Saints and Sinners

“No great saint lived without errors.”

Martin Luther

You can’t be a student of the Bible without realizing the truth of this quote.  Think back at some of the people we consider heroes of the Bible.  Abraham lied and told the Pharaoh Sarah was his sister.  Jacob was a deceiver;  David committed adultery and murder; Joseph boasted; Martha was self righteous; Peter denied Christ.  I’m not sure where we got the idea that “saint” meant “perfect.”

As Martha said in her post at the beginning of the month, we don’t have to live up to some impossibly high standard of Christian behavior to be a saint;  as believers, we are all saints — and we are all sinners.  In fact, the Lutheran definition of saint is just this :  forgiven sinner.  Our sainthood does not depend upon our works, it is completely and simply God’s grace.  In fact, Martin Luther is quoted as saying “sin boldly” — although he doesn’t mean we should be proud of our sinful status, or seek to sin more.  Here is the original quote in a letter he wrote to Philip Melanchthon:

“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”

In other words, our relationship with Christ is the crucial element:  we are saved saints because of His mercy and sacrifice, not our behavior.  And all God’s children said:  thanks be to God!

 

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Who Do I Look Like?

As saints of God, we’re all part of His family.  In any family, there are resemblances.  Maybe you have your mother’s eyes, or your father’s temper.  Maybe you and your sister are like two peas in a pod, with similar talents and interests.  Maybe you and your cousin could pass for twins.  So today I’m pondering — what member of God’s family do I look like?

I’ve always felt an affinity for Nicodemus.  You’ll find his story in the 3rd Chapter of John.  Here’s how it starts:

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night ….” John 3:1-2

I like to obey the rules, so, like Nicodemus, I can see myself identifying with the Pharisees.  He was curious (definitely me) and he wanted to learn more about this Jesus, but he came at night … because he was also cautious, not willing to make an impulsive commitment in front of others (well, me again).  He had his position to think of, after all.

Jesus doesn’t scold Nicodemus for his caution.  He recognizes him as an honest seeker and answers his questions.  Then we don’t see Nicodemus for a while.  When he reappears later in the story, Jesus is before the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus, attempts to defend him (he’s not stupid — I don’t think I am either– and he can see his associates don’t really have a leg to stand on). Yet, he is rebuffed and he doesn’t persist. (Did he think, “I tried, but there wasn’t anything else I could do?” — Have I said things like this to justify myself when I’ve failed to defend Christ vigorously? hmmm–for sure) Then after Jesus is crucified, we see Nicodemus again.

“….Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.  Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.  With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.” John 19:38-39

The crucifixion was a catalyst for Nicodemus.  He saw clearly now who Jesus was, and he declared himself as a follower.  I wonder if he worried that he had committed himself too little and too late.  Sometimes I think about that, too.  I have often have good intentions, but it’s hard for me to surrender everything and follow quickly.

Yes, I’m alot like my brother Nicodemus.  I honestly want to know Jesus, and I believe He is the son of God. (that makes me a saint). However, I can be overly cautious, worried about what others think, and slow to respond (that makes me a sinner).  Thankfully my debts have been paid in advance by the One who loves me and knows me through and through.

I’m challenging our other writers to think about and post an answer to this question as I have — Blogging sisters, who do you look like?  I really want to read your answers!

 

 

A Flawed Leader

This article was originally published in the October 2009 issue of The Lutheran Ambassador.  I believe that David’s story can give all Christians hope and point us to the most important component of Christian leadership. 

When you think about David what comes image comes into your mind first?  The young shepherd whose faith in God empowered him to face the giant Goliath with only a slingshot?  The King who was so unselfconscious he danced with joy before the Lord?  The sensitive poet and musician who composed many of the Psalms still used in our worship services today?  With God’s help, David was a leader who did great things.  He was a saint.

But David also had a dark side.  He lusted after another man’s wife and took her in adultery.  When she became pregnant, he tried to trick her husband into believing the child was his own.  When it became apparent that his deceit wasn’t going to work, David had him killed.  God punished David by taking the life of the son who resulted from his adulterous liaison.  David did some terrible things.  He was a sinner.

David seemed to do everything in a big way.  He was a fierce soldier–“Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands (1 Samuel 18:7)–and a charismatic king who united the Jewish nation, brought the ark to Jerusalem and built a palace there.  His magnetic personality attracted both men and women.  Brought to King Saul’s service as a young man, David quickly became a favorite who could calm the King’s terrible moods with his music.  Saul’s son Jonathan loved David with a friendship that was “more wonderful than that of women” (II Samuel 1:26), and Saul’s daughter Michal also loved David and became his wife.  In all David had at least eight wives and 14 children, but his family life was far from successful.  The jealousies that arose between these children of different mothers resulted in so much dysfunction that one brother raped his half-sister, was then killed by another brother who subsequently led a rebellion against his father, David, and was killed himself.

How did this man, a liar, fornicator and murderer, a man who could control armies but not his own children, come to be considered by God, “a man after my heart, who will obey my will (Acts 15:22)?  Why was his family chosen to be the human branch of Christ’s family tree?  David’s story reminds me of a nursery rhyme I learned when I was small about the little girl with the curl down the middle of her forehead:  when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid.  Some of David’s sins were truly horrid.  So why does God hold him up as an example, we should follow?

The reason is simple:  God does not keep score.  The most saintly among us are still sinners and we still need a savior.  David’s good works did not earn him special credit with God and his sins did not preclude him from being Gods’ man.  That slate was wiped clean by Christ’s sacrifice.  It wasn’t anything David did that made God call him “a man after my own heart.”  It must have been something else.  I think the something else was his steadfast and life-long relationship with God.

To be continued tomorrow …..