There’s a story about Martin Luther that has meant much to me over the years. It may be apocryphal, I don’t know, but…
One day after a rousing Sunday sermon he was approached by the congregation and was asked, “Pastor, why is it that week after week after week you continue to preach the gospel? Can we please move on from the gospel? We get it, Broooooooo…”
Or, something like that.
Luther answered, “Because week after week you forget it. Because week after week you walk in here looking like a people who look like they don’t believe the gospel.” Tonight before I fall asleep I too will have forgotten the liberating power of the gospel.
It is easy to use the gospel exclusively as the mechanism by which salvation is secured. The gospel saves us and we’ll take it from there. We treat the gospel like a tool to create converts: If you were to get hit by a bus – and I’m not saying that I’m going to run you over with a bus but who can really know for sure – would you know that you’d absoultely go to Heaven? No, okay, would you like to accept the gospel?
If you’re anything like me once you’ve raised your hand after the preacherman’s heartfelt plea and accepted “the gospel” you get on with your DIY self-improvement projects. I did ten sins last week, this week I’ll aim for just nine. Like the Wizard of Oz, we project a mighty image to onlookers: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. There’s those certain sins – gluttony, pride, irritability at pesky people – that are easy to confess so we admit those but keep the real ugly stuff hidden, guarding ourselves from any vulnerability and itimacy with God and neighbor.
And we belittle God. We think we’re fooling Him. And know that when I say “we” it’s self-protection, I’m not writing this for you. We try and fix ourselves. “It’s just a flesh wound,” we say and bandy about our swords.
But, the problem is deeper than we could ever imagine. Let me tell you a story.
Once, in the spring when Kings go to war, King David sat that one out. Not being where he was supposed to David spied with his little eye something he shouldn’t have. David slept with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his best friends, and she conceived a child. Trying his best to cover his tracks David brought his friend, Uriah, home from war to sleep with Bathsheba to throw supiscion off of himself. But Uriah was too noble to enjoy a night with his wife while his fellow soldiers were still at battle so King David had him sent back to the frontlines to be slaughtered. David. What a guy?
Though he tried to hide his sin and remain righteous in his own and in the kingdom’s eyes David was confronted by the prophet Nathan. And all his dirtly laundry was hung up on the line to dry. With his ugliest moment on display for all the world to see – the shame, the dastardliness, the complete destruction of his and Bathsheba’s character – David penned Psalm 51. In this confession he admits that the problem is worse than he could have ever imagine:
For I know my transgressions, my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;… Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Though I try and hide it something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Deep down in the dark recesses of me something’s decaying.
So today, even more than yesterday, I need the gospel. And tomorrow? All the more.
To clarify, the gospel is the grand mystery that God took on frail flesh and died. God was murdered on a tree for scoundrels like me. And, more so, was raised to life. Rising on the third day Christ defeated Death. As the poet, John Donne, wrote: “death shall be no more; Death thou shalt die.”
Good news! You and me? We’re off the hook. That thing we’re not telling anybody? That thing hidden in the caverns of our soul where nobody can find it? Jesus knows it already.
And He’s not surprised.
He loves us anyways.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
All our self-improvement projects, resolutions, good behavior, hiding, believing in ourselves has left us bleeding out in the gutter but God has come searching for us to bind up our self-inflicted wounds. God sent his son, who knew no sin, to become sin so that we might become the rigtheousness of God. This is good news! No longer are we judged on our efforts but on the efforts of the One by which, and for which, through which the universe and everything was created.
His grace is sufficient. Full stop.
We’ve been forgiven. Let us go and sin no more.
In the new song that was introduced this weekend – Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher – we sang this: “Holiness is Christ in me” which says in five words what I tried to say in a thousand.
Attached is a playlist where you can preview the songs we sang this past Sunday before you buy them because you like supporting artists who bless the church. But of course, this is old hat by now:
- Grace Alone by Dustin Kensrue
- Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher
- Give Me Faith by Elevation Worship
- This I Believe (The Creed) by Hillsong