The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 27, 2019
Former New York Times editor Henry Grunwald said, “There is only one religion, and that is to be good.”
If that’s the definition of religion, then I don’t have one. My faith is not first and foremost about being good, but about being made better by Someone. Though I absolutely believe my faith improves me, my primary concern in it is not to improve myself but to connect with the One who can: who can do me over and recreate me into a person able to do more good for others.
My faith consists of my putting myself in the hands of the Son of God and letting Him have at me: to enable me to live up to the new person into whom He has changed me. We who follow Jesus are, today’s scripture says, “what [God] has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”
In Christ God does us over. Thus, Jesus spoke of His followers’ becoming born a second time; the Apostle Paul, of their becoming “new creations”; and the ancient prophets, of their gaining, in place of their old hearts of stone, changed hearts full of God’s Spirit.
By grace we are saved from ourselves with no contribution but our trust, and this is not our own doing. Grace is, as Anne Lamott once put it, finding yourself in a different universe from where you had been stuck, when you had absolutely no way to get there on your own. It is to find yourself in a different universe where, because God did you over, you can do good in a new “way of life” and help others as you’ve never before been able.
The followers of Jesus do good works; but they are secondary to, responsive to, and derivative from the work He has done on us “beforehand”. Our works are never the root of our new life in Christ, but they are the fruit of it. Our capacity to have impact for good is always received before it is achieved.
Yet, what is received is always meant to be achieved, and every Christian has work to do.
Lecrae Moore grew up without a father, and endured a childhood of abuse and neglect. He consoled himself with alcohol, drugs, theft, sex and gang-banging. He was so wild that his friends nicknamed him “Crazy Crae”.
Some Christian men entered his life and showed him who Jesus is. Lecrae committed his life to Jesus and started to follow Him. Today, Lecrae raps his faith, and has won several Grammy and Dove awards. His album Anomaly was the first album ever to top both the Gospel charts and the Billboard 200 charts.
In his rapping Lecrae celebrates Jesus’ having done him over and Jesus’ sending him out to do good works and make his community better.
Lecrae says a key turning point in his new life in Christ came when he realized what comes after conversion – when he grasped, as he puts it, that “Christianity is not just religious truth; it is Total Truth.” Loud and clear he heard God call him to roll up his sleeves and apply his faith to advance justice and politics, science and scholarship, art and music. Lecrae observes, “We’ve limited Christianity to salvation and sanctification. But Christianity is the truth about everything. If you say you have a Christian worldview, that means you see the world through that lens [and you think about more than] just how people get saved and what to stay away from.”
Indeed, the job of every Christian is to live up to the new person God has created them to be, to make something of what God has already made them, and to make a difference for the good of all.
Dr. Rosalind Pickard is the founder and director of the Affective Research Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Theology. Once she had been convinced that she didn’t need God or faith. She espoused atheism and dismissed believers as uneducated ignoramuses. Yet, she felt that as an educated person she should read the Bible – which she did, again and again.
As she read it, she had what she describes as “this strange sense of being spoken to”. As she talked about it with Christians, she felt compelled to run an experiment by letting Jesus take charge of her life and seeing what, if anything, would change for her.
“My world changed dramatically,” she testifies, “as if a flat, black-and-white existence suddenly turned full-color and three-dimensional.” Professor Pickard found herself with new desires and interests, but also with some intensified old ones. She says, “I lost nothing of my urge to seek new knowledge. In fact, I felt emboldened to ask even tougher questions about how the world works.
“Today,” she continues, “I work closely with people whose lives are beset with medical struggles. I do not have adequate answers to explain their suffering. But I know that there is a God of unfathomable greatness and love who freely enters into relationship with all who confess their sins and call upon His name.
“I once thought I was too smart to believe in God. Now I know I was an arrogant fool who snubbed the greatest Mind in the cosmos – the Author of all science, mathematics, art and everything else there is to know. Today I walk…with joy, alongside the most amazing Companion anyone could ask for, filled with a passion to keep learning and exploring.”
By grace people are saved through nothing but faith, and it is all God’s doing from beginning to end. But, once He’s done them over, they become doers who pursue knowledge, fight for justice, bear witness to Jesus, and love others as He loved them. Let us who believe in Him become more and more what He has made us, created anew in Him for good works. Let us pray!