“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. ” Martin Luther
This admonition to “sin boldly” is only possible for those who are beginning to grasp the immeasurable nature of God’s grace, sovereignty and commitment to make all things new. It was this very lack of grace, the absence of a full trust in God’s redemption of all things, that always forced me to place caveats in the good news when I worked with high school students. I would use such phrases as “cheap grace” or “abuse grace” to temper the free gift of God through the person and work of Jesus. Perhaps it’s sort of like offering a hand out to someone but making it clear this is not an endless reservoir of gifts to be taken advantage of…there is that fear of being taken advantage of or used. But what Luther understood, and I still do not, is that sin forces me into a position of being able to no other thing than take advantage of the kindness and generosity of God. Because I refuse to see how helpless I am apart from His intervention, I am so bound by the good rule of reciprocity that it is impossible for me to grasp there really isn’t any reciprocity in my transformation from self-serving opponent of God to pure and righteous image of God.
Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:7-18
When Ellie was about the age for potty training (or perhaps even past the age of her more advanced potty training peers), I was pregnant with Chad and then shortly afterward, mothering a newborn Chad. I didn’t care that the nursery workers were putting pressure on me to potty train her, that wasn’t fitting into our survival mode routine at that time. But, I also had a deep confidence that she would not be in diapers in junior high or at her first job interview. I had a sense that it was something she’d master no matter when I finally got around to it. And, this delay wasn’t because I thought diapers were awesome, that a child walking around it their “business” was perfectly fine nor that I really had a deep enjoyment of the changing process.
If I had the same confidence in God’s promise to complete the good work that He has begun (Phil. 1:6), to make all things new (Rev. 21:5), to transform my heart of stone into a heart of flesh(Ezek. 11:19), to replace the desires of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5) and the first Adam with the second, I would enjoy that freedom in His Spirit so much more. What if I really believed I couldn’t delay or in any way thwart His power at work in me (Job 42:2, Is. 14:27)? What if I trusted that it really is God at work in me, willing and acting according to His good purpose?
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Phil. 2:12-13
Working out my salvation with fear and trembling just might be believing more that it is God and not me who is going to accomplish His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:2) What if it turns out that the Christian life isn’t actually a relay where God hands me the baton and then cheers with bated breath my sprint around the track, a lap I may or may not succeed in completing? If I really trusted and believed that it is the Holy Spirit who restrains the evil and wicked I am perfectly capable of, I might stop assuming it was my admirable self-discipline. (Gal. 5:23) If I really believed in the certainty of my salvation (John 6:37) and of my sanctification based solely in the person and work of Jesus, I would be free in daily life just as I felt freedom not to white knuckle Ellie’s potty training. I live in fear of my sin to the extent I continue to assume it condemns me and that I am the one responsible for (and capable of) eradicating it. Fear of it will not enslave me as it does now when my faith grows to believe He really is in control of the process of my redemption from start to finish.
The perfectionist writer (or painter or musician) will almost never produce something full of life because there is too great a fear of error or misinterpretation. The writer who trusts the process knows that brainstorming and rough drafts are a necessary part of getting to that final draft. Freedom to get all the thoughts out there then gives material to work with in the editing process. While of course a rough analogy, I think Luther was getting at the same concept – I need to be a bolder rough draft and brain storm, trusting I am fully in the hands of the Master Writer (the very Word Himself) who will produce Pulitzer Prize winning pieces every time.
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:34-36