25/10/17 - Pastor Young
There is a tendency among us to want to be self-sufficient, and to do things well ourselves. There's a certain pride that we take in knowing that we've contributed, and that we've done good work.
It's a tendency that's not lost in churches. It's impossible to measure the depths of our relationship with God in meaningful ways, but we attempt to do it anyway. We account for the amount of money we've given to those less fortunate, to missionaries, and to the church; we think upon volunteering hours that we've put in; and we stack up the number of pages that we've read in the Bible.
Is it wrong to do this? Can't we do this, along with depending upon Christ?
We've heard the familiar words from Sunday sermons and worship songs: "in Christ alone my hope is found". But why is it such a big deal? Why were the Reformers so passionate about this, 500 years ago?
About 15 years ago (not quite 500, like the Reformers), I sat in English class asking myself a somewhat related question. We were reading a poem by Robert Frost called "The Road Not Taken," in which the narrator stands before two divergent paths in the woods. He expresses sadness at not being able to take both roads, before deciding to go on the road less travelled. My teacher talked about the choice that the narrator was making, and the fact that he could only choose one road.
I wondered why. Couldn't he just take both roads if he really wanted to?
In the Christian life, we stand before God solely on the merit of Jesus Christ. To attempt to add anything else to it, is not to take both paths, as we may mistakenly believe, but to run headlong down the wrong path.
It's why Martin Luther could find no solace in his climbing the Holy Stairs on his knees while reciting the "Our Father". Instead, he found it after being stripped of any shred of hope in his own good works; he saw that the righteousness of Romans 1:17 was something that God declared upon us--that He counted us as righteous by grace, seeing the righteousness of Christ upon us.
Similarly, Thomas Bilney (the English Reformer that Pastor Steve mentioned on Sunday) desperately desired to earn his salvation, but could find no peace in following all of the prescriptions of the priests around him. He found it instead in the words of 1 Timothy 1:15, through which he realised that Christ saves sinners, like himself!
Bilney could, at this point, look back upon all of the towering works of goodness that he had attempted in the past, and see that it was nothing without Christ's righteousness: "I learned that all my labours, my fasting and watching, all the redemption of masses and pardons, being done without truth in Christ, who alone saves His people from their sins; these I say, I learned to be nothing else but... a hasty and swift running out of the right way."
Hebrews 9:12 tells us that Christ "entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." It is forever. His work is effective for good. And there is nothing that can be added to it.
Galatians 2:21 points out this "running out of the right way" that Bilney spoke of: "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose."
We cannot add anything to Jesus Christ's finishing work upon the cross, and expect to still honour Him. To say that the good things that we do help in any way is to put ourselves on the same level as God, and to say that what He did was not enough. Our attempts at keeping any law in order to attain righteousness is condemnation brought upon us, for if we do this, we must keep every law in order to honour God.
We must be Christ, if we desire to add anything to "in Christ alone" and be declared righteous.
It's clear, then, why one can't simply take both roads when it comes to righteousness. Jesus is the cornerstone, the solid rock that we stand upon, because all other ground sinks beneath our feet.
The challenge for us today is that although we are saved in Christ alone, we still fall into the trap of thinking we can travel down both roads. We believe in the idea of Jesus being our righteousness alone, but functionally, we continue to base our identities around our performance. These performance indicators will differ from person to person. For some, it'll be based around the money that they give; for others, how correct their doctrine is. For all of us, it'll lead to comparison with those around us, which will lead to either pride or despair.
Are you depending on Christ alone? Or is it Christ "plus" something else?
May it be that your hope rests in Christ alone.