Writing in The Wall Street Journal last week (Nov 5, 2016), Peggy Noonan concluded an article on the election with: A closing thought: God is in charge of history. He asks us to work, to try, to pour ourselves out to make things better. But he is an actor in history also. He chastises and rescues, he intervenes in ways seen and unseen. Or chooses not to. Twenty sixteen looks to me like a chastisement. He’s trying to get our attention. We have candidates we can’t be proud of. We must choose among the embarrassments. What might we be doing as a nation and a people that would have earned this moment?
While it is always disappointing – even shocking – to become acquainted with failings of leaders, we should not be surprised. To quote Malcolm Muggeridge, ‘Christ and the Media’: The depravity of man is at once the most unpopular of all dogmas, but the most empirically verifiable. It is easy to be obsessed with the failures of others while overlooking our own.
Yes, it is encouraging when leaders exhibit a godly integrity, but the reality is, as Paul the Apostle puts it: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
THE GREAT NEWS
The great news is that the living God designed a way to release us from our human tragedy. In Romans 3:21-22 we read, But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
The words, But now… speak of a great contrast. What the Law and the Prophets foreshadowed, God has now done: he has provided the way for our relationship with him to be restored. God himself has done it through the faith (or better, the faithfulness) of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the one and only person who has perfectly kept God’s law, provided the means whereby we can be forgiven.
Romans 3:21-27 goes to the heart of what God has done once and for all for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. In verse 25 we read: God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left sins committed beforehand unpunished.
Paul’s language is that of the law court – words like righteousness, justice and just. Because God is righteousness and true in every way, he must judge, and judge justly. He has to do something about the breakdown of the relationship between us and him. If he didn’t he would leave himself open to the charge of moral indifference. He couldn’t do that. So, instead of showing his horror of sin by judging us according to his law, he has displayed the same horror, the same pure justice, by punishing Jesus in our place. Here is the heart of Christianity.
How then do we receive God’s offer?
In Romans 3:25f Paul tells us that faith is the way we take hold of this gift. For some this is the hardest of all ideas to grasp. ‘It’s too easy. Faith alone simply can’t be sufficient.’ But thinking this dishonors God and fails to grasp the seriousness of our need. It also has the potential to turn faith itself into a good work.
‘Where is the boasting?’ Paul goes on to ask. ‘It is excluded’. Faith is not something we offer to God, something he rewards. Rather faith is receiving the gift God offers us through what Jesus has done. Our problem is pride. We don’t like being ‘charity cases’. But that’s just it. We need God’s love, his charity so that we can be forgiven and become his friends.
Article XI of the Thirty-Nine Articles puts it this way: We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.
Because of Jesus’ death, Charles Wesley could sing: No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in him is mine; Alive in him, my living head, and clothed in righteousness divine. Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown through Christ my own.
This is the greatest of all news – something we will want to share. But responding to God’s free gift is not all. Once we put our faith in his promises, it will be our joy to grow in his love and live in his ways.
Let’s not just pray for ourselves, our families and our friends, but also for our country, including our leaders.
© John G. Mason