Paul reminds us that, although we are all different, God draws us together in faith to work as one.
James R. Huebner
It is important to remember that God did not single us out to be his own because we are so wonderful or because we have such great qualities. No! He chose us by grace. He redeemed us to be his own dear children.
For the apostle Paul, redemption was not an abstract theological term dug out of an old, dusty doctrine book. Redemption is the only way out for people in prison because it involves two things: a payment is made, and then captives are set free. At the time he wrote to the Ephesians, Paul was under house arrest and had no idea whether someone would be able to make a ransom payment so that he could go free. But he did know that whether he was under house arrest or just walking the streets of Rome or Corinth or Ephesus, Jesus had already made the ransom payment for all the sins of all sinners. Jesus paid the ransom with his own blood. With that payment we sinners were set free from the prison of sin and the chains of guilt and declared to be one with God.
We are no longer corpses, nor are we scratching and clawing to get away from God like a trapped raccoon. We are God’s dear children, grateful for his love, wanting to do what he wants because all of what God did for us in Christ becomes ours personally through faith.
Faith is trust that what God says about us is true. Faith is passive. It is the empty bowl which God created in us by his powerful words of promise and love. It catches all the good things God pours into our hearts. It is not the reason he loves us. It is the result of his love for us.
But faith is also active. It is alive and produces the fruits of faith like an apple tree produces apples. “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
BUILT ON ONE FOUNDATION
One way to track the history of your congregation is to note the building projects. But you don’t want to overlook another building project that has been going on in your church, the building of the holy Christian church. And when we talk about the holy Christian church, we can’t help speaking about its chief architect, designer, and engineer, Jesus Christ. He is the foundation for our faith and the cornerstone of our faith. Jesus unites us in faith.
You don’t have to be an expert builder to know that a firm foundation is essential for any building. But what about your congregation? What about our synod? If our church body were built on human qualities and capabilities, it would have collapsed long ago. We make mistakes. We sin. Some days we do what God wants, and some days we don’t. It’s a good thing that God doesn’t build his church on sinners like you or me. Instead it is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).
Martin Luther couldn’t sleep at night. In fact, he nearly killed himself trying to beat sin out of his body. He knew that “God is holy, and I’m not, and I have to be as holy as God is if he’s going to open heaven’s gates for me.” His superiors were afraid he’d go nuts. So, to keep him busy, they had him study to be a parish priest and also got him a job as a university professor. Of all things, they asked him to teach the Bible. For the first time in his life, he dug into Holy Scripture. What he found there astounded him.
What he found is what a young man in our Bible information class found. He said, “Pastor, the thought of judgment day scares me. I’ve tried to be as good as possible at home, at work, and with friends, but sometimes I can’t sleep at night because I’m going to be at the pearly gates one day, and St. Peter might not let me in.” Ever have a thought like that pass through your brain? I told him what I’m going to tell you. If we think we have to get in by being good, we’ll never make it because we can’t be good enough on our own. That’s why God sent Jesus to be perfect in our place. And here’s the incredible news of the Bible. God credits what Jesus did to your account and mine. He treats us as though we never sinned even though we do all the time, because we are covered by the rightness of Jesus. The young man looked at me and said, “Now I can sleep tonight. I’ve got the golden ticket.” That good news of Jesus’ rightness draped over us is the foundation for our faith.
PART OF GOD’S DWELLING
Buildings often have a cornerstone to mark the date of construction. In ancient times the cornerstone not only held up and supported the building, but it also aligned the walls so that they’d fit together just so. The Christians in the congregation of Ephesus weren’t fitting together. They had a hard time finding common ground and working together. My grandma used to say, “Es gibt allerlei Menschen in Gottes Menagerie” (“There are all kinds of people in God’s zoo”). She was actually saying what the apostle Paul taught: “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of God’s household” (2:19). When the diverse people of Ephesus were filled with the good news of Jesus’ mercy, it didn’t matter whether they were Jews or Romans, Greeks or Egyptians. There could be harmony and oneness among sinners of all shapes, ages, and colors.
Are we any different than the Ephesians? Have there been disagreements among WELS Christians in the past 165 years? Of course. We have disagreed on building projects, mission efforts, where to build schools, whether or not to close schools. The list is long. How in all the world can a synod with people who have differing opinions work together?
The answer is that we are all parts of one spiritual building. Some of us are the bricks, some the mortar, some the light bulbs, some the doors. But we are all joined together to form one functioning building. The apostle looks at you and me today and says: “In [Christ] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).
No matter how old or young we are, no matter how tall or short we are, no matter what the amounts and distribution of melanin pigment in our epidermis, no matter where we live, we are one in faith, trusting in Jesus Christ. No disagreements or dividers here. That’s what it means to be one in Christ.
James Huebner, pastor at Grace, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the first vice president of WELS.
This is the second article in a four-part series based on the 2015 synod convention essay entitled “One in Christ.”
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Author: James R. Huebner
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016
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