By Ted Rosenbladt
There was once a guy that my dad hired to redo the tile on his house floor. For the purpose of this article, we’ll call him Jim. He was an AMAZINGLY hard and high quality worker. He struggled with a dark life which included drug use and intense personal problems. Jim was utterly drowning in law, even if not God’s Law.
When Jim sat in our kitchen during a break, usually dirty and drenched in sweat, he would just talk with us about life, and sometimes religion would come up. I always tried to be like Dad, who never came after him for his obvious failures. Dad would identify with his struggles, even if Jim had obviously brought many of them upon himself. “That sounds really hard,” Dad would say.
MERCY AND GRACE IN OUR TIME OF NEED
Dad simply accepted him while he was failing. When Jim failed again over the course of the work project, Dad wouldn’t dump law on him, but would just hear him (so it was often like a confession) and console him. Sometimes those exchanges would end up with Jim in tears. I think he was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the law and condemnation that he was used to hearing everywhere to also come from Dad. But it never did.
I’ve learned a lot from Dad’s approach. He knows when you have had plenty of law and already feel the burden of condemnation. And when he senses that, he will not dump more on you. And even when he’s not explicitly bringing the hope of the Christian faith, he’s EXUDING it.
Eventually, Jim came out and asked definitively why we are Christians. At that point, I was able to share the Gospel with him and why we know it is true and how God did all the work to save him and that he’s saved by believing in Christ. But it took a long time for him to trust us with such a huge question. Jim lived in an ocean of distrust and betrayal in his life. Unfortunately, I don’t know the outcome of all of that or where he is now. God does, though.
We sinners are always seduced into thinking that more law will solve the problem, whether it’s God’s Law or our own made-up rules. But I watched Dad go exactly the opposite way and so often, just by simply being gentle and accepting, people wanted to know more about what Dad believed and why. It always had a striking effect.
We are so broken and used to being judged and having law crammed down our throats, even while we’re already frozen in terror about our wickedness and daily failures, that at times it’s crushing.
THE LETTER KILLS BUT THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE
When people are tempted to use law (most of the time well-meaning) to comfort me at my lowest points, my question to them is, “What good news do you have for me?” It’s the same question I ask of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who come to my door. Law is condemnation, not good news.
And at the same time, our internal voices fight the idea that God is so gracious that He would continue to forgive us sinners, after we have CONSCIOUSLY and KNOWINGLY sinned against Him even AFTER having received His forgiveness and grace. Who am I to receive more when I only crapped on it the last time?! But, see . . . that’s what Jesus demonstrated. That He is THAT forgiving of us and our CONSTANT failures. Look at the disciples! Peter, Paul, all of them. Like them, we fail daily, hourly, every minute. We are drowning in our sins every day.
And so having people around us who are gentle and supportive and don’t condemn because they are themselves convicted of their own sin, which they, too, confess and receive forgiveness for every week, is shockingly comforting to those who know no such peace, or struggle to accept such constant forgiveness. The Law IS convicting us wretched sinners every day, so we need that “200 proof” Good News (as Dad says) all the time to keep breathing life into us and raising us up to help our neighbors again.
Such “consolation of the brethren” echoes the Gospel we receive from Christ, allowing us to help our closest neighbors take their sins off their shoulders so they can move forward again tomorrow as well.
THERE IS THEREFORE NOW NO CONDEMNATION
The struggle is real. However, Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection ARE sufficient to save you, and through your Baptism into Him and your weak and flagging faith, He IS sufficient to save you, and He maintains that for you. And, like Paul, we will still struggle (Romans 7:14-25). But Christ will not leave us, and instead will remain with us, even to the end of the age. I am ever thankful that my salvation and standing with God are NOT dependent on my weak and failing faith and sinful works. CHRIST saves, nothing in me. I simply lie there and receive His Gifts, unworthy wretch though I am. Thanks be to God!