09 February 2014

Your Righteousness Goes Before You

It is because of who you are, in Christ, that you now live in the way that God has called you to live.  That is the way of righteousness for which you have been created, redeemed, and sanctified by His Word and Spirit.  For the salvation that Christ Jesus, your Savior, has accomplished for you and all people, is not the abolishment of the Law, but its fulfillment.  Not only does He keep all of the commandments of God, but, in His doing so, He also teaches you to do the same.

His teaching and His righteousness are not like those of the scribes and Pharisees.  But it’s not that He dismisses the Law, which is the Word of God and the revelation of His good and acceptable Will.  Jesus does not trade legalism for anarchy, debauchery, or licentiousness, as though sin and disobedience were now okay.  He has not come to set you free from the righteousness of God, but to bring you into the glorious liberty and genuine righteousness of God’s beloved children.

The righteousness of which your Lord speaks, and for which He has set you free, is not some quantity of stuff to be purchased or sold, earned, or traded on the stock exchange.  Nor is it a self-contained interior aptitude or disposition within you.  There is no righteousness in isolation from God and your neighbor.

The righteousness of Christ is the right relationship of sonship with God, the Father in heaven.  It is a relationship of faith and love: to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and, for His sake, to love your neighbor as yourself.  This living and loving proceed from within the relationship of sonship.  For as you are a son of God in Christ, by His grace, so do you live as a son of God, sanctifying His Name in your words and actions, by faith in Christ Jesus.

This is the righteousness that Christ has accomplished and fulfilled from His Baptism to His Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection from the dead, even forevermore.  His dying and rising are the way and the means by which you enter the Kingdom of heaven, and by which you live with Him in His Kingdom in righteousness.

That means dying to yourself and to your own self-righteousness, and rising to newness of life in Christ Jesus.  That is to speak of repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins; which is not a mental exercise, nor a do-it-yourself program, but to avail yourself of the Word, to make use of the means of grace, to remember and return to your Baptism by going to Confession and Absolution, and to receive and remember the Lord with thanksgiving in the Holy Communion.  That is not the end, but the beginning, the daily new beginning, which emerges in a new way of life.

To affirm that your righteousness before God is by faith in Christ, in His Gospel, is not to say that it may be kept hidden away within your heart.  Indeed, it cannot be.  But, no, the righteousness of faith before God is manifest in love before men.  It is foolish to suppose that a Christian disciple of Jesus could be or live otherwise.

To refrain from love, to neglect your duties, to ignore or disobey the commandments of God, is to deny and disavow your very identity as a child of God: like salt that is not salty, or water that is not wet.  It is to disown the family of God, to run away from His home, and to set yourself outside of His Kingdom and His righteousness.  It is to lose all.

If you have disregarded the commandments of God, as though they had no authority over you; if you have hidden yourself away from your neighbor and his needs; if you have been concerned with lighting only your own path and progress, rather than enlightening your neighbor and glorifying your God and Father in Christ — I tell you now: Repent.  Return to the Lord your God, and live unto Him in Christ, to the glory of His Holy Name.

If you are a Christian, live, then, as a Christian.  For you, also, are baptized into Christ, into His Cross and Resurrection.  Die to yourself, therefore, and rise with Him to live unto righteousness as a child of God.  If you are not a Christian, become one, that you may live.  How so?  Repent and be baptized, and believe the Holy Gospel, that, for Christ’s sake, all your sins are forgiven, and you are justified by His grace.

It is by His mercy that you are a child of God, named with His Name; that you are a beloved member of His household and family, a royal citizen and heir of His Kingdom.  That is who and what you are, by the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  And the truth is, that who you are and how you live belong together, hand in glove.  The righteousness of your life is an exercise and expression of the righteousness of your relationship with God in Christ.

This is why repentance and righteousness both result in new behavior, in keeping with the commandments of God.  Because, in Christ, you are a new creation, a new person, a new man, woman, or child.  Not in isolation, nor independent of others, but within your relationship with God, and so also in a brand new relationship with all of your neighbors.  You think and speak and act differently, because, by the Word and Spirit of your God and Father, you have the heart and mind of Christ.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you.

This is truly an amazing new reality, which you could not accomplish or achieve for yourself.  It is given to you by the gracious adoption of God.  You do not storm the gates of heaven with your good works, but you do good works of faith and love because God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has called you to be His own, has brought you into His home, and has established you within His Kingdom of grace.  Indeed, not only do you live with Him, but in Him; and He now lives and moves in you.

The commandments of God, from the greatest to the least, describe this Life of God in human flesh.  It is the Life of His children, of His people, of His family, on earth as it is in heaven; because it is the Life of Christ, the incarnate Son, for you and for all.  It is the Life that is lived in His Kingdom, in which you now live by His grace through faith in His Gospel.  It is a life that can be seen, which fills the whole house with the Light of Christ, to the glory of our Father.

What shall your new life in Christ look like?  Instead of using and manipulating your neighbor, set him free and serve him.  Instead of hoarding what you have and contriving to get more and more from your neighbor for yourself, share what you have, and use whatever God has given you to care for the people around you.  Instead of entertainment and personal pleasure, invest yourself in your relationships and in your actual vocations.  Befriend and benefit your neighbor, rather than avoiding him.  Provide for both body and soul, with tangible gifts of money, food, and clothing, and with forgiveness for those who trespass against you, rather than holding grudges and harboring bitterness.  Be at peace with all people; let your gentleness and kindness be evident to all.  In the confidence of Christ, sacrifice yourself in order to serve others.

The great Mystery of His own Cross and Sacrifice is the culmination of His divine righteousness, the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets.  It is the righteousness of God Himself, acting entirely in Love, in accordance with His own divine nature and the very Being of the Holy Trinity.  It is the righteousness of perfect faith and love on the part of the Son for His Father — not hidden away within the inner Life of the Godhead, but manifested before men upon the Cross.

In this way He keeps the commandments of God to their completion, and He catechizes you to live in the same way: Not that you become the Savior of the world, but, that you be crucified and raised with Him, to live now in righteousness and purity, in faith toward God, and in love for your neighbor.  His teaching and catechesis are by instruction and example, to be sure, but, more than that, they are the living and active Word of the Cross, by which He puts you to death and brings you to life in Himself.  His Cross, therefore, is not only your crucifixion, but also your Atonement and Redemption, your Reconciliation with God and man, and your Righteousness forever in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  You live, because He lives.

This same Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is your Righteousness and Sanctification, who goes before you through death into life; who also goes with you all the way.  He has opened up the way for you to enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Indeed, He has become the Way, by which, even now, you have access to the Holy of Holies, to the Mercy Seat, and to God the Father.  So do you live as a child of God, by faith in His forgiveness, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  And the same Lord Jesus Christ, who goes before you into Glory, also guards and keeps you, on your right and on your left, and as your rear guard, to preserve you steadfast in His Righteousness and Peace, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

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

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