Thursday, October 10, 2013

Proving Yourself... Why?

So much angst.  So much desire to prove yourself to others.  That's what goes on.  So much justification - I do X, and here is why X is good... or perhaps even more, here is why X is the virtuous thing to do, the CHRISTIAN thing to do.  All good Christians should and ought to do X!


To whom must you prove yourself?

Seriously.  Do you *need* to prove yourself to your neighbor?  Does it matter a hill of beans what they think?  No.

Do you *need* to prove yourself to God?  The only thing you will prove to God is that you are in and of yourself a sinner who falls short of what you ought to be doing - no matter how virtuous or uber-Christian you are.

We all fall into this.  We want to demonstrate that we are right, good, better, spot on, what have you.  And you know what - when we step back, it's silly.  Think of the proofs, think of the justifications you've given in the past week.  How many were... lies?  (Well, not real lies, I mean, I did it, I just fudged it a bit... you know... I lied).  How many were lies to yourself, justification for yourself to do something you shouldn't or not do something you should?  Need I mention the plans I had for today that I blew off (or need I even mention how by writing this post now I can pat myself on the back and say I'm at least doing something religious...)

See, if we look at ourselves honestly, the "proof" tends to spiral down into the gutter quickly.  How quickly it goes down, down, down.


Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.

Christ is quicker to come down than we are.  He sees us, He knows us to be trapped in this stupid cycle of self-justification (because that is what attempting to "prove" yourself is) and self-righteousness (because that is what thinking you've "proved" yourself is)... and He comes and He puts an end to it.

Christ says, "I will be your righteousness.  I will be your proof.  Though your sins are are scarlet, they will be white as snow.  See, I have risen.  See My Hands, My Side - they are your proof - and there is nothing more for you to prove, nothing you could prove."

You cannot prove yourself to God.  Thanks be to God that He proves you unto Himself in Christ Jesus.


Mike Baker said...

Exactly. Christ is our righteousness. If we are faithless, He remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself.

I find the whole second chapter of 2 Timothy very instructive as we endeavor to pursue righteousness while guarding against self-justification and self-deception.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I know, I like a lot of the imagery there especially. What I also like about it is how there is so much focus on what you... don't do. Your flesh will want to run over here and do these things... don't.

Pr K Boster said...

Pr Brown, what are you responding to in today's comments? Would you agree that St Paul, for one, does give examples of virtuous things to do, the CHRISTIAN thing all good Christians ought and should do? (eg Eph 2:10; Eph 4:17-5:21). Are you commenting about our motivation? God bless you brother, see you in a couple of days, Pr Boster

Steve Martin said...

We certainly ought. But we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. "All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags."

Mike Baker said...

The knowledge of one's sin is in itself a good work. It is a wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit that is graciously given to us in the form of humble discernment.

The theology of glory does not see it as a gift at all and dismisses it as a false self image. The sinner suffers greatly by this gift and never fully appreciates its value.

In my opinion, it is probably the greatest and purest good work that a Christian does in the Spirit for it is the act of repentance where the sinner confesses the truth about himself. While incomplete because of our darkened nature and limited understanding, one could hardly call it tainted. Afterall it is the Spirit directly working the Word in us and through us... and all in the service of the Gospel where the broken transgressor finds peace and healing through absolution.

Perhaps sometimes we let our knowledge of our depravity obscure this truth when we are so eager to confess our unworthiness that we err in the opposite direction of pride.

Instead of filthy rags that have no value and are dangerous to faith, we should see our good works as the Father sees them: flawed creations that are all redeemed and perfected on account of Christ.

Steve Martin said...

I don't look to my "good works", at all.

What we do, or don't do, is of no consequence with respect to how our Lord views us.

But to the Cross alone I cling.


Now the neighbor needs our "good works", so we do them...or not, as the case may be.

Mike Baker said...

My point is that our good works are not ours at all. Perhaps seeing them as ours is part of the problem. They are God's works given to us by grace through faith as the means by which God blesses our neighbor in our doing of them. True selflessness sees something that is of no personal use but serves another (who is equally undeserving) and eagerly persues those things out of sacrificial love as an imitation of Christ.

So they are not trivial or of no benefit. They are fruit of living faith that are lived out in our vocations as masks of divine blessing to our neighbor. By faith we eagerly peruse them in the Spirit. To not do them according to our ability is to dismiss our Lord's will since these works were established for us to do by God.

We all agree that self-righteousness is bad, but the cure for that is not apathy.

2 Timothy 2 is especially helpful in this. The soldier's life is not his own to do as he pleases. Instead he obeys his lord and serves at his pleasure by doing the things he would rather not do and refraining from perusing the things he would rather be doing if he were not a slave to his calling. The soldier is the metaphor here precisely because his service is not in his own interest as he would have it.

I think that sometimes we spend so much time score keeping when we only view works by how they do not give us merit that we lose sight of why we are exhorted to do them: they aren't for us.

It is in our narcissism that we eschew good works simply because they are of no personal benefit. We should observe and seek to grow in them for two Biblical reasons: 1. God has established them for us to do them. 2. They are good for others.

....and, as if to contradict what I just said, it just occurred to me that it should be pointed out that they are for our benefit as well. While they do not justify, it is truly beneficial for us to walk in holiness to the degree that we are able. We should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies. Fleeing sin and living uprightly is a helpful thing. Pragmatically it aids our life. Spirituality it guards against the callous sinfulness that is injurious to faith.

Steve Martin said...

What Christian eschews "good" works?

We just realize that they are neither here nor there concerning our relationship with God.

You are absolutely right. The Lord will work in us and through us that which He wills.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Pastor Boster - I guess I am speaking to motivation (although that is too strong a word, I think). No, let us say I am speaking to creation.

" For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

I am a creature. Even that good which I do has been prepared... not by me, but by God.

And so no, Paul is not addressing "this is what Christians do" -- he is speaking to what God does through Christians. These are not the feathers of our caps in which we boast, but this is the reality - that God cares for the neighbor through us.

(Also, if you are thinking of things in terms of "your" virtue or your work... you are no longer focusing on the neighbor... which is exactly the opposite of the Law - Love God, Love your Neighbor. If you are striving to improve yourself... it's not what God has commanded. We are to be about helping the neighbor... not self-help.)

Mike Baker said...

@ Steve,

Plenty of Christians eschew good works. That is why I bothered to comment in the first place.

There is even a heresy named for it: Antinomianism.... and there is a good works controversy among Lutherans that is addressed in the Formula of Concord.

Mike Baker said...

@ Rev Brown,

That last comment was exactly what I was trying to say. Thank you for accomplishing in one comment what I couldn't do in five comments.

Just as a humble critique, the distinctions in that comment are not always explicit in your blog posts about third use... which is why I feel compelled to clumsily chime in with comments.

Great comment. That was the missing piece of the conversation I was driving at. Thanks.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I'm not against Good Works -- I'm against this neo-monastic creation of new "good works" that aren't commanded in the Scriptures but are treated as more holy and righteous and good than others.

Whether it's poverty, chastity, and obedience in the middle ages or whether its no drinking, no dancing, no card playing in 1900 or whether it's any of the newly minted "This is what a good Lutheran does"... same thing, just a different face. Backdoor monasticism creeping in.

And lest you think I am joking about this, consider this paragraph from another fellow's sermon on Matthew 22 (the text for Trinity 20): "The garment in Christian literature is a symbol of godly living – of a life lived in accordance with God’s will. The absence of the wedding garment indicates that while the man seems to have received the reign of God, his life denies this. The casting out of the man warns us that there is no such thing as “once saved, always saved.” Faith can be lost. Salvation can be lost where there is no interest in living the faith."

Gentlemen, I present the new monasticism.

Hence, why I tend to go nuts at the modern promoters of "Sanctification". Being a Christian means you live your life like God wants -- which actually means you espouse what I say is good.

Mike Baker said...

Agreed. That teaching is wrong.

Mike Baker said...

I actually don't think that your excerpt is the worst part of that sermon. It ends with "Yet to have an attitude of repentance is to recognize what is important – even at those times when we fail. It is to be aware that we are called to let our light shine – and to seek to do just that as people who have received the saving reign of God in Christ Jesus."

I think that this is a pretty incomplete presentation of what repentance is about and puts the emphasis on the wrong thing by turning us in on our subjective response to the Law rather than pointing us to the forgiveness of sins objectively on account of Christ.