Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Whose faith saves . . .

As I commented at both services this week, this is one of those rare weeks when I am thrilled that we have the Bulletin. I am absolutely convinced that some of us needed to be reminded of the counterintuitive nature of God’s sovereign hand in the world, as evidenced by our reading from Numbers and even from John. I am equally sure, however, that there are among us those who needed to hear one of the harder, but most liberating, example of that counter-intuition.

When we hear the phrase “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing,” what do you hear? Whose faith is saving you? So often, we fall into that trap of believing that it is our faith in Christ Jesus that saves us. Prosperity gospel preachers prey on this misunderstanding. They tell the widow that she was not given the riches of heaven because she withheld money from God. They tell the man seeking healing that his doubt was stronger than his faith, and so God did not heal. Over and over we hear examples where people think that their salvation, their condition in life, their success or failure is somehow determined by their own efforts. It is particularly tragic and millstone worthy, however, when pastors tell members of their flock that their faith was lacking. Of course it is lacking! We are human beings dead through the sins that we live. Our bodies have not been replaced; our hearts have not yet been circumcised; we do not yet in all things and in all places love to do His will. We are still sinners! No matter how much we will endeavor not to sin, each of us will find ourselves in need of repentance and absolution the next time we gather at the Eucharist.

So, to ask the question again, whose faith is saving you? Paul, in this short passage from his letter to the church in Ephesus is reminding each one of us that it is Jesus’ faith in the Father that saves us. What? How can this be? Think about it for just a moment. If it was our faith that saved us, if it was our faith that healed us, if it was our faith that provided for us, then we really could boast. “I was healed because I am so faithful.” “God gave me riches because I am so faithful.” In a way, we would fall into the same trap as the Pharisee who praised God that he was not like the tax collector. We could be haughty and proud because we are not like the others.

Yet God reminds us at all times and in all places in Scriptures that we all stand in the same place before His majestic throne. The cross reminds us that we are all sinners before Him. And that recognition that we are all the same, that we are all alike ought to motivate us to love all our neighbors as ourselves.

But Paul’s teaching today is more concerned with a reminder of the prevalence of God’s grace in all our lives. Who’s faith saves us? Christ’s faith in the Father saves us. We believe that Jesus was His Son and that the Bible is true, but it is Jesus’ ultimate faith in the Father which raises both Him and later us to new life! You and I, Paul is saying here, are not betting our salvation on our own faith, as if our belief or unbelief will save or condemn us. No, the real grace, the real Good News is that Jesus’ faith is what saves us. And because He was raised that Easter morning so long ago, we know His faith was perfect, and the only faith worth a boast. We live because He lives! We can hope, because His faith is perfect.


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