All of life is theological. I guess I may have said that once or twice before. Life must be lived in the presence of the truth of God. That is so because God is real, and very present. We either show by our lives - our words, our actions, and our thoughts - the knowledge of that truth or we deny God and His truth by living in a way which denies His reality or His presence, or, at the very least, His awareness of us. The first, fundamental principle of Christian life is "Live your theology."
That principle is particularly useful at this time of year, when so many people are making New Year's resolutions.
For example, have you ever noticed that most, if not all, New Year's resolutions fail? People generally make them with good motives and, hopefully, sincere hearts. But they fail anyhow. The reason behind this failure is theological.
Resolutions are a species of the Law (they tell you what to do or not to do). That is why they fail. The Law makes sense to us, but the Law rarely improves us, and never permanently. That is so because, as our theology teaches, the Law functions first and foremost to show us how sinful we are. Secondly, Scripture teaches us that the Law is a natural incitement to sin. Paul writes, Romans 7b-8: "For I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, taking the opportunity through the commandment produced in me coveting of every kind." So, making a resolution 'not to do something' is relying on the Law to produce a kind of moral reformation, but sin always takes the opportunity of the Law to seduce us into greater sin (or failure ).
The foregoing is an example of viewing a reality of life through your theology.
This thing about New Year's resolutions simply illustrates the unhappy truth that even a bright and shiny new year is only a new year in the same, old, sinful age. The New Year is new in number only. It is still corrupt, even as it begins. And, theologically (which is to say, realistically), the only answer for sin and its power is the grace of God.
We have been chosen by God, for His own wonderful but incomprehensible reasons (what we call "grace") to be the objects of His love, His care, and of His salvation. He has forgiven us all our sins, not because of who we are, but for the sake of the suffering, death, and resurrection of His only begotten Son. He has made us alive from the death of sin, and made us inheritors of eternal life, and freed us from the bondage to sin and corruption.
Having said that much, we also must add that we are "already/not yet" creatures in this world. We are already / not yet saints. That is to say, we are saints by the forgiveness of our sins and justification (God's grace at work) and yet sinners by our own fleshly nature and our own native conduct at the same time - and so, not yet quite perfect saints. So, no matter how hard we try, even we Christians will sin and fail and succumb to temptation. And we will do it far more often than we want to admit even to ourselves.
None of that is set forth to give one permission to do such things. It is simply acknowledging the truth, We still sin, even as believers. Our theology teaches us that our sufficiency before God is not from our own holiness and "putting-away-of-sin-ness" or our own strength and efforts, but from God, by grace. He has made us worthy to stand before Him. He has declared us holy by freely pouring out on us the perfect righteousness of Christ. He can do that and still remain perfectly just and fair because Jesus willingly took on Himself our load of sin, and atoned for our sins - that is, made the payment due to the justice of God for our sins, thereby redeeming the lot of us. And what is that payment? God declares that the soul that sins, it shall die!
Having redeemed us, God has made us to be heirs with Christ - by grace. One might say that He has "gifted us" with righteousness and salvation. Along with that, He gives us His Holy Spirit to dwell within us, who brings with Him the power to make some choices and to do some of the things which will be strengthening and encouraging for this new "saint" and "heir" life within us. But He is our power and wholeness.
So, theologically, we who believe can choose to do things which are going to help us as Christians, or, sadly, we can choose to do that which will hurt us as Christians. God gives us the power to do - and to understand - the former, and our sinful flesh gives us the power to do - and radically misunderstand - the latter. The result is that we can go to church or sit in front of the TV, we can do daily devotions / Bible Readings / prayers, or we can daydream, or hurry on to something else that seems more pressing at the moment. We can volunteer to do the things that need doing in the church, or in some civic organization. We can serve and worship God, or serve and worship self - or mammon.
Please understand: no one, not even your Pastor, is going to make the right choice every time. That is the 'still a sinner' part. But the choices which you make will make a difference in what your mind and soul feeds on. The choices you make frequently and which predominate in your life will also often give a silent witness to the health of your soul. People tend to live out what they believe.
An interesting side-light on that principle is that people tend to believe what they live out as well. If someone who believes starts to live deliberately a lifestyle that does not reflect their faith, they will find that what they believe will conform itself to how they live their life. I cannot think of why someone would want to do that, but people actually make that choice for social, professional, and/or political reasons all of the time, and, most generally the fiction of their life soon becomes the reality of their life and of their thinking. C.S. Lewis once wrote that if one wanted to become a Christian, the best way to do so would be to act as though they already were. I think there is a great deal of wisdom in that observation. People live what they believe - and when they deliberately choose to do otherwise, they soon come to believe what they live. The Church has taught that principle for centuries: Lex orandi, lex credendi, that is, how you worship determines what you believe. That is another reason why we need to live our theology.
We want to live our theology. The Gospel tells us that God, in Christ, did all that we need done for our salvation. There is nothing left for us to do to earn or deserve it. It is pure gift and grace, poured out for us. Our theology also tells us that we are Christians because of Him. God calls us to faith, creating it in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He does that because He has chosen us - divine election. He did not choose anyone to go to hell. That is a personal choice made by human will apart from God. There is no "double predestination", one to glory and the other to reprobation. Human reason says it must work that way, but God says that it does not. He wants everyone to believe and have eternal life, but many simply will not - with the emphasis there on the will. People choose hell by refusing the gift of God, or their parents choose hell for them by depriving them of the knowledge of Christ, or sometimes even the opportunity to hear of Christ. That latter cause is at least part of what that passage in Exodus 20 means when God says that He "visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me."
All of life is theological. Since salvation is from God, and even faith is His gift through the Word and Sacraments, we cannot live in order to achieve it or earn it, or even in some way that seems to suggest that such is our goal. To even try to deserve God's favor is to waste your time - and express a theology which denies Christ and rejects His grace. The only thing we can do is live from the grace of God and live out of the reality of our salvation.
What that means about life is that, first, we want to live a life marked by repentance and humility. Sin was our first problem, and our nature will keep us sinning. Our only comfort and hope is the grace of God and the forgiveness of our sins. So we live out our faith by being aware that we "daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment". A life that understands the power and presence of sin in us will be marked by repenting and rejoicing in forgiveness. That awareness will also make us humble, because we know how helpless we are, and how no one around us is really any less pure or any less fit for God's grace and love.
These things don't mean we deliberately sin because we are helpless not to, or that we give up on trying to be God-pleasing, but it does mean that we don't pretend that we can perfectly cleanse ourselves of sinful desires, words, or deeds. We walk humbly, doing what we can to resist sin, but aware that we may, and indeed do, fail, and that others around us have the same problem in this regard as we do. So our theology also teaches us to forgive others, as we are forgiven. Such living out of one's theology creates a pattern in our lives of repenting and forgiving, repenting and forgiving.
So, our theology teaches us that on our own, we are helpless unless and until God helps us. We are powerless to earn or deserve salvation, but we possess it only because He gives it. We are worthless until God declares us precious. God is our sufficiency, just as Christ is our only true righteousness. God gives us even the strength and wisdom to make those choices which we might define as beneficial toward remaining in the faith - and there are such things! They would surely include regularly gathering with the saints (the holy people of God) for fellowship around Word and Sacrament, regular, faithful prayer, attending to the Word in our homes, and encouraging and being encouraged by our fellow-believers.
Spiritually, we understand that everything we desire and possess is from Him, and through Him, and for His purposes. If you believe that, and live it out, you have made a good start, but there is more. Our faith also should teach us that the same is true in daily life and the mundane things of this world. God actually does feed us and clothe us. Our fear and worry about this life and its supply is a sign of the work of the old evil foe on us. It doesn't automatically mean that we are unbelievers, but it does reflect the on-going battle with sin and Satan and unbelief that continues as long as we live. After all, "Perfect love (faith) casts out fear."
The difficult and sorrowful and painful things of our lives are each in their order a part of what God intends for us in this world. They are not what they seem; pain for the sake of pain, or sorrow without comfort or hope. They are tools, opportunities for faith, platforms from which we may powerfully confess Christ, and places where we may see God at work in our lives on our behalf. They teach and they train, they confess and they reveal, and they may make no sense to us, but our theology teaches us that God knows, God understands, God loves us, and God has a plan. And so, our theology teaches us to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and not lean on our own wisdom or understanding - and so acknowledge Him in all our ways, and, well . . ., you know the rest of that passage.
What to do with the New Year? Remember that all of life is theological, and so live out what it is that we confess and believe. In every corner of our lives. Maybe remember that it is a New Year in an old world, and that God is our Father, and Jesus is our Savior both in church and out here in society. Perhaps, then, we can see the New Year as a reminder of the truly new world which is to come with Jesus.
We owe our Lord worship, and praise, and constant thanks, and willing and cheerful service. When we do those things, our theology also tells us that we are doing what God wants of us. If we walk in faith, then we are living from our salvation instead of for our salvation. So let us live out our theology, because, after all, all of life is theological. Let us give up on resolutions - righteousness by the Law - and get on with living as those who depend upon God, those surely saved by His grace, and those who are filled with thanksgiving for all His bountiful goodness to us. Then 2008 will be a magnificent year! Happy New Year!
Yours in the Lord,
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