(originally posted May 10th, 2008)
Some people love the religion game. They love to talk a real good game , but when it comes right down to it, they are just like the rest of us…incapable of being ‘Jesus-like for more than a minute or two…if that’s even possible.
How can this be? The Bible surely tells us in Jesus’ own words what He expects from us. And the Bible is replete with examples of Jesus’ own works. So there it is; a road map clearly drawn. Open and follow. “What must I do to inherit eternal life”, the lawyer asked Jesus, Jesus answered, “What does the law say?”( There it is…the first part of the Law/Gospel paradigm) The lawyer answered, “You shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to him, “You have answered rightly, do this and you shall live.”
You want to be more Jesus-like? There it is. “Go and do, and you shall live.”
What does doing what Jesus said we need to do to live have to do with being more Jesus-like? Everything! Jesus was all about loving, and being faithful to the Father with everything He had , and loving everyone else as Himself. You want to be Jesus-like…then do that. That’s all. It’s not complicated. You don’t need 3 Spiritual advisors and a dozen different books to figure it out. You don’t need to pour over the scriptures looking for clues and hidden tidbits in obscure passages for the divine secrets that will reveal the formula. There is one formula. ” Go and do”.
We just love that, don’t we? Give me a list and let me go. I can start knockin’ ’em down and checkin’ ’em off. ‘I’m on my way! Better and better each day!’
“Well, God would never have told us to do something if we didn’t have the ability to do it!”
Pelagius said the same thing. He was a 4th century monk who denied the doctrine of original sin and said that we carry within ourselves the goodness required to do God’s Law.
Even though Pelagius’ teachings were branded by the early Church as heretical, they’re still alive and well today, living in the hearts and minds of many Christians, and as practical doctrine in many Christian churches.
‘A little bit of God and a little bit of me.’
“So what’s with all that ‘Sermon on the Mount’ language that Jesus used, giving us a list of to-do’s and to-don’ts?”
Jesus was re-presenting the Law of God, just as Moses had done earlier, but this time Jesus left us no wiggle room. He laid down the law and He laid it down hard. “If you even look at a woman in that way…” “Do not worry…” “If your right eye causes you to sin pluck it out” “Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
“OK…that’s a pretty good starter list…let me get to work on it.” What! You can’t even begin to work on it. You are done…as I am done. The things on that list that Jesus used are not meant to spur you to improvement…they are meant to drive you to despair…to kill you off to your own religious project…to stop you from thinking that you’ve ever got a shot at becoming what the law demands.
Nope. We still want to become more like God. We still think that we can muster up just enough goodness to make a difference. “I want to become more Jesus-like if it kills me!”
In explaining the first article of the Apostle’s Creed in the small catechism, Luther writes that we “owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”
Of course we do! The law is still in place. But Luther was no fool. He realized that while what he said is true, we ought do those things, he also realized that we cannot do those things with the pure hearts and untainted motives that God requires of us.
So Luther, understanding our core problem, writes this in explaining the third article of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith…”
There is the gospel side of the Law/Gospel paradigm.
The law always accuses, and the gospel always gives life; frees us of the accusation.
You want to be more Jesus-like? Then jump off the WWJD bandwagon and live in the freedom that He has won for you on the cross and in your baptism, and that He gives to you in the preached Word, and whenever the Sacrament of the Altar is offered.
Let God be God, and you be you. Isn’t that enough, anyway?
– Steve Martin
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