John 8:31-32, 36 and Romans 3:22-24
Awhile back my husband and I had opportunity to attend a corporate tailgate party. It was at PetCo Park before a game. It had ‘free admission.’ With that free admission we got to go stand around in a parking lot with a bunch of strangers. There was music blaring from some speakers, and depending on where you stood, you could feel the bass in your very bones. We could not carry on a conversation. And that was it.
You might be asking, “What’s a tailgate party without food and beer?”
Oh, there was food there, but we had to pay for that. There is no free lunch, as they say.
And there is no free salvation either.
We were freed by the Son, but it cost him. It cost him dearly. But he is not passing on the costs to us. Salvation is a gift; a precious gift. Jesus went to the cross rather than fight back because he trusted that love is stronger than fear. He believed that God’s power would prevail. So what do we do with that gift? How do we live as Salvation People?
These are the questions we must answer as we live out life in the world.
How shall I fill my days?
What kind of work shall I do?
How shall I go about my work?
How do I treat my family and friends?
What is my attitude toward the stranger?
What are the values and standards by which I live?
What kind of person am I?
None of us answer these questions in a vacuum, however. We are Salvation People. The fact that we are Salvation People informs the context that nuances the questions we ask ourselves. So maybe we ask ourselves the questions this way:
How shall I fill my days, given that I have been saved by grace?
What kind of work shall I do to be a blessing and not a curse?
How do I go about my work so I convey the love of Christ?
How do I conduct myself with my family and friends given that God loves me so much that God would die for me, and also for them?
Even more importantly maybe is the question, How do I treat the stranger, given that there are no strangers to God?
What are the values and standards by which I live, given that I am a disciple of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
I am a Salvation Person, a child of God. That is the kind of person I am.
Maybe you have guessed those are my questions. You might phrase yours differently. You might not have realized you even have answered similar questions, but you have. Each of us have, whether consciously and thoughtfully or subconsciously and automatically. We each answer them out of our own context; as citizens or non-citizens of this country, as male or female, as young or old, by our color, by our style, or any of many other categories.
The values and standards by which I aspire to live are the ones Jesus taught me: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. And ‘Do good to those who persecute you’. I believe it is God’s will that I treat everyone with respect, both those I encounter in person and those whose lives are affected by the choices I make. I do my best to drive my car in such a way to protect all the other people on the road as well as myself. For me it is a matter of respect. That’s just one example. There are hundreds. I do my best each day to be a blessing to my family and my extended family, to the people in my work life, to you, my people at church, to the people in my community. I do my best to come at each day remembering that I am a child of God and so is everybody else. I do my best to fill up my days with beauty and generosity and courageous, hopeful optimism.
Every day we have to live out the life we have decided to live. And if the choices we have made in the past no longer fit our lives, we can make a new decision. Each day we have that opportunity. Each day we get to make the choice: Do I move toward my best self today? Do I live out of the strength of my character? Do I follow in the footsteps of Jesus? Or do I go my own way?
Today is Reformation Sunday. Today in particular we look at the past in order to look to the future. We remember that Martin Luther saw the Church of his day and saw where it did not conform to the gospel. He saw that by the church’s very structure as well as its teaching, it was conveying a message contrary to the gospel; contrary to salvation as a gift from God. They had turned salvation into something that had to be bought, that could be earned. He said that had to change. He suffered for it, of course. Power doesn’t acquiesce easily. But he stuck with it. He taught us that we are not only Salvation People, but we are also Reformation People.
How do we live as Reformation People?
We are a people that recognize the need to be always reforming. Every day is a new start. Every day is an opportunity to get closer to living a gospel kind of life. Every week we confess where we have fallen short and acknowledge our need for God. Sanctification is the 50 cent ‘church word’ for our personal reformation. It is the process of becoming like Christ from living out that salvation we have been given. How do we do that? It is a life-long quest.Let’s be honest, some days we do it really well, and some days we fail miserably. So let’s ponder where we are and where we are going.
In our reading from the Gospel, John 8:31-32 Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (NIV) Notice the “if/then” combination. IF you hold to my teaching. THEN you are really my disciples. We have to look carefully at what Jesus taught to inform our daily choices. We get to look carefully at how Jesus lived as we determine our standards and values to live by. And even so, it is not our standards and values that save us. They are the response to the foundation of our life. Ideally they are the response to our salvation. I, for one, have built my life on the foundation of God’s loving gift of grace.
Paul, in Romans 3:22-24 says it this way: This righteousness (you might also say ‘salvation’ here) is given through through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (NIV) This is good news indeed. ALL are justified FREELY by God’s grace that came through the faithfulness of Jesus. And so I go back to John to wrap this up…
Once again, in John 8:31-32 Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And in verse 36; So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (NIV) You are free to live your life. You are free to determine how to be your best self. You are free to live as Jesus calls you. You are free to listen to the Spirit. The thing is, none of us will follow Jesus exactly like anyone else. We all might be Christian, but we are each going to do it with our own flavor, and that is good. God has made us each one unique. There will be no cookie cutter religion in this church if I can help it! Ask your questions. Wrestle with your doubts. Talk it out. Draw your conclusions. And then do it all again. It is all part of the process, because you see, each day we have to decide what kind of person we will be. Will we be a Reformation People, embracing the need to always be reforming, always be questioning, always be seeking? Each day we get to choose. Each week we get to practice. Each year we’ll do it a little differently as we mature in faith, as our worldview grows, as life happens, as insights come to you… so listen to the Word, pray for wisdom, assess and decide. And then do it all again. And in the midst of it all, remember you are loved. You are free indeed.
And now take a few moments of silence to simply revel in that.
silence for reflection
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world all the time. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Blessings to you,
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.