I have gotten a little out of sync with the revised lectionary on the “propers,” i.e., the lessons. The lectionary gives the propers for the date closest to July 27 as those for July 30, 2017 whereas I took them for July 23. So I’m going to skip the Gospel for this week (already used last week) so that next week (August 6) we’ll be back in sync. I’m going to use the Epistle this week which is Rm 8.26-39, one of the greatest passages in the entire Bible. It says in effect that all things work together for good to those who love God (v.28), and that believers can be assured of salvation because nothing (!) can separate them from the love of God in Jesus Christ! What an assurance! Not all denominations and Christian groups (including Roman Catholics and Arminians) believe in assurance of salvation, but we Anglicans do.
But ‘how should we then live’ (to quote the title of Francis Schaeffer’s 1976 book about the rise and decline of Christian culture)? After You Believe by N.T. Wright says that when we believe we are regenerated, i.e., we receive the Holy Spirit which makes us ‘new creations’ (2 Cor 5.17) so that we are enabled and empowered to carry out the will of God which is to actively work to bring in the kingdom of God. We are blessed with the Christian virtues of which faith, hope, and love are the basis for Christian character. The Spirit provides the means of loving the virtues we call the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22,23) including self-control. We are also given the virtues described in the beatitudes as blessings. But we don’t acquire these virtues without effort. The fact that we are saved by grace through faith does not mean that our character is formed without conscious and intentional effort. This kind of effort is not the kind denied in ‘works righteousness’ (which is contrary to being saved by grace) because it is not done to merit salvation. Salvation is a gift and is a matter of grace, not merit based on work and effort, but the formation of character that pleases God (Phil 2.13; Col 1.10) is evidence that we do indeed have saving faith (Jas 2.14-26). Many Christians have unfortunately believed that all they have to do is make a profession of faith and the they will ”go to heaven,” and how they live is irrelevant. After You Believe is a powerful counter argument. It points out (as N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope does also) that the Christian’s life after death is ultimately in the new heaven and new earth in a resurrected body. And the Lord Jesus devoted His earthly ministry to initiating the kingdom of God and left His disciples (and us) to bring it to fruition here on earth. We are “justified” and ultimately saved by grace through faith, but the dawning day, justification, faith, and the Christian life, thought, and action all take place within the creative and redemptive action of the one true God, revealed in Jesus Christ, and now active in the ‘new creation’ by the Spirit of Jesus. He gave His life to inaugurate the kingdom of God and sent His Spirit to dwell in His disciples to complete the job. His followers are to accomplish this commission by living holy lives (manifesting Christian character), by prayer, and by influencing those around them to visualize the goal and commit the work necessary to make it happen. When we suffer various trials we can think of ourselves as victims, or we can see the trials as tests of our faith in the goodness and love of God who wills all things for out good. In the latter case we can respond with joy (Jas 1.2-4), courage and trust.
Memory Verse: Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor 15.58).