Not Our Performance But God’s Gift
Every other religion in the world is all about our performance, following a code of behavior or fulfilling a prescribed set of rituals.
Everyone who claims to be a Muslim, for instance, must follow the “Five Pillars of Islam:” 1) Daily recite: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” 2) Pray five times a day facing Mecca. 3) Give alms. 4) Fast during the holy month of Ramadan. 5) Make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once.
Our performance. It’s at the heart of every man-made religion.
Christianity does begin with our performance – or rather, our lack of performance according to God’s commands. God’s code of behavior enshrined in the Ten Commandments exposes our sin and our inability to perform, our failures and our brokenness, all of which lead ultimately to our death. God’s purpose is to show us our need for the gift He wants to give. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
At its heart, then, Christian faith is not a code of behavior – five (or ten) things you’ve got to do. Christianity is a person – Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, crucified and raised to life for us. At its heart, Christian faith is an ongoing, living relationship with a living Lord. Our salvation is God’s action from start to finish. Christ did everything we could not do.
God in our flesh, Christ kept God’s Law perfectly. And then, when He was tortured to death on the cross, in perhaps the greatest miracle imaginable, He took upon Himself every sin ever committed and suffered every punishment we deserve. According to the terms of this exchange, everything we have done is given to Jesus. And everything Jesus has done is credited to us.
This means that every believer in Jesus now has the same favor with God, the same access to God, the same assurance of eternal life that Jesus does. When we come before God in faith, He does not turn us away in judgment, but He sees us through Jesus Christ.
Yet Jesus visibly walked the earth nearly 2000 years ago. Where do we find Him present for us now?
You do not find Jesus by searching your heart or going on a spiritual quest. He finds you by means of His Word and Sacrament.
God speaks our language. And it begins not just with the Bible, but with Jesus Himself, who is God’s Word made flesh. When you read the Bible, God Himself is speaking with you. When your Pastor brings you God’s Word in the sermon, God Himself is speaking to you. When you tell others of Jesus’ love, God is using you for His mouthpiece.
In order to be sure we would have His Word, God caused it to be written down for us: “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The Scriptures are true because they are God’s Word and God’s Word cannot lie. Then, to see to it that the Word is proclaimed, Christ gathers the church and institutes the gospel ministry.
The Word of God doesn’t just tell us about God, but it brings us Jesus Himself and, by His Spirit, brings us into a relationship with Him. This happens also in Baptism and Holy Communion, sometimes called “the visible Word.” These are not mere symbols standing for something that is really somewhere else. But in these sacraments God Himself is at work. In Baptism God buries us with Christ and raises us to life in Him. In Communion Jesus Himself gives His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. In the word of absolution, Jesus Himself speaks the Word of forgiveness.
What is Christianity? It’s Jesus – trusting Him, and receiving Him where He promises to be. That’s the point our confession makes when it says: “For through the Word and Sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel, that is to say, in those who hear that God, not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace on account of Christ” (Augsburg Confession V [Latin text], Kolb/Wengert, p. 41).
Look for more on all this in the future!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President, LCMS
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