Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Just Be a Son: On Holiness and the Cross of Christ

It isn't particularly hard to tell someone how to live. It's not difficult to set forth a high standard of moral righteousness. It is easy enough to say that people ought to be more patient, or forgiving, or caring, or generous, or . . . you get the picture. Every one of these sentiments is valid, and to support and avow such sterling behavior is quite inspiring at times. Nevertheless, a good man, as Flannery O'Connor has said, is hard to find.

But to hear such recitations in the form of a Sunday morning sermon leaves me feeling deeply sad. He's missing it, I find myself muttering. Is he really going to keep missing it? He should have got to it by now. When will he get to it? He's almost finished and he still hasn't got to it. He's still talking about the importance of patience [love, generosity, etc.]. He's finishing up now and by golly he really has completely missed his chance to speak of the cross, the new life in Christ, or the Gospel.

Oh well, perhaps I'm just being negative. Perhaps all I really need to hear is how absolutely fine it would be if I just guarded my tongue more often (okay, I give you that). Nevertheless, I need to say it: a sermon without the Gospel is not a Christian sermon at all. It may quote the Bible from start to finish, but it is simply a Biblical values-statement and nothing more. My problem is, however hard I try to live up to that standard you're so keen on, I fall flat on my ever-lovin' face! I need something more, I guess, than a restatement of the standard.

Pastor, I'm just speaking for myself here, but it would be safe for you to make that presumption about all of us. The question for us is not, "What is the good life?" But, "How do we live it?"

It's the "how question" that counts for something. That actually leads somewhere other than a stark and lonely dead end. And where then does it lead? Well, if we're thinking Biblically, it leads to the cross. What difference does the cross make? How can the cross possibly help me with my usual quick-to-talk/slow-to-listen approach to life? Well, I would say the answer to that question has everything to do with access.

Remember Romans 8:15? "For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back again into fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship by which we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" Listen, after the cross, all the many imperatives of righteousness found in the Bible are replaced by one and one only: Be a Son.

And what distinguishes a son? Simply this: his status with, and access to, the Father. He's a chip off the old block, sometimes without even trying. The very characteristics so noteworthy of the father in time begin to show themselves in the children. More importantly, when he fails--when he strays, rebels, or just misses the mark--he can always cry "Daddy!" His father is incredibly patient, mind-bogglingly forgiving. This patience, this acceptance, this access, is founded on the historical fact that all the failings, rebellions, and mark-missing of his wayward children were anticipated by the Father long ago and taken care of. At Calvary. Negated, put aside, wiped out. In actual fact, nailed to the cross--put to death there.

Conclusion: because Jesus became sin for us, all discussion of God's holy standards should lead our gaze inexorably toward the cross and thereby to thanksgiving for his wonderful grace.


Milton Stanley said...


Susan said...

Simple but profound.

Bob said...

Thanks, both of you. Susan, it's so nice to hear from you again. It seems like ages and I have to admit I lost track of your blog. It's so good to read that your daughter Jamie seems to be doing well. God bless you and your family!