Now and again, watching the behavior of Christians and the things that cause them to walk away from the faith or even just the congregation to which they belong - or deal in unfortunate ways with others - I am tempted to ask, Isn't Jesus enough?
The question confronts the church on so many levels. Theologically, people search for what they can do to assure themselves of the love of God or of "salvation" - whatever that term may mean to them. Practically, the answer to that question shapes our attitudes and behaviors in Church and in life towards one another.
We come to the question with an inner need to know God and something of a sense that there is more to life than the sixty or eighty years that many people get to live. That basic need is coupled, however, with a basic hostility toward God and all things holy. That hostility is part and parcel of sin.
How do I know we have that inner need? Well, I start with Scripture, but even without the Bible, we see people constantly asking the question of God, of meaning, and the big question, "Is this all there is?" Just recently Barbara Walters had a special on heaven - where is it? And how do you get there? She began with a presumption about the answer which colored the entire presentation, but the question was so powerful for her she built a two-hour program to reassure herself that her answer was a dependable answer. Her answer was about skepticism and the unknowability of the ultimate truth of it - or so it seemed from her presentation.
People naturally lean towards religion. Irreligion is something we have to learn and study and meditate on. Right out of the box, people are easily religious, and there has never been a human culture which was devoid of the religious, even when deliberately tried. What people have trouble with is facing the truth. They want something like God - - but they don't want to have to deal with the true God. That is why there are so many counterfeits and they do so well at attracting and holding followers without giving them much of any reason to belong.
The counterfeits offer frightening visions of what happens if you stray, and, generally, lots of rules. Some of the gentler forms try to silence the voice within by saying that there really is no God, no life after death, no judgment, those voices in the human spirit are merely throwbacks to a more primitive time and to a need for outside help or external approval that we, modern, thinking men and women, no longer need. The counterfeits range from the violence and repressive control of Islam and the bizarre and spooky polytheism of the Hindu's to the gentle 'everything is alright and every form of belief is just an echo of the truth' of the Friends of God and the Baha'i or the aggressive self-esteeming of EST or of Scientology.
People follow the counterfeits for any number of reasons which ultimately boil down to just two - they want to escape God, or they want some method of making sure that they have accomplished what they need to accomplish to be certain that they have made it to whatever they believe lies beyond which may be referenced by the words "salvation" or "heaven". For those who follow the counterfeits, the answer to the question, "Isn't Jesus Enough?" is always "No." The atheist might say Jesus is 'too much', but that is another way of saying He isn't enough. Neither of these groups are the focus of this newsletter article.
Christians, those who might profess a connection with Jesus Christ, are. In all too many ways, it seems that Jesus isn't enough for them either. Jesus isn't enough reason for them to go to church faithfully. Jesus isn't sufficient cause for them to select a congregation - or stick with one. Jesus isn't enough to quiet their fears or end their search for that something more.
It's odd. The Christian faith is actually the one faith that doesn't threaten you and doesn't demand of you. Of course, some will want to challenge the assertion I just made. The news of the danger of hell and eternal destruction is seen as a threat, and often used as such by those who do not understand the Scriptures very well. That is the sort of misunderstanding one expects when the Christian faith is being analyzed from the outside.
From the inside, however, it is something quite different. The preaching of the Law is not a threat, in the sense that if you do something - or fail to do something, God will get you. It is really little more than a description of the truth. The Law tells us who we are, and how we got be this way, and what the anticipated consequences of those realities are. We are sinners. Sin causes both death of the body and the eternal death of the soul. Pain and sorrow and corruption of every sort - moral, physical, and social - are symptoms of the reality which the Law of God describes for us. It shows us our real nature and our true condition spiritually. There is no threat, just the certainty of death and hell as justly deserved and inescapably approaching. It is unpleasant and frightening, just as the approach of the ground would be to someone who fell out of an airplane without a parachute - but it is not a threat in the sense of an unpleasant possibility presented in order to manipulate or control someone.
The Gospel is pure gift. God gives life, forgiveness, and salvation. He proclaims to us the good news of Jesus, of how He went about dealing with the swift and inevitable approach of death and hell in order to rescue us from it. He also gives us faith. The Gospel details the equation of the divine justice in which the death of Jesus in our place means forgiveness and life eternal for those that believe on His name. Boiled down to the simplest expression, the Gospel is Jesus.
But even though Jesus did all that we needed done, kept the whole Law on our behalf, and died for our failure to do so and our sin, and thus paid our penalty and brought life and immortality to light (as the Bible says), some people are persuaded that Jesus is not enough, and so they look for what they can do in order to possess certainty. They desire to have a ledger that they can read as in their favor on the basis of meeting certain requirements, or they want to have a certain sort of feeling or experience, or they feel the need to maintain an elevated sense of "spirituality" or "blessedness" before they can rest assured of eternal glory.
But there is no promise in Scripture of a certain "feeling", nor any requirement of possessing such a feeling before one may gain admission to paradise. Similarly, there is no list of deeds, or a measuring methodology for discovering how much one must accomplish before grace takes hold and one 'gets to go to heaven.' In fact, the Bible goes to considerable lengths to make the point that salvation is a gift, and that the very idea of measuring up or meriting salvation is contrary to and antithetical to the idea of "gift" and "grace". Holding to the notion of earning salvation or meriting it, or living up to it as a pre-condition of salvation is actually pictured for us in the New Testament as destructive of the faith needed to receive and possess the gift of forgiveness and everlasting life.
It seems that for the Biblical Christian, it is all Jesus or it is not at all. That doesn't mean that Christians cannot or ought not to do good deeds - works - or ought not to be concerned about doing them, or whether they aim to do them or not. It is the will of God that we do them, and that we are holy - as He Himself is holy - but as a response of the new creature in Christ to the marvelous gift of God and of the new reality of who and what we are in Christ. Holy deeds and holy words are the part and parcel of the same will of God which is . . . our salvation. If we deny one part of that will, we automatically reject the other part.
And that principle works both ways, which is why only Christians can do truly good works - or "holy deeds" as I prefer to call them. Only those who are holy can do holy or produce the holy. Others, trying with all their might, can do "socially useful and pleasing deeds", and can 'ape' the holiness of the Christian. But that imitation holiness is no more holy and makes them no more holy than the behavior which imitates a person can make a monkey suddenly truly human. Both sorts of imitation are useful in their place - but do not change the reality of either the behavior or of the one producing it. You will not be saved without good works (for faith is always busy doing the holy deeds God lays before it) but good works do not and cannot save - or have even the slightest part in bringing about your salvation. That is all done by Jesus.
Which is the part so many who call themselves "Christian" have so much trouble with. For them, Jesus is not enough. He cannot be. They need to behave in a certain fashion - to "walk the Christian walk". It isn't a fruit of faith, it is a pre-condition to faith (or at least saving faith) in their thinking. Others need to have some sense of possessing it. God's Word and promise is simply not sufficient. They have to possess a feeling. Jesus just isn't enough, all by Himself.
Then there are those who seem to have these issues sorted out, and still one wonders, isn't Jesus enough? I refer to those who insist on having their rights, or having their way, or they rush from the fellowship of the saints and look for "greener pastures." They get their feelings hurt, find some offense, and believe that the solution is to go somewhere else - or force someone else to go somewhere else. A common aspect of this phenomenon in the church in our day and in our Synod is the harassment and persecution of faithful pastors. In those situations, rather than 'go somewhere else' the disaffected endeavor to drive the pastor out. If there is sufficient support and energy behind the effort, they may even 'fire' the pastor. If not, the effort is to make life so difficult and unpleasant for the pastor, his family, and those who support him, that he or they give up and leave. This assault has been all too effective in many places.
But what is needed for a church to be Church? Jesus, that is, the Gospel preached in all of its purity and the Sacraments administered according to their institution. Where the Word is preached faithfully, the troubles of the world are supposed to be of little consequence. Of course, the troubles of the world will gather in such a place, for the devil never tolerates the Gospel peacefully for long. He will stir up all sorts of temptations and misbehavior there, striving to destroy the peace.
God's people know this. That is why Jesus is enough. He is enough for our salvation, and He is enough for our fellowship. When we cannot get our own preferences and our own way, if we have pure doctrine and the Holy Supper, we have so much blessing, we can endure, excuse, and forgive almost anything. What we cannot endure, we can wrestle to the ground with patient brotherly encouragement and admonition, as our Lord teaches us in Matthew 18.
And Jesus doesn't teach us just to report to one another what is bugging us, in Matthew 18, but to strive towards confession and repentance and forgiveness toward one another. It is a 'Jesus-sort-of-thing' to face sin against ourselves with patience and love - and speak to one another about it - confronting the problem. Then we can repent where we have been shown our fault, and forgive where our brother or sister confesses and repents. That is Gospel living. That is Jesus.
Isn't Jesus enough? Apparently not for those who stalk off in anger, leaving the sound preaching and the loving fellowship of Christ and His people over some hurt or insult, real or imagined. He doesn't seem to be enough for those who despair of the long-term health of the congregation and flee to more 'secure' waters. Jesus is not adequate for those who want entertainment instead of liturgy, 'happy-clappy' songs instead of hymns of the Church and of the faith, or who despise those riches of the church by fleeing the wholesome for the light-weight and contemporary. Jesus isn't enough for those who flee from pure and faithful teaching and preaching because the pastor isn't 'stimulating' enough, or they don't 'feel' as if they are 'being fed' even though they are hearing the pure Word clearly preached.
Isn't Jesus enough? Sometimes I wonder, but not for myself. I find the Gospel completely sufficient. Jesus did what I needed done, and gives me all that I need for life - both here and now, and hereafter and forever. Joshua preached to Israel, "Chose this day whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." You know, that sermon still works for me. Jesus is quite enough, thank-you!
Yours in the Lord,
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