Rev. Jonathan Fisk
Definition: God's well-designed justice, totally good, totally what you should do, totally not what you do (at least, not from the heart).
Definition: Jesus. He did it. He came. He kept. He conquered-in your place and for your sake. No shortage of that sweet good news in every issue of Higher Things Magazine.
Okay. So what should I do now?
That's the normal question. It's what everybody asks at some point. "I believe in Jesus, but what does this mean for my life? How then should I live?"
Those are not bad questions; they are just a little bit dangerous. After all, why would you want to take your eyes off of Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith? Now that you've seen how good Jesus is, why would you suddenly be so interested in "you" again? But we do have to live here until Jesus gets back, and there are good Lutheran answers to this question, e.g., "Be nice!" But! The real problem is that it's not just an innocent question. It's also a fact that much of American Christianity has made this "What's next after Jesus" question the most important part of Christian doctrine. ?It's like this:
"Here's the Gospel! It's great! But don't get too excited about it. Now that you're saved, it's time to get back to the Law. Go! Do it! Do this! Do that! Ignore the fact that it's never done. You can do it if you just have more faith."
Years and years of this preaching makes the once brightly burning flame of faith grow dim and start to faintly flicker. Then, one morning, you wake up wondering if you trust in Jesus enough. You recall that you used to. You remember being excited about Christianity long ago. But that was all then. Today, faith is shaky ground. There's so much you have been trying to do, so much you should have done, and the not-done of it all has piled up, heaping and mounting and threatening to bury you beneath its tyrannical, honest assessment of your heart and soul.
Now, it is clear to you. There are two kinds of Christians at your Church: those who are really living it-really doing it and really meaning it-and then there's…you. You: the one not quite living the higher life. You: the one not quite able to make it to that boasted of land of sanctification that everyone else seems to be living in.
You: not quite good enough to be a Christian.
Can Jesus really love a person like you? He's given you all that grace, and you've done almost nothing with it.
Next up! Atheism.
This faith murder is the work of the gLAWspel. The gLAWspel is what happens when we do not remember the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. It's the Law->Gospel->LAW!!!! version of Christianity that never outright denies that Jesus is the Savior, but instead quietly rolls the "now-get-to-righteousness-on-your-own" stone back over the empty tomb.
But doesn't the Bible talk about sanctification? Of course it does. It talks about good works, too. ?It says "do them," even though they'll remain ?filthy rags.
But holiness-true holiness-Biblically speaking, isn't really about good works. It's not really about what you do. It can affect what you do, but it is about where you stand. How close to Jesus are you? And the answer is not how you feel or what you've done. The answer to that question is: What is your physical proximity to the source of holiness? Where are Jesus' Words? Where are Jesus' Sacraments? Do you have them? Do you hear them? Are they on you? Are they in you?
Remember this when you read the Bible: "Strive for peace with everyone, and for [JESUS!] without [whom] no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). "Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and [JESUS!]" (Ephesians 4:24). "You shall be [Jesus!] for I am [Jesus!]" (1 Peter 1:16).
But, but, but!
But, Pastor Fisk, 1 Peter 1:15 says to be holy in your conduct. That means you have to get busy doing good works, right?
Sure. When did I say otherwise? When the Gospel of Jesus creates faith, good works are always the result. That's not the problem. The problem is when we make those results part of the Gospel itself. Because the Gospel creates faith which then strives to keep the Law, we start to think that more Law will speed up the process. Since the Gospel can only be believed, we start looking around for an assurance we can see. So after the Gospel has created a flowering burst of personal growth in love for God and neighbor, we start to believe in the results more than in their source. But in so doing, we slowly cut ourselves off from the "outside-of-you" promises which brought about the growth in the first place.
Yes, be nice! (Why would you want to be anything else?) But all that righteousness-the best good works-are gifts given to you by God. They're not for you to look at them and think, "Wow, look at me and how great I've become," they are there to help you see your neighbor. "My goodness, she needs my help! ?Let's do it!"
Good works are good, but they are not our certainty. They are always incomplete. Always lacking. Always not quite done perfectly. Jesus, on both hands (with scars to show it), has done them perfectly. "It is finished." It's a promise. Entirely outside of you. Unreliant on your righteousness, whether before or after your conversion.
Conclusion: Jesus is enough holiness to save you, even when you're already a Christian.
Rev. Jonathan Fisk is the pastor of ?St. John Lutheran Church in Oakes, North Dakota, and host of the video podcast Worldview Everlasting.