Here is a thought for the day (I am preaching through Galatians so this post is really sermon-thinking prep)
My dear pal who isn't yet a Christian is always asking about 'Christians' and why they live exactly the same way as those who aren't. Aren't they supposed to live a different kind of life from us non-Christians he wonders?
I tell him they (we) are saved by grace not by works.
What an interesting thought though.
Is perhaps the answer that some of those 'Christians' might not actually be 'Christians' at all but are just religious people going through the motions (living by the law). That's very judgemental you cry but seemingly so was Paul. In my passage he says 'Mark my words!' and then tells them to go and cut their bits off...He really does (5 v 12).
A forthright explanation and revisiting of 'Justification by faith' might help explain the gospel for my questioning friend and speak it anew to my own hard heart. But here's the thing -I know this because I was a 'Christian' who wasn't one so I feel qualified to at least comment on my own legalistic heart- you'll have to decide about yours. Keller too was born again after he thought he already was (he would say it happened while studying for his MA after he had been ordained)
To be a Christian is to be justified by faith in Christ. By what He has done not how we perform or the things we do-good or bad. Good news methinks. I know this you say.
Why is it then that so many Christian's (the hand-waving, Alphary, 'quiet timey' tithing (10% ish) bible-owning , not indicative of actually it being read, proper one's like you and me) seem to so often have exactly the same priorities, aspirations, risk-free, consumeristic, materialistic, inability to bear pain, comfort-oriented outlook as all those people we often so un-helpfully describe as 'non-Christians'.
If I knew I was already justified, secure and assured of every good thing and destined to live forever free from pain and death in eternity why then are most of us proper 'Christians' not living more radically, worrying less, giving away more, taking more risks, open to the possibility of sacrifice and suffering in order to serve others in love and why are we not a bit more joy-filled? We only have a blink before we go to glory so why would you choose to live the same idolatry-saturated dull life all those people on the wide road we so often describe as 'non-Christians' are living? In what sense then is my road and your road 'narrow' as Jesus says the true believers road needs to be? Worth pondering that....
Bless them, so many in my own church are indeed on the narrow road and full of joy. I am constantly amazed by them. We also preach this 'grace and justification stuff' a wee bit from the pulpit which helps.
Be honest though, and this is the heart test for each one of us -does your, or put another way, will your ultimate joy spring from your performance/ marital status/ achievements/ family/ house/ bank balance/wardrobe/car/health/children/
comfort/ church/ communion-taking/pension/ religious attendance or from what Jesus has already done for you on the blood-soaked cross? Realistically is my own effort and performance (the Galatians word is 'righteousness') ever going to add enough bonus points to justify myself over His performance and record? It would be folly to believe such a thing yet it seems so many do. His CV or yours is the decision.
Here's the nub.The trouble is most people (all of us in fact by nature) are trying to be justified by everything apart from grace through Christ. We are hard-wired for works not grace. In a nutshell, correct me if I am wrong, but that's called not being a Christian (or in Romans /Galatians speak 'justification by law'). The Cross is then of no value (Gal 5). And living by the law sounds to me like a fairly joy-sapping, dull, same life as all the other noddies existence.
Most of us are actually choosing to be justified.....
1. Through the performance of our careers and the salary we attain (Jesus and the NT are oddly rather silent on the idea of a 'career')
2. Through the numbers who attend our church or the fact we are planting a church.
3. Through the way we look, the car we drive and the clothes we wear.
4. Through how well our children perform and the school they attend.
5. Through the way our peers (for that read other mothers, friends, church leaders, kids at school or people we went to university with) perceive us.
6. Through the amount of 'good' and 'justice' we bring to people (particularly as compared to those other nasty people who don't care about such things).
7. Through the amount we read/ blog and our education/intelligence/ learning/theological understanding/the soundness of our doctrine
8. Through the fact that one day we will be a somebody in the church (have a big church, publish a book, wear purple, speak at a conference, have a reputation, be 'in charge' of a significant thing or gain a phd)
9. Through having a perfect house in the perfect place and practicing recycling.
10. Through being the one person who understands justification in a way others don't by writing a rather superior blog post.
You are justified by Jesus. End of. Finished. Just Jesus. Jesus plus nada. Not Jesus plus baptism, not Jesus plus tongues and charismatic gifts and experiences, not Jesus plus moral living, not Jesus plus weekly 8am BCP communion attendance, not Jesus plus have a quiet time, not Jesus plus no sex before marriage, not Jesus plus justice and charitable giving, not Jesus plus confession, not Jesus plus join a home group, not Jesus plus tithe, not Jesus plus three worship songs all in a row, not Jesus plus no drinking. Nothing extra. Just Jesus. Nothing else. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.
That dear friends is freedom. That dear friends is good news.
Here is what you might like to do. Go into the Redeemer apple podcast (oh no you groan, he's not on about him again:), download it and listen to the latest sermon called 'Justified by faith' (25th May 2012).
Listen to it repeatedly till what you hear sinks in.
And here's a thought -some of you might even become Christian's (I did so it's not entirely out of the question) and then just imagine how such a life might impact my 'non-Christian' friend. You never know when he sees the sacrificial life you then live joyfully and free (5 v 1) through the Spirit (v 5) out of justification by faith he might even decide to become a Christian too (depends whether you think my friend will decide or God by his mercy and grace does (Eph 2:8-9) but that's another post for another day).
I'd love it if my friend became a follower. Now that really would be good news.....