February 5, 2017
Last week, I asked a question to start things off. Anyone remember what it was?
Why are we here?
Anyone remember the answer?
To bring God glory.
I want to start this week’s lesson with another question and a warning. First the warning: Once again, I’m veering away from the text of the lesson, though perhaps not as widely as I did last week. I imagine Pastor Chris or someone from the Education Committee is going to come in with a shepherd’s crook some Sunday and drag me out of here.
So here’s the question, and it really does spring from my study of the scripture our lesson covers, so bear with me, but let me also say up front that it’s a little bit provocative:
What makes us so righteous?
Let me throw a quote at you from a book called “unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity — and Why it Matters.” Here’s the quote. Get ready, because it’s gonna sting a little: “Many of those outside of Christianity … reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.” Let me repeat that: “Many of those outside of Christianity … reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.”
Can we all agree that at least part of the purpose of the church is to spread the Gospel, to share the love of Christ?
And yet so many times we hear that the first trait nonbelievers associate with Christians is judgmentalism. Not love.
For us — for The Church, the light of Christ in this dark world — that characterization should truly hurt. I’m guessing some of you feel a little defensive right now. I did when I read this, but I have to recognize that my feelings aren’t really the point here.
What makes us so righteous?
Simply, the grace of God poured out on us through the blood of His sinless Son.
But we — and here I mean ME — want to think that we’ve done something to deserve it all. Saved by grace, we want to think we’re earning points in heaven with our good works.
That’s what the people of the church in Galatia thought, and Paul spent much of a letter taking them to the woodshed over it. And here’s one reason I think it was such an important issue for Paul: He recognized how a church populated with members who thought they were earning favor with their “goodness” would eventually find itself rejecting those who weren’t “good enough” for the club.
Let’s look at what Paul says about righteousness in Galatians chapter 3. Take a look at verse 21: “… If there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
The Law that Paul speaks of here is the collection of God’s commandments — and not just the Big 10. And here’s what he’s saying: Whatever righteousness we might have comes from Christ, by grace. The law was given to use as a measuring device to show how far from God we really are. And scripture tells us that if we’re going to measure our own righteousness, we can do it with filthy rags.
Let’s read on. Verses 23-27: “ But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
The Law was a tutor to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith in Him. In other words, the Law was there to point us to our only salvation, the only salvation there has ever been – faith in God. Abraham was justified by faith. Enoch’s faith allowed him to walk straight to heaven one day. Read Hebrews 11 someday and remind yourself that it is our faith in God and His son Jesus that gives justifies us, not anything we’ve done.
And the result?
We are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
We take off the old man, and we put on Christ. Look at the next verse, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Those are all hierarchies Paul is describing there. Jews were considered better than Gentiles or Greeks. Free better than slaves. Men better than women. But what does Paul say about all those hierarchies? They are meaningless if we are in Christ.
We — remember, that means me here — like to remember the part of this scripture that tells us we’re heirs, but we tend to forget the part that says our inheritance comes because we have put on Christ. We like to remember the old days when our good works “proved” just how good we were.
And then we fall into the trap that I think Paul worried about with the Galatians. Pretty soon, we’re comparing our “goodness” to that of others. Pretty soon, we’re drawing all those old distinctions again. Pretty soon we’ve become the stiff-necked Pharisee praying, “God, thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even this tax collector.”
I read a quote from a book earlier. Remember it? “Many of those outside of Christianity … reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.”
Doesn’t that sound like a person who attended church with that Pharisee?
Aren’t we supposed to be different?
Paul talks in this chapter and the next about how we who are in Christ are heirs. In the book of Romans, he says we’re “joint heirs with Christ.” Somehow, we have got to come to the point where we recognize the immensity of what that means. The Christ who sacrificed Himself for us is sharing His inheritance with us, because we are being transformed into His image.
Remember how much time that Christ spent with sinners — with the woman at the well, with the tax collectors, with the folks who literally would not have been allowed into the church? On the other hand, think of how little regard He had for those who considered themselves to be righteous.
Somehow, The Church — and maybe our church — needs to find a way to ensure that each person we encounter feels the love of Christ rather than the weight of our own judgment.
I wonder how many of us would sit next to the known prostitute who showed up at church one Sunday? How many of us would pray with — not just for — the sex offender? How many of us would break bread with the thief? How many of us would wash the feet of the one we knew would betray us to our death?
This isn’t supposed to be figurative stuff. This is real. We’re called to that kind of real love. The real kind of love that our Savior showed.
Your book asks the question: What privileges do we receive as an heir? I think the better question is: What responsibility do we have?
Guess what? The answer to that question is the same as the answer to last week’s question. We have the responsibility to bring God glory.
And we do that by showing love, both within the church body and in the unsaved world. Let’s figure a way to do that so our pews are filled with people who look around and see Jesus sitting all around them.