Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Men have never been good, they are not good and they never will be good.
Karl Barth

When St. Paul talked about Abraham in his epistle to the Romans, he wrote that his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. Indeed, the long exposition on faith in which St. Paul engages in that letter is an indication that, for him, what God wants is a faithful people, a people willing to live such that righteousness - understood most clearly as "right relationship" with one God and one another, including but not limited to the concern for justice and the passion for community - is the result of the their living witness. When John Wesley spoke of going on to perfection in this life, he was saying much the same thing. Our lives, lived in the reality of grace, being held accountable by and to one another for the working out of our salvation in fear and trembling, is nothing more or less than righteousness.

God doesn't care if I'm "good" or "bad". Indeed, one of the first really deep and honest realizations that should come from the life of faith is, for all that God does indeed love me, seeking me out each moment of my life, the life to which I'm led isn't about me. It is about forgetting about myself. It is about putting others first. It is about living in such a way that I, in the late-modern sense of the sovereign subject beholden to none, ceases to exist. My life is about and for God, and for others.

One of the great gifts of the Protestant Reformation is the honest realization that sin is not an act, or a series of acts. Sin is a description of creation separated from God. Even with the new reality inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ already breaking in to our world, making of those in Christ "a new Creation", the reality is the old, separate, sinful reality still exists as well. It is grace that cuts through the bond to sin, to be sure, but until all is made new and, as the Revelation to St. John says, God is all in all, that sinful reality exists side by side with the new thing done by God for us.

Our most cherished possession - our sense of ourselves as righteous and blameless before God - comes not from ourselves but through the grace of the crucified and risen Christ. All that flows from the hope given birth by that event still has, until the end of the age, the taint of sin upon it. Our most beautiful words, our most cherished ideas, even the very declarations of faith we make, are sinful.

What sin destroys, grace transforms. What we declare good, grace declares irrelevant. What we offer as a sacrifice, God call a stink in His nostrils (check out some of the Hebrew prophets if you don't believe me).

God asks us, not to be good, but to be faithful. In that faithfulness, we are not reckoned "good", but reckoned righteous - our relationship with God is restored, not through our efforts, but that graced state we call faith.

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