Sunday October 28, 2012.
St Petri, Early Service
New people, not only good people
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Friends, one of the enduring points of learning for me from the prodigal God series we did earlier in the year was the line that “God doesn’t want good people, but creates new people”.
I have reflected on that punchy little line and also on the thoughts of Dr Tim Keller on how most people in our age seem to view Christianity. It is often the case that many people seem to think that Christianity is mostly about being good; that God is mostly interested in our behaviour – whether we are being good; doing the right things, living a good life…..
So, when we stumble across a situation in which we get the opportunity to share something of our faith in and following of Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, all that the other person seems to hear is that we and God want them to be good – to change their ways, lift their morals and etc….
This makes me wonder if we are not up against a similar kind of attitude that Luther and the other reformers were up against. In Reformation times, the prevailing attitude was not dissimilar to what it seems to be now.
People were burdened with having to keep God happy by being outwardly religious in their observances of church festivals, morally upright in their local communities, and be seen to be doing the right thing under the watchful eye of the all-powerful church. They were locked into only knowing God and his church as a place where one had to be very good and meet all the expectations of God’s 10 commandments, and of course, church rules and ritual….
I guess the difference between the people then and now is that people now largely don’t actually care what the church says anymore. The status of organised church and religious institutions is very low now, whereas in Reformation times, people felt they had to stave off God’s eternal wrath by keeping all the church rules, lest God visit upon them another plague or some other terrible thing…..
Still, however, the essential direction seems the same among us as it did among them – people generally believe that God is a law-maker and that Christians are all about being good.
In fact, at school, in the workplace and just about everywhere we live, Christians are viewed kill-joys. We are not allowed to swear or say bad things about people or indulge in too much fun etc etc…. Christian kids actually still get this kind of belief thrown at them at school – so this is not only an adult thing – it is a view held by all ages.
But, as Martin Luther and many since have been led to believe, God is much more interested in making us new people, than demanding that we be good people.
God has a much larger heart and will than just law-making and rule keeping. Bu God’s grace, Luther became a messenger of something largely forgotten and misunderstood from the bible. He and the early Reformers rejoiced in the freedom spoken of by Jesus in our text – a complete freedom from trying to keep God happy by being good.
Luther and a billion Christians since have found great freedom and life in the truth that God is mostly interested in creating us to be new people, not just good people.
God’s heart’s desire shown in the teaching, suffering, dying and rising of Jesus of Nazareth, his own dearly loved Son and given to us in his living and active Word, is to re-create us, resurrect us from being incomplete, wayward, self-centred idol makers; our own little gods; to a life of intimacy, love, kindness and community, at peace with him and each other and involved in his mission to draw all people into his family.
So, friend, you need to keep being good to stave off God’s eternal wrath. You could never be good enough to do that anyway.
You can live in the freedom of placing your life in the hands of your Creator who is always saving you from yourself and from evil and re-creating you, resurrecting you into life lived well in Jesus’ love and power, all by his grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.