Thursday, September 10, 2015

Good Works, Forgiven Sins

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking [1] and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:6-11 (ESV)

“But for those who are self=seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” So name it and claim it. Go ahead now, usurp the prayer of Jabez, make it yours. Or perhaps we should make long speeches about how our country is going to lose favor with God, by which we mean our economy is going to tank, and we will all be out of work, if we don’t put the Ten-Commandments back in the schools, and return to church. May be we should start doing more good works so we can save up extra jewels for our crowns in heaven.
Christianity is sold this way today, the way to make the American dream come true for you. I’m always a little perplexed by this. God shows no partiality. If he did, reading scripture would give one the impression that perhaps he is more partial to the poor than the rich. Blessed are the poor for theirs is he Kingdom of heaven. Though, the rich aren’t shut out of the kingdom of God either. It’s sort of fascinating to read the Bible with the dichotomy of rich and poor in mind. I have run into some who think they are more blessed for being poor, and despise the rich with jealous hatred. James says it is the rich who oppress. Paul has nothing but praise for the rich believers who make his ministry possible. Personally, I’m more inclined to follow Paul’s lead.
No, one wants to be poor. And there really is no reason to stay poor if honest opportunity presents itself to you to get ahead. You won’t lose favor with God for being able to take care of your family. And a person can thank God when these opportunities present themselves. He is the source of all good things, even all earthly goods.
But one should be wary of those who preach Christ as if it was a sin to be poor, or that Christ is some sort of fairy god-mother there to give you everything.
Self-seeking, that is selfishness is not a stranger to religion. And if you read this passage divorced from its context and anchor in Christ and the forgiveness of sins, it would actually promote self-seeking, selfish behavior in the name of religion. God promises honor and peace for those who do good. There is a natural human tendency to judge works on their outward appearance by human standards as if God judged the merit of a work in the same way that humans do. Doing good is more complicated than that. In fact doing good is impossible apart from him who alone is good, Jesus Christ. He alone can make our works good, he alone can forgive and change our hearts, so that what we do is motivated by love.
The world thinks that morals are all that matter. Be good they say. No one is good, but God alone. No one does good. We do things that appear good to the human heart, and in a secular manner that is all well and good. But it does not cut it for him who shows no partiality. This is especially true when these works are done for the purpose of selfishness, the self-seeking salvation apart from the cross of Christ that offers tribulation in the midst of this world.

By forgiving our sins, by giving us salvation, by washing us clean and sanctifying us in the flood of baptism, Jesus removes the selfish motives. He does not allow us to claim anything in his presence, no righteousness, no good works, no self-earned sanctification. We earn nothing. We are given everything. And only then by removing the selfish motives of doing good, by freely giving to us everything we ever thought we could earn by doing good, do good works truly become possible. Good works are then, in all reality, sins that have been forgiven.  

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