This Sunday in DiscipleChurch I am going to ask us to abide with Paul.
Do you feel that you are in a right relationship with God? Not just a relationship, but a right one?
If you feel this, on what basis are you in such a relationship?
Or…do you feel you are not, but yearn to be?
If so, on what basis do you hope to realize this relationship?
For those of you who feel you have found such a relationship, is it because God’s love and forgiveness are so great that you are admitted to this right relationship freely and without any response by you to that love? So is this relationship one sided? So is this a relationship at all? Or do you feel that to presume that a right relationship with God is not one-sided is just that, a sinful presumption on any human’s part. I have heard it said many times, “Let God be God.” So is a right relationship with God a completely one-sided gift from God to you, and all you can do is accept it without presuming to respond in a way that is worthy of being called a response? What do you call a one-sided relationship with another person? A “relationship” at all? But, again, how may any human presume to reciprocate or to merit a right relationship with God?
Or do you feel that you have reached this right relationship because of your right beliefs about God and Jesus and the Trinity and scripture (……and abortion, birth control, homosexuality, women clergy, predestination, “works righteousness,” Islam….), because of your obedient yielding of your mind to orthodoxy? Do you believe that right belief is the only means to being admitted to this right relationship with God? And that people who do not hold right beliefs are excluded from such a right relationship? And if so…does such right belief, a humble yielding to orthodoxy, amount to just a particular type of work, something that earns you that right relationship?
Or, do you feel that a right relationship with God depends upon your responding to God’s offer with obedience, as Jesus is quoted as demanding in Matthew 7: “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father…”
Or, does a right relationship with God depend only having the feeling of “love” for God? If so, does love not require some responding actions to truly be “love.”
Let’s move this to another setting. If you believe that you will sometime, somehow be required to make some accounting to God of how you spent your gift of life, some reckoning to God, the moment when the totality of your living will be before God, on what basis will the accounting occur? On what basis will you be included or excluded from God’s eternal presence? On the basis of God’s giving, forgiving love alone? On tea sis of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice alone? Independent of any response by you that is faithful to the ethical teachings in scripture, and particularly the ethical demands of Jesus? Independent of whether you tried to live into the Kingdom? Independent of how you treated people, used people, ignored need and suffering? Independent on the way you loved? Or will you be included because you were loving and compassionate and generous? Or will it be because you assented to the right set of beliefs about Jesus? And sought to stamp out false belief, or at least argued against it? Or because you were obedient to the teachings of Jesus? Or because you at least tried to be obedient to the teachings? Most of the time? Sometimes? Once? Or because you attended church and contributed money to the organ or the food bank? Or because you were a good person according to the common-sense, reasonable mores of your time? Or do you think that everyone is included in the eternal presence of God except those who really steped over he line? Really? What’s the line?
Paul dealt with all these issues. A right relationship with God was central to his gospel and to his writing. He dealt with the issue in a bit different language than we are used to, language that takes some unpacking. But he dealt with this issue in spades. And the way he dealt with it, particularly in his letters to the church at Rome and the churches of Galatia, has set the terms of the dealing for Christians throughout the Christian centuries, at least for those of us in the Protestant family tree. Unless you want to write your own gospel, and, boy, do all of us do that at times, you need to pay attention to Paul.
In preparation for Sunday, ask yourself what you feel is the basis of a right relationship with God. In doing so, you might take a look at these passages from Paul:
16 …we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ [the faith of Jesus Christ]. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ [by the faith of Christ], and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by
the works of the law.
21But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ [through the faith of Jesus Christ] for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus [the faith of Jesus Christ].
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
13For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.
|16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham…18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’ 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ 23 …[as] it will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.|
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name.
25Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ…26 to bring about the obedience of faith…