Pressing On

"And we shall be like Him..." (I John 3:2)


While organiziing things in my garage I became distracted, as I often am, by my books. I picked up a slim volume called "Luther Discovers the Gospel" and took a seat to skim through this concise, illuminating volume. The book is stimulating in its own way. While reading I noted a pattern iin the way God works with regards to His manner of redeeming us. Let me explain.

Martin Luther was a Catholic priest who was also a profoundly earnest seeker. At a certain point in time, in the year 1518, he had an encounter with the risen Christ, experienced the peace that passes understanding, was justified before God, and by faith was cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ. He discovered that faith does not justify us as a human "work", but because it apprehends or grasps the mercy that is revealed in Christ. This was a profound revelation. He was cleansed and he knew he was cleansed, not because of worthiness due to his efforts to follow God, but by the merciful sacrifice of God's son on our behalf.

But Martin Luther did not stop there. And this is the pattern I want to draw attention to. Luther, touched by God and born again by His Spirit, then dug into the Scriptures to understand what this meant. The impact of Luther's life, like Paul's who encountered the Lord on the Damascus Road, was made profound not simply by the encounter, but by the years of study that followed as he sought to understand the meaning of this revelation and apply it to the whole of his life.

Ultiimately, both Paul and Luther came to understand that this first encounter was only a beginning, and that the rest of one's life is a commitment to "work out one's salvation with fear and trembling."

How can this be? Are we saved or not saved when we find peace with God through the Cross? The answer is that yes, in coming to the Cross and being born again we have become members of the community of the redeemed. Our work, however, is not complete. The ultimate aim of this new life in union with Him is to become like Him. To be like Christ is our glorious end.

Yet everything militates against this. We live in a world that so easily distracts us, and as a result we so easily lose our way. We forget this high calling to which we have been called. The important attitude on this path is humility, an attitude the goes against our human nature. In fact, all the messages of our culture feed this human nature. "You deserve a break today..."

In myself I have noticed that as I get older I'm tempted to believe I have the right to get more easily irritated with poor service or attitudes I dislike. I am beginning to understand why many old people are crotchety curmudgeons. We simply say, "I have put up with enough for one life, and that's it. Now they have to put up with me." I have seen the nub of it in myself, so I know it can be that way. But such is not the path our Lord took, and it is not the path to becoming like Him.

Instead of being quick to find fault we must become quick to hear, discerning listeners and teachable. Instead of ever justifying ourselves we must exhibit the humility of our Lord, who was willing to be a lamb led to slaughter, not condemning His accusers but actually praying for them saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

This is real stuff and it touches all of us. Who among us is living a consistent or perfect life without blemish in thought, word or deed? Our confidence in God is usually paltry when tested. Our joy is too often based on circumstances, not on our knowledge that God is in us, working through us in all things to accomplish His purposes. Our love is all too often fickle, falling far short of the utterly self-sacrifice demonstrated by our Lord who so fully identified with us that He was willing to suffer in a fallen world as we have all struggled and suffered. How quick we are to anger, how slow to forgive.

And so it is we have been called to follow a different pattern, God's pattern. Yes, we come to Christ and are born again, but all of us know this is only a first step. The journey is for life. As Christina Rosetti puts it:

Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's long journey take the whole long day?
From morn till night, my friend.

In truth the admonishment to "work out our salvation" is seldom followed with enthusiasm. For the same reasons we usually dislike exercise, we dislike hardship, dislike applying ourselves, dislike going the extra mile.

The rewards for pressing on, however, are incomprehensible. Dear friends, let's not quit the path. We're being tested here, and the test will show us what we're made of. Don't be ashamed if you fall short... humble yourselves and press on. The promise is glorious. We shall be like Him.

copyright 2004 ~ ed newman

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