to say (the word of Law and Gospel), and doing what the Father had given Him to do (suffer and die on the cross).  Jesus did neither of these for Himself, but for us, for you.  He came to save you from your disobedience, neglect, and misuse of your calling, both to serve God and to serve one another.

Instead of inventing new ways of serving God and the church, all we have to do is look to what God Himself says.  In doing that, we will have more than enough “to do.”  In doing that, we will also recognize how we do not do as God would have us do.  But by God’s grace through His Son, we will also recognize how Christ has done all that His Father had given Him to do.  By God’s grace through Jesus, we will recognize that Christ, having done all that the Father had given Him to do, means new and eternal life, for Christ, in shedding His blood on the cross, shed His blood to cover all of our sins, all of our sins against God and against one another.

This means that those same sins no longer condemn us as guilty before God.  Those same sins against God and one another can hurt us no more, for in their place is Christ, the sinner of all sinners.

In return, Christ, having taken our place, gives to us what is His (called “the great exchange”).  His obedience and service to His Father is counted as our own.  Therefore, because of Jesus, God sees you as perfectly obedient and a faithful servant, not because of what you do, but because of what Christ Himself did.

Thus does St. Paul say, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).  Having peace with God means that all before Him is “alright.”  We have no need to fear for all that we have done and all that we have done wrong in our specific callings.  Before God, on account of Jesus, there is nothing but peace.  And because of Jesus, the Father also says to you, “You are My beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”

In contrast to taking these words as reason to “sit back and take it easy,” the Christian hears these words, and, in distinction from the sinful nature to serve nothing but itself, the Christian, according to the new man, seeks to all the more serve God and neighbor, faithfully and sacrificially, giving him or herself even in death for the benefit and well-being of those whom God would have be served.  Life begins to be focused on the other, on God and neighbor, not on self and ego.

As Christ lived, not for Himself, but in obedience to His Father and in service to us, so those born of God live, not for themselves, but in obedience to the Father in service to others.  This means that the Christian will seek, not his own benefit and gain, but that of others whom God has called to help and serve.

Such service to others will not take a “one size fits all approach.”  Nor does it have to be sought.  Rather, the Lord Himself reveals how we are to live with and to love one another, even as He, in Christ, loved and loves us, forgiving our sins and giving life and joy and peace (1 John 4:11).   As God loves us, so do His people love one another.

 

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