Monday, May 25, 2009

Obscuring the Gospel with Good Deeds

Luke 18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

This man really believes he is pulling it off as far as keeping the law is concerned. The Pharisees were professional law keepers and actually from the outside it did look like they were more holy then everyone else. They were actually paid to do the law keeping in the relatively new religion of Judaism. This is a different religion then that of the forefathers such as Abraham who knew they were declared righteous apart from any law observance.

God was forgiving and counted the faith of those who have gone before us as righteousness. The older testament tells of the downright awful things the forefathers did. Abraham pretended to be brother to his wife out of fear of a pagan king who lusted after her. His faith as ours faltered at that point in not trusting the promises of God that he would be father of many nations. The Gospels show how Jesus’ closest associates were self centered and were always competing to be the Master’s favourites. In addition each of them took a powder at the arrest of Jesus although their intention was to stick by him. St Paul, in the book of Acts is shown to have an unforgiving heart towards Mark and separated himself from Barnabas having a sharp disagreement. Acts 15:36-41.

In the modern USA we don’t have professional law keepers as such. The modern equivalent is any religious person who looks at his or her deeds as making a real difference on how God beholds them. This religious person could be member of any religion with or without a personal deity. In Christianity, which is different then any other religion in the world, we still have our share of Pharisees. This is a total perversion of the faith delivered to us by Our Lord Jesus and his apostles and foretold by the prophets.

We have Christians who are true believers, captivated by pietism, who make up rules to obey in order to not necessarily be saved but it seems to get more on God’s good side. Most certainly we as lovers of Jesus want to live lives of pious behaviour but at the same time not steal any of the glory from Jesus by thinking we add anything to our salvation.

Also we have what are otherwise true believers in salvation by grace through faith who think that grace is some sort of Holy Spirit steroid in order to become better and better. Granted as time goes on and we mature we will recognize former captivating temptation and avoid the outward act. This is most certainly the case however, we can see those who are unbelievers over time have the ability to modify past behaviour. To rob Jesus of his glory in this way actually shows how sinful and fallen we really are so that our good deeds are actually sins for which Jesus suffered and died.

And still another group who will take one of the ten commands and “specialize” in one of them. This usually plays out in worship which gives rise to what is called worship wars or even the fact of showing up in the first place. These are personal preferences of what people find most meaningful and how that God also, of course, requires what is meaningful to them. Therefore he looks more kindly upon them then he would otherwise and they can praise God they are not like the congregation down the street. Granted we need be careful of what we say and do in response to the gifts of the forgiveness of sin which Jesus gives us. Not in order to somehow get more blessing but rather in saying back to God the words he gave us it actually drives home deep into our hearts and minds the blessedness of the true Gospel.

These are some of the ways that even true believers in Jesus will insult and obscure his Gospel which he accomplished by his perfect life, innocent sufferings and death. All well meaning efforts for sure but will produce, due to our sinful nature, a secure sinner. This sinner will never realize what is happening until the law is executed in all its ferocious requirements. Be holy as the Lord your God is holy and if you don’t you are damned!

Luke 18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Here we see the necessary approach to God when going to receive his gifts of the forgiveness of sins. There is always a people who know their true condition before a Holy God. It is realized by them that they are by nature sinful and unclean. That in spite of valiant efforts they sin against our Creator in thought word and deed by what we do and what we leave undone by thought, word and deed. Trusting in the finished work of Jesus apart from anything done by the sinner they can depart in peace knowing that their faith is counted to their account as righteousness. Nothing further is said or needs to be said of the terrified sinner in the parable. Jesus said he went home justified rather than the secure sinner.

It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.*

Serving the Gospel was the calling of Martin Luther not making things up as he went along. The church in his day as in ours was busying itself obscuring the Gospel with works of charity. Sounds good doesn’t it? Works of love. However, one is not truly loving his or her neighbour if only serving him or her in order to get in good with the Creator. This is using our neighbour as a means to an end And treating our Creator as if he is one to buy off with trinkets and bits of our thought up goodness is not loving him and is truly revolting to him as Isaiah stated. Is. 64:6.

*The Heidelberg Disputation of Martin Luther #18.


Martin Jack said...


I would add to this and say that our emotions and feelings also have the same potential to obscure the gospel. Whether its despair at not being a 'good Christian', or pride at our spiritual accomplishments.

Or introspectively obsessing over our spiritual temperature, which is a by-product of Christian Hedonist teaching.

I struggle in each of these areas.


Andy said...

"This is a total perversion of the faith delivered to us by Our Lord Jesus and his apostles and foretold by the prophets. " Well said St. Dave. I totally agree with this.

Steve Martin said...

"It is not our worst that we ought to worry about, but rather our best...because that is not good enough either."


Andy said...

Good points Martin. I can't say that I've ever felt pride at doing something good, maybe because I'm not good at self deception, but it's real easy to despair, which is just as bad, in my opinion.

I'm curious, what do you mean by Christian Hedonist teaching?
(though I agree, mostly from talking with St. Dave that what you are talking about there, being obsessed with our performance is dangerous)