Friday, May 8. Romans 4:1-12.
Each morning I get up, open my iPad, read the text for the day, and try to write something that makes sense in response to the day’s reading. Many mornings my youngest daughter (turning 16 this month) is in the room with me while I’m doing this process and we share in the reading and the reflecting. Today was one of those days.
I read the text out loud and asked, “At what point was Abraham counted as righteous? Before or after he was circumcised?”
“Before,” she said.
“Right. Now, here’s the next question.” I asked, “Who’s faith made him righteous? Was it Abraham’s faith in God, or was it God’s faithfulness to the Promise?”
“Both?” She raised her eyebrows in hesitant hopefulness.
I smiled. She’s been around me for a long time. I knew she hadn’t had a chance to read yesterday’s devo, so I read it to her and then proceeded to explain how my theology has shifted over the years. I used to think that my personal salvation was completely up to me and my ability to make the proper “decision to follow Jesus,” and that, if I believed false doctrine I could be in jeopardy. God’s grace was demonstrated in the fact that God extended the gift of salvation to me (because, of course, I was a sinner and God had every right to throw me into Hell forever to burn in eternal conscious torment). It was up to me, however, to accept it, believe in it fully, open it, unwrap it, put it on, and wear it properly (again, if I didn’t, then God would have to let me burn in Hell, and God was powerless to save me if I missed the mark).
Wow! That’s a lot of pressure on me. Most days I’m not strong enough or smart enough to “get it right” (OK, I’m not sure if I’ve had any days where I was).
This is one of the reasons why I believe God has led me into the Lutheran tribe. The emphasis here is on God’s faithfulness to God’s promise to save ALL people. My response is simply one of gratitude, and the invitation is to follow the way of life. God has continually demonstrated the way of life through the story of Israel and it reached its ultimate expression through the way of Jesus. God emptied Godself and became a human servant–Jesus–to the point of giving himself up on the cross. This self-sacrificing love-for-the-other is the way of life. Jesus defeated Sin and Death, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, came back to life (the resurrection). This is God’s massive restart. This is the promise that God is making ALL things new.
“So,” I asked my daughter, “why did Abraham need to be circumcised if God saves everyone? Why do Christians get baptized and talk about following Jesus, if God saves everybody?”
There was some silence.
“I think circumcision and baptism,” she said, “are like a wedding ring.”
I was hooked and I leaned in.
“A couple makes vows to each other,” she continued, “to be faithful to each other. The ring is an outward symbol that reminds them of their vow and declares to the world that they are committed to these promises. The ring doesn’t save them, or make the promise, but it marks them as set apart for each other.”
Wow! I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I don’t follow Jesus so that I can be saved. God’s faithfulness to God’s promise saves us all. That is the Easter Good News! I follow Jesus, and claim my baptismal identity, because the way of Jesus is the way of life for the world. The glory of God, as we will see in Romans 5, is not the ascension to perfection and greatness. The glory of God is the cross. It is the laying down of one’s life for the good of the world. This is a continual and multilayered (and beautifully painful) dying and rebirth process as the Holy Spirit works in, with, through, and around us.
I am buried with Christ, so that I might live for the good of ALL humanity. This is the way of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the way of life. I thank God that God’s faithfulness comes first.