Sometimes we meet people who tell us: "I want to give my testimony." Usually this means, "I want to tell how faith in Christ has changed my life." This is the pattern: "I was totally lost, disgraced, a poor sinner, an evil-doer. But now, I am a model citizen, a friendly person, a good example as a parent and spouse. Why? Because I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, therefore all is well in my life."
Is this the Gospel? Is this testimony of the love of Christ and eternal life? Beware of this emphasis on one's own experience, one's own story. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector (Lucas 18:9-14), our Lord talked of a very religious man, or one who thought he was very religious and had a strong faith. But, in truth, he was an egotist, for the Pharisee prayed like this:
"Lord, I thank you that I am not as other men: thieves, unjust, adulterers, even as this tax collector."
In fact, the Pharisee did not give thanks to God, but to himself for his own virtues. On the other hand, the tax collector did not present a dramatic story, nor did he make a list of his transgressions. He simply said. "I am a sinner, Lord, I do not deserve your kindness." The point of the parable is the contrast between pride and humility. The Pharisee had false humility, because he did not believe that he was a sinner and had pride in his good works.
It is possible to have pride in one's sins, too. "Oh, Lord! As a sinner, I was a harder case than others. Thus, the change in my life has been greater than the rest. You have favored me more with Your grace."
The tax collector had the right attitude. He was not focused on his own works or those of other men, good or bad, but on the mercy of God. This is true humility.
In our epistle for today, the Apostle Paul showed true humility, too. He gave testimony to his personal faith, but focused on the object of that faith, Jesus Christ. Many people nowadays have "faith in faith", that is, if you believe in something hard enough, that in itself is a meritorious work.
St. Paul did not speak of faith apart from the content of faith. He was right, because without a basis in facts, faith is an illusion. There is no hope in wishful thinking. Maybe I would like to fly like a bird, but in reality I can't. Maybe I want the love of God, but apart from the Gospel of Christ, there is no hope, no assurance of God's love or of eternal life.
In chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul talks of the key tenet of our faith: The resurrection of Jesus Christ. The risen Christ is the Gospel. As Paul says in the verses that follow our reading, if Christ has not risen, our faith is in vain and we still are dead in our sins.
Because the Christian faith is based on facts. It is a fact that Christ in His lifetime fulfilled the law of God, suffered the punishment for our sins and died on the cross in our place. Christ gained the victory over death for us.
We believe that God created the laws of nature. He created an orderly universe. Therefore we have the security that, for example, the sun will rise in the east every morning. We have the assurance of rain in its season and the harvest of crops. But we also may be sure that God can intervene in natural processes to accomplish His purpose. This type of intervention is called a miracle.
The greatest miracle is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because Christ rose, we have the promise of resurrection and eternal life ourselves. And there were many witnesses to this event. Historians tell us that the corrupt Jewish and Roman authorities certainly were hard-pressed to refute the belief in Jesus' resurrection. Why? As St. Paul says, many people saw Christ alive after the crucifixion, once 500 people at the same time. Also, St. Peter and the other apostles, James, the brother of our Lord, and finally Paul himself.
Why does Paul emphasize the majority of the 500 were still alive at the time of his writing? If the story of the resurrection were not true, they could refute it. However, they were eyewitnesses to its truth.
Observe Paul's humility. He confessed that he persecuted believers, but now was a believer himself by the grace of God. He did not talk of his good works or his own experiences, only of the fact of Christ's appearance in his life. The testimony of Christ is the fact of the risen Christ and His presence in our world, thanks be to God. The church is the body of Christ and we are living members because of our baptism. We hear the voice of Christ in the preaching of the Holy Scriptures and we receive the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
All power and glory belong to God and of Him we testify.
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