This portion is directly taken out of “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church” by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt. The page numbers are the page numbers of a booklet which was on the book rack provided by Oceanside United Reformed Church.
It seems to me that the key question here is a very basic one: Can the cross and blood of Christ save a Christian (failing as he or she is in living the Christian life) or no?
I hope that most of us would say that the shed blood of Christ is sufficient to save a sinner? All by itself, just Christ’s blood, “nude faith” in it, “sola fide”, “faith without works”, “a righteousness from God apart from law,” a cross by which “God justifies wicked people,” etc. So far so good, right?
But is the blood of Christ enough to save a still sinful-Christian? Or isn’t it? Does the Gospel still apply, even if you are a Christian? Or doesn’t it? It seems to me (1) that the category “sinner” still applies to me, (2) that the category “sinner” still applies to you, (3) that the category “sinner” still applies to all Christians. (If you are a Wesleyan and have reached perfection, what I have to say here doesn’t, of course apply to you.) But for the rest of us, it seems that what Luther said of the Christian being “simultaneously sinful and yet justified before the holy God” is critical. Is what Luther said Biblical? Or isn’t it? Is it Biblical to say that a Christian is “simul justus et peccator” or no? Are we Christians saved the same way we were when we were baptized into Christ, or when we came to acknowledge Christ’s shed blood and His righteousness as all we had in the face of God’s holy law? That all of our supposed “virtue” – Christian or pagan – is just like so many old menstrual garments (to use the Bible phrase)? But God imputes to those who trust Christ’s cross the true righteousness of Christ himself? We are pretty sure that unbelievers who come to believe this are instantly justified in God’s sight, declared as if innocent, adopted as sons or daughters, forgiven of all sin, given eternal life, etc. But are Christians still saved that freely? Or are we not? We are pretty clear that imputed righteousness saves sinners. But can the imputed righteousness of Christ save a Christian? And can it save him or her all by itself? Or no? I think the way we answer this question determines whether we have anything at all to say to the “sad alumni” of Christianity.
We Lutheran pastors haven’t done a great job of getting across the central nature of righteousness by imputation alone. I hope you’ve done a better job at it than we have!
Decades ago, a gigantic survey of our clergy and laity showed that we Lutheran pastors hadn’t even convinced our own members of the sufficiency of Christ’s cross and blood and death for them! (And I mean Lutheran members who might never have sneaked out to attend some evangelical revival, might never have spent 5 minutes watching crazy Trinity Broadcasting Network). Proof: A Study of Generations [results: 75% gave perfect Roman Catholic answers!]
• “When you die, are you sure you will enter heaven? [“I hope so.”]
• “I was president, tithed, sang in the choir, taught Sunday School,” etc.
• Perfect Roman Catholic answers! And this survey was done decades ago!
What the “sad alumni” need to hear (perhaps for the first time) is that Christian failures are going to walk into heaven, be welcomed into heaven, leap into heaven like a calf leaping out of its stall, laughing and laughing, as if it’s all to good to be true.
It isn’t just that we failures will get in. It’s that we will probably get in like that! We failures-in-living-the-Christian-life-as-described-in-the-Bible will probably say something like, “You mean it was that simple?!” “Just Christ’s cross & blood?! Just His righteousness imputed to my account as if mine? You gotta be kidding!” “And all of heaven is ours just because of what was done by Jesus outside of me, on the cross—not because of what Christ did in me” – in my heart, in my Christian living, in my behavior?! “Well, I’ll be damned!” But, of course, that’s the point isn’t it? As a believer in Jesus as your Substitute, you won’t be damned! No believer in Jesus will be. Not a single one!
• “Be of good cheer, my son. Your sins are forgiven.”
• “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
• Fear not, little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
• “Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden. Take My yoke upon you, for My Yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
• “And He, when He comes, will neither break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoldering wick.”
• “When You return, remember me.” I tell you, this day yhou shall be with Me in paradise.”
• “It is finished!”
• “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” • “God made Him to be sin who Himself knew no sin…”
• “…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as man of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
• “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that [faith in Jesus is] not of yourselves, but it is a gift of God, lest any man should boast.” • “And to the man who does not work but trusts the One who justifies the wicked, his faith is counted as if it were righteousness.” • “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith, apart from works of the law.”
• “….knowing a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” • “But now a righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law,…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
• “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” • “There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
(pages 18-21, 27-28).