As a Christian, what is your faith built on? The easy answer, the one from the old Sunday school story, is “Jesus.” And that is certainly true, because there can be no Christians, no Christianity, without Christ.
But if we dig a little deeper, how is God at work in us through Jesus? That question came to my mind this morning when I read the blog of a friend of mine, Michael Manning, as he wrote about the importance of names to God and what they can signify concerning our identity in God.
In describing himself to the church at
Philippi, Paul wrote,
“circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
In Paul’s testimony he reports that in regard to his righteousness he is blameless. Paul believed, deep in his bones, that in his pre-Christian life as a Pharisee he was blameless in regard to the law. This means that he felt that because he was in conformity with the rules of the Jewish religious system he was okay with God. This is what we call “works righteousness” and it was one of several things that the Reformation sought to correct.
But we can’t “earn our way” to heaven. There is no way, absent the presence of Christ in our lives, in which any of our works are acceptable to God, no matter how good or noble, or even heroic they may seem to us at the time. Without God’s redemption through Christ everything we say and do is tainted by the stain of sin.
This is a truth that Paul learned clearly, as he told the Ephesians,
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
The key thing that Paul is pointing out here is that the Ephesians, and himself, and us today, were all spiritually dead when we didn’t have faith in God through Christ. The latter parts of the verses above suggest behavior that would universally be considered bad stuff, but the truth remained, and remains, that absent Christ, none of their works were truly good and neither are any of ours.
Having established the fact of spiritual death Paul then shows us the response that God would chose to make, for the Ephesians, and for all of his people throughout history. He writes,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
“When we were dead” God, who is “rich in mercy,” “made us alive together with Christ.” We often call the Gospel the “Good News” and here in microcosm is the very best news. While we were spiritually dead and unable to act on our own in any way, God, through reasons that are beyond understanding, or at least fully beyond my own understanding, acted to give us life in Christ.
This, then, is the foundation, the bedrock of our faith. Not our works, as good as we may think they are. Not simply “Jesus,” although certainly with Jesus. Our foundation is that God chose to act where it was impossible for us to act, replacing spiritual death with spiritual, and eternal, life.
There are many places in life where our standing is based on what we have done. They may be our places of work, our families, or our social activities, we are often measured according to some standard, be it explicit or implicit. Thanks be to God that our standing before him is based solely on what he has done, claiming us as his own daughters and sons in Christ. God’s action to save us is the firmest foundation we could ever know.