Do something non-religious for Jesus

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When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?”

11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”

14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.” 

– Luke 3:7-14 [New Living Translation]

Shadows and Steps | Koblenz, Germany | December 2021

Apology in advance. Please don’t let this stop you from reading on…]

Maybe you’ve heard the slightly irreverent joke about the plane that was nearly about to crash land. People were yelling and screaming. Some were trying to call their loved ones. Others were paralyzed in fright. Someone finally said, “We’re all gonna die! Someone do something religious!” So one man got up and took up an offering. I guess that’s a religious thing to do.

I’ve been intrigued ever since it was pointed out to me that John the Baptizer doesn’t tell anyone in the crowd coming to him to do something religious. He doesn’t tell them to go make an offering. He doesn’t tell them to go to the priest and offer a prayer. He does’t tell them to get back to going to worship. All these are good things. Jesus will occasionally tell people to do such things. All of them are appropriate. But none of those were the problem he addresses. 

Rather, he tells them to share their goods and possessions. He says that they should be content with their pay. He directs them to do the right thing by collecting no more tax than is actually due. (Tax collectors were doubly hated in those days because they not only worked for the Roman government, but took as much extra that they could get away with and kept that extra for themselves.) These are the real-life applications of the reign and rule of God in one’s life. Worship: to be sure. Prayer: it’s a must. Offerings: it’s commanded (Psalm 96:8). But John realizes that outward acts of righteousness can cover unbelieving hearts. 

The most important righteousness anyone can have is the righteousness of faith before God. That is God’s gift for the sake of Jesus. It’s through faith, and by God’s grace that we are counted righteous. Works of the law never provide that foundational and essential righteousness that avails before God. 

But that doesn’t mean that good works are to be rejected or despised. One way to think of it is to think of doing our good works as we leave the cross (forgiven, redeemed, and saved). We don’t do them to get to the cross. Another way to do these good things is to do them for the sake of our neighbor, not to get closer to God. 

Yet another way to think of this is to realize that there are two kinds of righteousness. The most important of these two kinds is the first, an alien righteousness. It comes from Jesus and is God’s gracious gift, received by faith alone (see above). It is visible only to God, but witnessed to by the way we live. This is the second kind of righteousness. How I live gives testimony to God’s righteousness in me. In fact it’s not truly possible apart from God’s work in me. I’ve pasted below some of Martin Luther’s writings on this subject. 

The devil will attack us in both ways. He will try to lead us away from faith in Jesus and therefore to abandon  the righteousness of Christ that saves. He will also tempt us to behave poorly toward others. Whether it’s motivated by or an appeal to selfishness, fear, anger, lust, or greed, Satan delights to lead us to disobey God and harm our neighbor. 

I’m a big fan of prayer, worship, giving, and all manner of godly religious practices. That’s good. But the true evidence of that is the way I treat my neighbor. I hope that as you and I have any interactions they will testify to God’s work in my heart and the presence of Jesus’ righteousness – through faith, by grace.

 

 

Two Kinds of Righteousness

By
The Reverend Father
Martin Luther

 Brethren, “have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of god, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”  [Phil.  2:5-6]

[1] There are two kinds of Christian righteousness, just as man’s sin is of two kinds.  The first is alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without.  This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith, as it is written in I Cor. 1:30:  “whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”  In John 11:25-26, Christ himself states:  “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me…..shall never die.”  Later he adds in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  This righteousness, then, is given to men in baptism and whenever they are truly repentant.  Therefore a man can with confidence boast in Christ and say:  “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.”  Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is his bride’s and she all that is his—for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh[Gen. 2:24]—so Christ and the church are one spirit [Eph. 5:29-32].  Thus the blessed God and Father of mercies has, according to Peter, granted to us very great and precious gifts in Christ [II Pet. 1:4].  Paul writes in II Cor. 1:3; “Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

[2] This inexpressible grace and blessing was long ago promised to Abraham in Gen. 12:3; “And in thy seed (that is in Christ) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”  Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” “To us,” it says, because he is entirely ours with all his benefits if we believe in him, as we read in Rom. 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?”  Therefore everything which Christ has is ours, graciously bestowed on us unworthy men out of God’s sheer mercy, although we have rather deserved wrath and condemnation, and hell also.  Even Christ himself, therefore, who says he came to do the most sacred will of his Father [John 6:38], became obedient to him; and whatever he did, he did it for us and desired it to be ours, saying, “I am among you as one who serves” [Luke 22:27].  He also states, “This is my body, which is given for you” [Luke 22:19].  Isaiah 43:24 says, “You have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities.”

[3] Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours.  Therefore the Apostle calls it “the righteousness of God” in Rom. 1:17; For in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed…; as it is written, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” Finally, in the same epistle, chapter 3:28, such a faith is called “the righteousness of God”:  “We hold that a man is justified by faith.”  This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ.  On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he.  It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him.  This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam.  It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more.

[4] It is in this sense that we are to understand the prayer in Psalm 30: “in thee, O Lord, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame; in thy righteousness deliver me!”  It does not say “in my” but “in thy righteousness,” that is, in the righteousness of Christ my God which becomes ours through faith and by the grace and mercy of god.  In many passages of the Psalter, faith is called “the work of the Lord,” “confession,” “power of God,” “mercy,” “truth,” “righteousness.”  All these are names for faith in Christ, rather, for the righteousness which is in Christ.  The Apostle therefore dares to say in Gal. 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  He further states in Eph. 3:14-17:  “I bow my knee before the Father . . . that . . . he may grant . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

[5] Therefore this alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone—while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ—is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone.  Christ daily drives out the old Adam more and more in accordance with the extent to which faith and knowledge of Christ grow.  For alien righteousness is not instilled all at once, but it begins, makes progress, and is finally perfected at the end through death.

[6] The second kind of righteousness is our proper righteousness, not because we alone work it, but because we work with that first and alien righteousness.  This is that manner of life spent profitably in good works, in the first place, in slaying the flesh and crucifying the desires with respect to the self, of which we read in Gal. 5:24, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  In the second place, this righteousness consists in love to one’s neighbor, and in the third place, in meekness and fear towards God.  The Apostle is full of references to these, as is all the rest of Scripture.  He briefly summarizes everything, however, in Titus 2:12, “ In this world let us live soberly (pertaining to crucifying one’s own flesh), justly (referring to one’s neighbor), and devoutly (relating to God).”

The remainder of this article may be found at http://www.mcm.edu/~eppleyd/luther.html

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