Sunday after Trinity
ďGoing Home JustifiedĒ
August 31, 2003
is more important: What God does for us or what we do for God?
What God says to us or what we say to God? Obviously, what God does and says matters more than what we
do and say. Or maybe this
isnít so obvious.
donít have to go to church to pray.
You can talk to God anywhere, any time.
That is, if you know Him. If
you donít know God, how can you pray to Him?
Folks who are more interested in their own words than in Godís
words will argue that they donít need to go to church to worship God.
What they really mean is that they want to talk to God but they
donít want to listen to God talk to them.
They think what they have to say is more important than what God
has to say. And when they
talk to God they invariably talk about what they have done, as if
Godís works pale into insignificance when compared with their own
teaches us that Godís words and Godís works are far more important
than our words and our works. Jesus
teaches us why we need to go to church.
We need to go to church in order to be justified.
We need God to forgive us our sins.
This forgiveness is grounded in what God has done, not in what we
have done. This forgiveness
is given to us by what God says, not by what we say.
people would rather come to church to hear a message of what we should
be doing for God than to hear a message of how God has done for us in
Christ. This is because people are more interested in their own
achievements than they are in the suffering and death of Jesus. The Bible speaks both of what Christ has done for us and what
we do for Christ. Jesus
gave His life for us. We
live our lives for him. The
two go together. The
theological terms are justification and sanctification.
Justification is God forgiving us all our sins on account of
Christ dying for us. Sanctification
is God living in us and doing good deeds through us as He enables us to
live for him. They go
together. Both are important. But
what is more important? What
should we emphasize? What
we do for God? Or what God
does for us?
Pharisee in the parable represents those who believe that what we do for
God is most important. And,
of course, he thanked God for all the good things he did for God.
ďGod I thank you that I am not as other men.Ē To God be the glory. Give
God the credit. There, but
for the grace of God, go I. That
could have been his prayer.
cares about being good, and he must see his goodness.
He sees it by comparing himself with others: robbers, evildoers,
adulterers, or even as the tax collector.
And shouldnít he thank God for not being one of these people?
It was bad enough that tax collectors worked for Rome with Rome
promoting all sorts of sinful idolatry.
In addition to that, the tax collectors made their money by
cheating people. Like
robbers and adulterers, tax collectors did real harm to people.
They did not serve God. They
openly despised God. The
Pharisee was appalled at their brazen disregard for Godís law.
He knew God was merciful, but he also knew that folks regularly
abused Godís mercy and used it as an excuse for ignoring their duty to
God. That was wrong. Their
sin was intolerable to the Pharisee.
His faith was focused on what he did for God.
fasted, not once, but twice a week.
He tithed, not just a tenth of his net income, but a tenth of
everything he owned. He was
a confident man, a man enthusiastic about living a holy life.
He was a man who thanked God.
his prayer was not to God. It
was to himself. When your
faith is focused on what you do Ė even when you give God the thanks,
even when you give God the credit Ė your faith is vain because it is
self-centered. You want to
see your goodness? You want
to celebrate your Christian service, commitment, and your devotion to
God? You want to focus on
what you do for God? Then
look to your model, the Pharisee in the Temple.
And listen to Jesus when He says that that man did not leave the
Temple justified. He
despised mercy for himself and for others and God does not cast His
pearls before swine.
tax collector represents those who are more concerned about what God
does for them than about what they do for God.
He compares himself to no one.
He sees only Godís demands and he knows he hasnít met them.
He cannot see the fruit of his faith.
He isnít interested in anything good he has ever thought, said
or done. He only knows that
whatever he has done for God cannot undo his own sin, and for that, he
is crushed. Look at him and
see sorrow Ė not the sorrow of the innocent victim bemoaning his loss,
but the sorrow of the guilty person who mourns his own guilt.
He has anguish and self-loathing.
doesnít he compare himself to others?
Because he knows his biggest problem is not the sin out there Ė
the sin of others Ė but the sin in here, inside him.
When the Pharisee speaks of his own doings for God, he lists
them. He gets specific. But
when the tax collector speaks of his own sin against God, he specifies
nothing, there would simply be too much.
And he doesnít quibble over what is or isnít sin, he
doesnít excuse himself, he doesnít even try to mitigate his guilt,
and he makes no promises that he will do better. He pleads for mercy.
Thatís all. Thatís
all he can do.
the word that Jesus uses here for mercy means more than a general plea
for Godís pity and compassion. It
is a specific plea for forgiveness.
Literally, he is asking God to set aside his anger on account of
the sacrifice of the promised Savior.
The tax collector pleads what God promised in the Savior.
The prayer of the tax collector is well summed up in the words of
is your faith focused? On
what you do for God or on what God does for you?
Do you find it tiresome to come to church Sunday after Sunday and
hear the same message of Christís crucifixion for sinners?
Do you think that there is something bigger and better that God
has to give you? Do you
want to go beyond the message of the cross to a more positive message of
your own victorious living? Do
you think that perhaps there is too much mention of sin and forgiveness,
that there must be something more powerful, more joyful, more uplifting
than the message of the blood, suffering, and death of Jesus?
walk with the tax collector to the corner of the Temple and beat your
breast and bare your soul to God. Before
you ask what you can do for your Lord, how you can serve him, look at
how much you need His service. Look
at Him suffering for you, look at His death.
Look at Him shed His innocent blood to take your place.
Then see the fruit of that blood!
From that holy sacrifice for you, God will work every good
desire, word or deed you will ever do.
Forget about your doings. Forget
about celebrating your victory over this or that sin.
Forget about all the good things you want to do for God.
Instead, look at Jesus suffering for you. That is the focus of your faith, because that is the basis,
the ground, the cause, and the source of the forgiveness of all your
sins. We treasure the
gospel of Christís suffering and death for us, because from that comes
Godís word to us today and every day of our lives:
I do forgive you, I have washed your sins away, I have set aside
my anger, I am reconciled.
treasure what God has done for us.
We treasure Jesus: His holy living, His humble serving, His
bitter suffering, His innocent dying, His victorious rising, His
intercession at the right hand of the Father.
We treasure Jesus Ė His words and his work Ė as a greater and
more precious gift than all the works of all the holy people piled on
top of one another.
you want to offer God your sincere and acceptable service?
Do you want to give to God your body as a living sacrifice?
Do you want to devote yourself wholly to the praise of Godís
glory and so live a sanctified life in which the Holy Spirit lives in
you and through you? Is
this what you sincerely want?
it is, you must first forget every demand God makes of you.
You must ignore every accusation of His law. You must leave behind every failure, tossing away every
regret, and hold on to Christ Who has met every demand, Who has covered
your every failure and Who exchanges His life for yours.
When Christ and His words and His works are our glory, we are
born from above to live a new life.
is an amazing thing. The
more attention paid to Christ and to His works and the less paid to us
and to ours, the more we are equipped by God to live the holy lives he
calls us to live. First we
leave the Temple justified, then and only then can we live the life of a
Christian. God does good works through the one who sees no good works of
his own, but clings instead to Jesus, wanting and needing nothing more.
Where our broken hearts are joined to the sacrifice of Jesus on
Calvary; where our God speaks his pardon to our souls; there is our
faith and there is the foundation for every good thing we will ever do.
Only those who have received mercy can live a life of mercy.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus