There were two reasons St. Paul had to be nervous about the behavior of his followers in Rome. If they were free from the law, they reasoned, then there was no longer any reason to follow civil law.
Secondly, if the kingdom of God were at hand, then there was no particular reason to pay taxes, repay debt, or pay any attention at all to those in authority.
I guess it was a case of a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing. They were right about the first two things: Because of Christ Jesus they were, indeed, free from the law. And, yes, the kingdom of God WAS at hand. But it was their LOOGIC that was faulty – the THEREFORE part of their thinking.
I suppose that it was natural they might feel that way. Paul had done such a very good job of imparting the good news that they were FREE people in Christ Jesus. He was just having a little trouble helping his congregaiton apply that new-found freedom to their daily living.
It occurs to me that it is the task of preachers today and, certainly, is mine to impart the good news of our freedom in Christ Jesus and to help us see how we can apply that to our daily living. But we can’t do the last part without having done the first part.
It is, perhaps, the most important responsibility I have in this congregation … to announce that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. And to proclaim that, because Christ has died, you and I have been set free – set free from our own bondage to sing and death, set free from the clutches evil, set free to live with God throughout all eternity.
This is grace. Wonderful, clear, pure GRACE. Grace alone. It means that God, alone, through his grace has saved us. Not through any works of our own. Not through pious living. Not through Bible study. Not through decisions to come to Jesus. Grace. The unbounded, unearned decision BY GOD to rescue us. Grace alone.
And it is by this sweet grace alone that God’s spirit moves us to faith in Him. It is as a response to grace that we practice faithful living – not the type of cartoon-piety characterized by a Bible tucked stiffly under one arm and a nose in the air – but the type of faithful living which proclaims by all that we do, all that we say, all that we are, that God is the center of our lives… the kind of faithful living which looks beyond personal morality to social justice for the vulnerable.
And it is by this sweet grace alone that God’s spirit calls us to a lifelong study of His word. Because of the wondrous liberating grace of God we LOVE God’s word and never want to be apart from it – loving it in the Jewish way of loving it – literally dancing with the Torah as they do from time to time – dancing with God’s word to the accompaniment of bright music.
Grace alone. And that loving it, living it, embracing it, coming back to it, not living without it – all that is faith. And that is what puts us right with God. Faith alone. Nothing else. Faith. By grace.
As a child, my pastor preached our Lutheran doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. But one Sunday we had a guest preacher of a more fundamental strain who pounded the pulpit and said something like this: “If you died this very night, would you be ready to meet God.” That scared me. First of all it made me wonder about kicking the bucket that very night. But secondly it made me afraid that I hadn’t done the right things to be right with God and that maybe he would push the LL button on my elevator when the time came. Well, that kind of message makes the gospel something less than it is. Less exciting, really. More scary.
Pastor Kinsey came back to the pulpit the next Sunday and gave us a good Lutheran message which went something like this: Since you have met God (in the crucifixion, in our baptism, at the communion rail) – since you have met God are you ready to live the rest of your life in the blessed assurance that death is simply a passing through from one of God’s kingdoms to another. I went home with more comfort in my heart than fright that day.
Paul tells his hearers that they have understood very well what the hereafter is all about, but that they need to now pay more attention to the here. You’ve heard the story, haven’t you, of Ole and Sven rocking on the porch, looking at the sunset. Ole Says to Sven, “You know, Sven, people of our age are already living in the hereafter.” Sven says, “What do you mean, Ole?” Ole says, “Well, I find myself walking into any part of the house and immediately asking myself, “What did I come here after?”
I like that. And, you know, maybe we can see in that more than just a cute story. Maybe, when we walk into the various rooms of our lives (home, work, school), maybe we ought to ask ourselves, “What did I coe here after?” What is the purpose of my being here? What does God want me to do here? How can I love these people? And that’s the hardest one, isn’t it! How can I remember to love these people? Especially the unlovable ones.
But remember, we are the unlovable ones. God decided to love us.
What did we come here after? What an awesome thing it is to realize that here is part of the hereafter.
Why speculate on the time to come, Paul asks. You don’t know what time that is. But you do know what time it is now. Christ has come. Salvation has come. Night is done. The son has risen! Christ will come again, yes. But the time is now. You know what time is. Don’t look at the hereafter. Look after the here.