20 February 2011

Holy and Perfect Like Your God and Father

Holiness and perfection are not means to some other end or purpose, but are the character and content of life with God. For the one true God is Holy and Perfect in Himself, in the eternal Love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. He is Holiness and Perfection, for He exists and lives in Himself, not in selfishness or isolation, but in a relationship of mutual love.

The perfection and holiness of this one true God proceeds—from within His inner Triune Being of Love—in His free outward action of love toward those whom He has created by His grace for the sake of giving them life with Himself. Thus, the perfect holiness of God is manifested in His Self-giving, to the extent of His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross for the salvation of sinners; in His compassion for you and His mercy upon you; in His forgiveness of all your sins and His free gift of life; and in His providential care of all creatures, including those who are at enmity with Him.

He has not only called you to be His child—something you could not choose to be, nor could you accomplish for yourself—but He has made you His own dear child, and He has become your own dear Father, by His gracious adoption, and by the new birth and new creation of Holy Baptism.

Therefore, you are a son of God in Christ Jesus—by His grace, through faith in His Gospel.

You are a member of His Body and Bride, and the Lord Jesus Christ is your Husband and Head.

You are a Temple of God, and His Holy Spirit dwells in you and with you, resting upon you and abiding within you, as He is in and with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son and the Lord’s Anointed.

Therefore, you are holy, and you shall be perfect, as your Father in heaven is holy and perfect, merciful and just.

Not in lonely isolation, nor self-contained within yourself (which would be sinful self-idolatry), but in a relationship of faith and love with the Holy Triune God in Jesus Christ, your Savior and your Lord, and so also in the Holy Communion of His Church, in love for all His brothers and sisters, who are the many sons of daughters of your own true God and Father.

And yet again, in love for all your neighbors in the world—not only your friends and friendly acquaintances, but so also your enemies and persecutors, your nemeses and thorns in the flesh.

This is your holiness and perfection as a Christian, which you share with God by grace through faith in Christ. It is not your own by nature, but it is truly yours by His grace. It is derivative and always being received from the Lord your God. This is what He does for you, freely, according to His own natural holiness—in His mercy and compassion upon you; in His daily forgiveness of all your sins (no matter how many or how great); and in the gifts of Himself and His Life, which He bestows upon you in body and soul, in Christ Jesus, in His Word and Spirit, flesh and blood.

He who gives Himself to you—whom the Father gives to you from heaven, and the Holy Spirit lays upon your heart and mind, body and soul through the Gospel—He is your holiness and righteousness, your innocence and blessedness. All of this has been perfected in Him for you, in His Body of flesh and blood, in His Cross and Passion, in His Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven.

And it is all given to you in Holy Baptism; which is not a private affair, but your incorporation into Christ and His Church.

It is precisely in and with Christ Jesus, in His Body, as a member of His Bride the Church, that God is now your true Father, and that His Holy Spirit rests upon you and dwells within you.

Your holiness and righteousness as a Christian are found and perfected within the fellowship of the Church—in the fellowship of the means of grace—and not otherwise. Both in the receiving of faith through the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ, and in the living of love with one another: in real time, flesh and blood, body and soul, words and actions.

Your holiness and righteousness daily flow from the forgiveness of sins, and in this life on earth they are always returning to the forgiveness of sins. With such forgiveness, there is also mercy and compassion, and the giving and receiving of life through the feeding and care of the body.

That life of love—which is received and shared and lived within the Body of Christ—is likewise extended to the world outside of the Church in patience and kindness, mercy and compassion, in the forgiveness of trespasses, and in self-sacrificing service.

This holy and perfect love will never compromise the Word of God, nor violate sound doctrine, which is the preaching and teaching of Jesus, nor deny and contradict the Gospel, which is our life and holiness. But whatever else we may possess on earth, we willingly lay aside in love.

Therefore, what it looks like for you to be holy and perfect—a son or daughter of God in Christ, a member of His Body the Church, in whom the Holy Spirit abides in peace—what that looks like, is that you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. You do not lose your temper; you do not retaliate or seek revenge against those who hurt you or speak ill of you; nor do you harbor bitterness or resentment in your heart and mind against anyone else. You do not hide or withhold your possessions from those in need, but you gladly do good, even to those who sin against you.

You show no partiality, but you are kind and good and merciful and generous with each and all of your neighbors alike; though the particularities may differ according to each unique situation.

Not only do you love and serve each other, your family and friends, your neighbors and enemies, with your money and stuff, your time and talents, but also with your words, as the oracles of God. So do you speak the Gospel to your neighbor, and you pray for your neighbor.

It comes down to loving your neighbor, doing no harm but doing all manner of good. In faith before God—from whom you have all good things by His grace—you actually love your neighbor as yourself.

You serve and care for your neighbor, as you yourself desire and need to be cared for and served. Not tit for tat, “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” but for Jesus’ sake, in the holiness of God. You simply do whatever good you can without counting the cost or keeping score, knowing that your real reward is your life in Christ Jesus, which is safely hidden with your Father in heaven.

With what sort of materials, then, are you building on this one Foundation of the Lord’s Church, the house and home of His family? With gold and silver, with precious stones and fine jewels? Or with sticks and stubble, straw and hay, which are easily blown away and burned up?

Are you building up the Body of Christ in faith and love, or do you tear down and destroy the Temple of God with harsh and hurtful thoughts, words and deeds?

That which abides unto the end and remains forever is Christ Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, and the preaching of His holy Gospel. For He Himself is divine and holy Love, and He Himself is the perfect Righteousness of God, Personal and in the Flesh.

So does His love become personal and specific in your faithful loving service to others, according to your station in life, according to the Ten Commandments; as you have heard the Lord spell out for you, specifically and concretely, in Leviticus 19.

You, then, live in love and manifest the mercies of God in concrete and specific ways, wherever the Lord has put you.

Do not horde for yourself what God has graciously given into your possession and stewardship, but share it freely with the poor and needy.

Do not be aloof and distant, but a very present help in trouble.

Do not worry or be afraid that you will be left with nothing, or that you will be deprived of your own needs; for Christ is yours, and you are His, and all good things are yours in Him forever.

But now, beloved, if you have not been holy and righteous; if you have rather been short-tempered and impatient, rude and quarrelsome; if you have caused hurt and harm, and have withheld the help you could have given to others; or, if you have taken instead of giving; if you have loved your own family and friends well enough, but have neglected or been indifferent to your neighbors and have hated your enemies — Repent, and live as a Christian, as a child of God, a member of Christ’s holy Bride.

For the Lord your God—who gives life to all people, who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the evil and the good, and who gives daily bread, even without your prayer, also to all the wicked—He is holy and righteous, perfect in His mercy and compassion, and He is indeed your God and Father in Christ Jesus. He daily and richly forgives you all your sins, by His grace. He raises you up from death to life, day by day, and His mercies upon you are new every morning. He has cleansed you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in all your going out and coming in, henceforth unto the life everlasting, He washes your dirty feet with His Word of Holy Absolution.

He leaves behind a grain offering and a drink offering—the pure wheat of His Field, the good grapes of His Vineyard—that you might have Bread to eat, and so live; and that you might have Wine to drink, and so celebrate with great joy and gladness.

With these good gifts, much greater still, your dear Father in heaven gives you the spiritual food and drink of Christ’s own holy Body and precious Blood: to nourish and sustain you; to clothe and cover and consecrate you; to guard and protect you from all harm and danger, from sin and death and every evil of body and soul; and to save you from your enemy, the old wicked foe.

Therefore, you belong to the Body of Christ, because Christ feeds you with His Body.

You abide in Him and with Him, because He abides in and with you in this Sacrament.

So are you a living stone in the Temple of God—and you are holy, as your Father in heaven is holy—because the Son of God, Christ Jesus, dwells in you with His life-giving Holy Spirit.

See here how He loves you, perfectly and completely, with Himself.

Though you have been a stranger to Him and at odds with Him, yet, hear how He greets you, as a beloved Brother and a dear Friend, with grace, mercy and peace.

Consider that He has given Himself for you: His eye for your eye, His teeth for your teeth; His right cheek and His left, His hands and feet and side; His Body of flesh and blood; and His soul and Spirit on the Cross, even unto death.

He has not gone one mile or two, but the whole distance for you.

Have no fear, therefore, but rest here in His perfect Peace.

Does He not give you the shirt off His back? Does He not cover your nakedness and shame with Himself, His honor and His majesty? And does He not clothe you with His own righteousness?

He does not destroy you, but builds you up in His Love, adorning you with that which is far more precious, more lasting and more lovely than gold or silver or jewels, even anointing you with the Holy Spirit and beautifying you from head to foot, inside and out, with His own holy Blood.

This grace of God in Christ Jesus—His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and His free gift of life and salvation—this is His holiness, with which you are now sanctified; His righteousness, in which you are perfected before God, and shall be perfected in the resurrection of your body at the last; and this is His Glory, by which you are glorified in body and soul, both now and forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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