Monday, October 31, 2011

The Day of the Saints & holiness

On November the 1st many liturgical denominations in the West celebrate All Saints Day. It is a wonderful time to think about the holiness of the saints. Landon Whitsitt, Vice Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has begun writing about the foundation parts of the New Book of Order on a blog for the Synod of Mid-America. Using, F-1.0302b, he writes about The Holiness of the Church. I like Whitsitt's thoughts that holiness belongs to Christ rather than to ourselves and how holiness means we are set apart to bear witness to the love of Christ.

But I think that more needs to be said about how that occurs and what it means that because of the love of Christ our sins are taken away. And although Whitsitt opines about our concern to build a firewall for orthodoxy, I think it is unnecessary to toss aside the importance of doctrine or orthodoxy when we think about holiness and Christ’s great love. Rather, I’m in agreement with Dorothy Sayers, the lay theologian and author of the Peter Whimsy detective stories, who insisted that “The Dogma is the Drama.”

To put it another way, the fact that Jesus, fully human, fully divine, loved us enough to bear our sins on the cross is a beautiful and grand drama of God’s redemptive love. The dogma is so deeply intertwined with our life and confession that we cannot in anyway dismiss it. And yes, because of the drama that is the dogma, we who have put on Christ have been clothed in his righteousness and made holy. Better still as Paul explains in Ephesians 2:4-10 we have been redeemed by grace and now walk in the good works that God had already prepared for us:

“But God being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of god; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them.”

So how do we bear witness to the love of Christ-we tell what God has done for us by sending his Son to die for us. Of course that also entails Christ’s life and resurrection. We also walk into the good works that God has prepared for us. And because we are set apart, made righteous in his righteousness, we live for Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit, striving to be obedient to his word. As Paul puts it in another place “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice.” (Romans 12: 1) That has to do with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as costly grace as opposed to cheap grace.

This is the paradox we live with; Christ did not buy our salvation cheaply, therefore we do not wear it for nothing. Freely it is given, freely we receive it, but because of it we walk through many valleys. His burden is light, because it is his, but still he calls us to carry it in hard places. We are sinners all, but also saints, who are being transformed into his image. Praise the lovely name of Jesus.
Picture by Stephen Larson

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