Saturday, 15 February 2014

Listen up (or loose it all)

Then I saw that wisdom excels folly, as far as light excels darkness.
Solomon - Ecclesiastes 2:13.

What makes us 'comfortable' at church? 
Good "fellowship" perhaps, or a vibrant time of worship?
A 'useful' sermon, or lots of after-service activities? 
We, no doubt, find many or all of these things engaging, but what we need to 'hear' in all of it, is the proclaiming of the totally saving work of God in Christ (Romans 3:21-26), because when something - anything - else becomes pre-eminent, then we're quickly on very dangerous ground, and what should bring us 'light' will leave us stumbling in the dark.

That's why I so often find myself "wriggling" and concerned... usually "little" things start up, through a sermon or a song, a particular statement or even a conversation, and you realize, that what is actually at stake if a certain "approach" takes hold is the doctrine and faith by which, as Luther put it, the church stands or falls. There's always 'another gospel' crouching just behind what we see, waiting to take hold by the most appealing means (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

The place where this so often comes to light, aside from the Gospel itself, is in regards to Christian sanctification. We tend to think of this as a 'doing' thing, but we need to see that the true work of making someone profane holy is something that is done only In Christ (see the Romans passage above) and through His word (John 17:16). It is God's faithfulness to His promises alone that counts - any good works that we may do are merely evidence of what is truly ours in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 1:3, Ephesians 2:10), but there are plenty of 'approaches' to this matter which clearly place the onus back upon us, inviting a way in for all manner of troubles related to "works righteousness", as the New Testament shows (Galatians 3:1-5, Colossians 2:20-23).

When we gather as Christians, what matters is that God is evidenced through the work that He has done, alone, in His Son and that we, by Word and Sacrament, are refreshed in the unchangeable fact that we are safe because He is the one who saves the ungodly. Sin is first and foremost, a lack of fear before a Holy God because we have been deceived into thinking that something else, anything else which comes from us is good enough to bring us right standing before God, but only His work can clothe us and pronounce us justified.

We all have a nature that naturally wants to find something in us to boast in, to hold up as passable, perhaps even worthwhile, but only in Christ is there a humanity that is good and true and redeemable - all else, as the old hymn puts it, is sinking sand.

We sorely need, constantly, a ministry to the saints that gets this, because if we don't, we're all going to be without safe harbor, and the consequences are dire (Ephesians 4:14).