Saturday, October 03, 2009

Done, not doing

I feel the need to clarify a previous post, not least because it has obviously not communicated what I hoped it would to some who have read it. I am not sure whether that is because of my lack of communicative skill or because I'm saying something that is novel. Either would cause me some concern. Still, I think the point I'm making is Biblical and important, so I'll restate it.

It is a commonplace in evangelical apologetics to point out that where other religions give an imperative - DO! - the gospel gives an indicative - DONE! This way of stating things is no worse for being a commonplace. It is perhaps the easiest and best way of expressing that idea that lies at the heart of Christianity: that because Jesus has achieved my righteousness and my acceptance with God, there is nothing I need to do to work towards righteousness and acceptance. Indeed, any work I attempted in this direction would be sin, because it would be a failure to trust in Jesus' finished work. In so far as this is applied to justification, I hope that all evangelicals would agree.

Now I am saying nothing more than that this way of thinking be applied to all areas of life.

Let's stick with righteousness. I am perfectly righteous in Christ - this is achieved and accomplished apart from me. Does that mean I do nothing about my righteousness day by day? Absolutely not. I must strive for holiness. But why so I strive? Not because each battle won is a step towards perfect righteousness. Not because I am not righteous unless I am making progress. My righteousness is perfect and secure, because it is Christ's. My battle to live out holiness in every day life is about giving a lived out 'amen' to the gospel. It is about saying 'yes' today to what God willed from eternity and Christ won at Calvary. I have called that 'witness'. It does not achieve my righteousness, but it witnesses in the here and now to the righteousness that is mine in Christ.

I think the same logic applies to feeding the hungry, or alleviating poverty. It was the old liberal myth that our actions, inspired by Christ and following his example, could bring in the kingdom of God. As an evangelical, which is simply to say as someone who is bound to Scripture, I have to say 'no', in two senses. No, because the kingdom of God has come already in Christ; and no, because the kingdom of God will come when Christ returns. The kingdom is established now, ever since Easter morning. But it is veiled and not seen. Like my righteousness, it is achieved in Christ that a kingdom is established where there will be no more crying or suffering or death. Now it is not seen, but it is real for all that.

To live as if this were not so could take two forms. It could take the form of thinking that poverty and hunger are just there, and we need do nothing about them. In other words, resignation - ah well, that's just the way it is. But that is not the way it is. Jesus has abolished these things; he has brought in new creation! On the other hand, it could take the form of working hard to abolish poverty and hunger, as if we had to do everything. In other words, humanism - we can and must fix this. But we cannot and need not fix this. Jesus has done it; he has brought in new creation!

The response of faith is to say: I will live today as an 'amen' to Jesus' victory. I will live today as a resounding 'yes' to the presence of the kingdom and the accomplishment of new creation. God from eternity has willed the removal of poverty and hunger; Christ on the cross has achieved it. I will live as a witness to that reality. I will not set out in unbelief to fix the problem myself, but I will set out in faith to show through my actions and lifestyle that everything has already changed in Jesus. I will witness to the invisible Kingdom.

The question for me is: to what extent do I show that faith?

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