I wrote about how we can’t do anything to earn salvation and that there’s no route we can take to lose our salvation. I asserted that God keeps the promises in our family and though He commands our affection, loyalty and trust, it is He who enables and moves us into those qualities. We don’t add to our salvation.
I didn’t go into our end of the program much. Strangely enough that’s the hard part. I think I begin to understand why. Theology may actually be easier than Me-ology because I can read, hear and understand what God says about Himself from a nice distance that enables a more objective, humble and careful study. Looking at me is always tainted with Sin. It looks like God is less affect-able by my sinful perceptions where I’m just plain messed up from the start.
So when I look at me, I’m aware of my sin and my need to do something about it. It’s easier to see and trust what God does about it and to understand that I can’t do anything, really, myself. I don’t even contribute. But there is still the command and desire to do things. God demands my works and I really want to do them. I want to be more like Him, to love Him and my neighbor. I want to discard my hang-ups and sins very much, and so I keenly search the Scriptures and the help of my contemporaries and elders for help.
But keeping in mind that I don’t do anything that earns or improves my salvation, life becomes hard. Especially when it comes to that lingering habit or obsession, I sometimes feel the tendency to toss it off as “oh well, that’s what Sunday is for.” This is fairly easily quelled with a self-imposed flogging or prayer, but it’s the fact that the tendency is there that kills me. I don’t want to think like that.
And all the above is part of assurance. This sort of discussion should be in our heads. Of course we should desire good works. Of course we need to seek our sanctification (working out our salvation with fear and trembling). Faithful Christians are not antinomians, believing that we’re free to live any way we like now that we’ve been saved. Actually, I said that wrong – We really are free to live any way we like. Before saved, we like to live in Sin or squalor or self-pity. When saved, we like to live out of sin and in the joy of our Lord. If the two are mixed up then there is something seriously wrong. Our hearts or minds are completely mixed up and in deadly peril.
Faithful Christians do not do good deeds or seek to grow in faith and truth in order to appease or please God. We, of course want to please Him. It’s our goal to glorify Him, and that is His great interest in His creation in the first place, His own glory. We want to be more like our God, not just because He commands it, but because we, having been saved by Him and knowing Him in the manner of being His children, have tasted the sweetness of His nature. Experiencing and knowing God’s goodness in His mercy and grace should bring about the desire to align with God’s nature.
As I look back on my own progress in the Faith and the particulars of my own track in sanctification, I have trouble discerning where I, myself, have had much success in changing my ways. Yes, there have been times when I’ve had to sort of pummel myself into a process or ordered practice, but even those are not of my own volition. I think I can say that every improvement has been, at a minimum, because I’ve seen the light – been convinced of a fundamental truth and thereby complied with what seemed inevitable. Mostly, things have changed for the better in my life because of gradual “evolution.” I haven’t just stopped in the middle of something and swerved back onto the path or into a new paradigm because I chose to. It just doesn’t seem to work like that. In fact, whenever there’s an abiding sin or sin-causing condition in my life, the more I stomp on it and intentionally try to snuff it out, the more it haunts me and eludes my efforts.
I’ll tell you what really makes the difference. Every place I’ve been in the last eight years has been an increase in the clear understanding of the Word. The exposure to sound Biblical teaching and my own studies has grown incrementally over six distinct places and a few churches, each building upon the other. And the impact has been greater at each turning, which culminates in an exponential way at this most recent stop in NLPCA. The thoroughly Reformed environment here has been like a sweat-lodge of theology and practice. It seems like every aspect of worship and fellowship has a real, tangible God behind the scenes and in the mix. That, if anything at all, has been my sanctification. It’s not mystical, but it is mysterious. The more I learn about God, the more I desire to be like what I’m seeing. The more I spend time with His people and in His place, the more I spend time contemplating Him and conforming to Him.
Antinomianism is a pagan problem. It is those liberal christians and rank pagans who enter the church by false profession and misguided pretense that inflict and suffer from antinomianism. I am willing to guess, though maybe I’m wrong, that a true believer may have significant challenges in obeying God and conforming to Him (I always do), but they will not be a true antinomian for long, if at all, if they are truly in Christ. We have, as in our conversion, no say in the matter. God pulls us, kicking and screaming, into His family (remember that Christ said “all whom the Father gives Me will come to Me“) and so He pulls us through the wringer of sanctification as well. We will be made in His image, progressively (painfully slowly for all of us, I surmise) in this age and immediately in the next.
Evidence of this may be found in the opposite approach to evangelization. When we Reformed proclaim the Gospel, calling that act our evangelization method, we are right and in accord with Scripture. Those who say that people are brought to the Faith by seeing the impact Christ has had in the lives of believers are, usually unawares, preaching a failed system of religion. When a pagan sees a Christian’s “changed life” and is converted, how is he convinced that God is real and Christ died for his sins? All he sees is a happy-trail. Is he not converted to a works-religion that fails on all parts? The new “believer” came in looking at the worldly benefit of salvation, not in the true Gift that God presents to His children. They see a trusting in Christ for relief of pressures, or a solution to marital problems. They see what we have and they want it (who wouldn’t), that sweet disposition, passion for the study of God’s things. It becomes a way out in marital strife and parenting, in job dissatisfaction and social injustice, to cast our cares upon Jesus and become “peacemakers” just as He said. But a Buddhist can pull all that off.
Just for the record, the sweetness and light Christian witness is going to crumble eventually. Those of us who are “in” know this, and we’re lying to ourselves if we go the route of “witnessing” by our “testimony.” Either to win new converts or to disciple others into greater knowledge and grace. Fooey!
I think we have to (seriously) consider how far down and how subtle the problem is here. A person in the church, who professes the faith, tries his darnedest to keep up and really desires to change may be under the impression that he’s really in there, has hit the spot. And yet the real trusting is not in Christ for the forgiveness of sins but for the relief, that “light yoke” of Christ’s burden. They come in, having heard the gospel of someone’s grand testimony (like mine on the about page) and believe in that rather than the Gospel of the Bible. We may all have that tendency from time to time, at least in a small dose. And it is deadly. It is so close to the Gospel. We trust something. We’re even able to say the words “not me but God” and believe them. But it doesn’t sink in that it’s salvation we’re looking for, not relief or a program. This misconception sure sounds viable to me. I think it is a result of us just not being able to conceive of Man as what he really is and therefore pinning our arms, disabling them so we cannot reach out to our Savior in belief and trust.
This is almost identical in our sanctification as in our initial salvation. We can be misled by a testimony that is not our Lord’s testimony.
That right there leads me to think that good works is a product, not a pursuit of the faithful. We want the works, we do the works, we do pursue them, but in the end it almost just happens. Remember the despair in Isaiah, and then again when Paul likens his righteousness and works to pure rubbish? When in Romans 7 he presents the Horrible Equation of the Christian life? I do what I don’t want to do and then I don’t do what I want to do? That is it, right there, for works. God works in us to will and to do His things. Even our decisions are dependent on His good will. Wretched men that we are, who will rescue us from these bodies of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; — Isaiah 64:6
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. — Philippians 3:8
Experience didn’t save me. Experience won’t keep me saved. My comfort is most often in looking back, at the facts, of what has happened in my life. But the inspiration for continuing is my ongoing exposure to the Gospel and Sacraments. Perseverance and sanctification are supplied by God. Through His declaration, demonstration and application in my life. Not my experience and broken thumbnails.
So we come full circle to “what do we do?” We are in the church, in the brotherhood of the saints. We are in the sanctuary, receiving the gifts of God, His means of grace and fellowshipping with each other. We grow in grace and truth, faithfully yes, but in His faithful application. We increase in our trust and desire for Him, His ways and His Word which produces fruit. Yes, we worry and sweat over our salvation, grinding our teeth and fingers into the work set before us, but Christ’s burden truly is light, for in the end our efforts are fueled by Him. It’s a trust exercise, get it? Like closing our eyes, trying not just to know but to know that there’s a team behind us, catching us as we fall back off the stump. Man, it hurts to let go of balance and lean back, and it’s scary and painful in the air as we plunge to the depths of trust, unable to feel our way down. But the sweet, sweet refrain of trusting Him finally being realized, even in the little things, is ecstasy in the light of day.