The 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High featured a young Sean Penn (good actor, bad politics) as a pot smoking slacker that was constantly harassed by a teacher played by Ray Walston. (My Favorite Martian for all of you in my age bracket) Walston warned Penn that his bad behavior would be noted on his permanent record and would follow him forever. Acts 13:38-39, “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” Even slacker Christians that violate the law with regularity are justified by their faith in the Risen Christ. No, these offenses are not noted on your permanent record with God, and for many of us that fall short way too often, that is a welcome relief. Our God is a forgiving God that loves His children beyond any human’s ability to comprehend.
So, does that mean that we are no longer bound by or restricted by the law? Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” So, what of those who decide to invoke their bound conscience to overrule verses of Scripture with which they disagree? When we truly love our Lord and Savior, we necessarily want to please Him in all we do. And how can we better please Him but by being obedient servants? Scripture is the written word of God. His rules are set out before us, put to words by the Holy Spirit inspired authors of the Bible. Jesus said in John 14:23-24, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”
It cannot be plainer to anyone who reads the words of Jesus, that the law remains important for every believer. In fact, the Gospel cannot exist without the law. The two are inseparable. The law demands righteousness, the Gospel bestows righteousness. Christ is the living embodiment of the law and it is through faith in the Risen Christ that righteousness is bestowed upon believers. In other words, any Christian deliberately behaving in a manner contradictory to what the law demands, denies that Christ is foremost in their lives for all to see. Our actions are to show the world our love for Christ so that others may see and also want to know Christ. Every action, no matter how small, is done to give the glory to God. When we place our opinion over the word of God, we give glory to ourselves and deny our God. This does not go unnoticed by the world. Those thirsting to fill that emptiness within their hearts are watching and just may be turned away from the cross and be compelled to look elsewhere, if we behave contrary to the law.
Our brothers and sisters in the ELCA continue to reach out with their imperfect love, allowing the doctrine of bound conscience to remain an open avenue to disregard Scripture and fulfill the cravings of a sinful humanity. Granted, it is difficult to deny oneself in order to please our God, but our obedience will not only be pleasing to God, it will fill our own emptiness by allowing Christ into our hearts. Actions pleasing to God are also very satisfying to those engaging in them. Every time one acts when the Spirit presents an opportunity to serve, the servant often receives as much satisfaction from performing that act as does the recipient of the service. This is how the Holy Spirit works in us. Our obedience leads us to proclaim the Gospel by allowing us to be filled with His love and then to pour out that love to those in need. All of this to bring glory to God. All of this to show the world the love our God has for His children. All of this to reveal the Truth to the world in order to bring all His children to faith in the Risen Christ.
As you celibrate during this Christmas season, remember who it is that you serve. Much is asked of those who serve the Lord and much more will be required, and those entrusted with much responsibility will receive even more responsibility. Once you become a good and faithful servant of the Lord, it becomes easier and easier to serve Him. Be a joyful servant and serve the Lord, obedient to the best of your ability.
Joy to the world for unto you a Savior has been born. Serve Him with all your heart, mind and soul ever mindful that your service is to proclaim the glory of God by sharing His love with those in need of Him. Merry Christmas to all!