Last week we covered Law and Gospel (again!). But the study was worth the time because we added two new dimensions to the discussion that affect us in our living in and studying end times.
Law and Gospel Review
- God is perfect and holy (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48). We often try to determine how good we are by comparison with someone else. “If I can be better than someone else then I must be alright.”
- Yet, if we compare ourselves with what God demands we find that we fall short (Romans 3:10). And it takes only one sin to be guilty of all of God’s demands (James 2:10).
- The problem is worse, because by nature we are sinful; we are born that way (Ephesians 2:1; Psalm 51:4). The wages of our sin is death (and ultimately hell, Romans 6:23).
- God sent His Son Jesus Christ to live the perfect life in obedience to God’s (the Father) demands (Matthew 5:17). He was sinless in this work (Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
- Jesus also came to take the punishment that humans deserved. He died on the cross to take away God’s anger at sin (Romans 3:24–27) and paid the penalty we deserved (1 Peter 3:18).
- We cannot do anything about our condition, but God can. While we were dead in sin, God made us alive in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4–5).
- By Jesus’s work we are now declared to be in a right relationship with God. That new standing with God is received only by faith, which is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8–9).
- That faith which receives God’s gift is an active, living, growing, God-pleasing faith (Hebrews 11:6; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Peter 3:18).
The above diagram and numbered points refer to righteousness before God. This is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that is given to believers.
Thus, this is called passive righteousness. We can do nothing to earn it, be better at it, because it is the righteousness of Christ given to us. Before God, only passive righteousness is sufficient. That is, Christ’s righteousness is perfect, meeting all the standards of God as well as satisfying the punishment that we deserved because we failed. A person cannot add anything to this righteousness.
At the same time, God has placed in this world to serve his purposes, by serving others. This is our active righteousness (before people, Latin coram mundo). This is the righteousness of the person relative to everyone else. That is, we actively serve other people and God’s creation.
Note: This active righteousness has no bearing on the passive righteousness. If we serve more fervently and more often, we cannot ”improve” our passive righteousness before God. At the same time, our passive righteousness informs, forms, guides, and motivates our active righteousness.
In effect, we are God’s mask as we serve others.
God places us in situations and roles in life where we exercise our active righteousness. Historically that is called vocation. Thus, I have vocations as son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, pastor, and so on. In each vocation I am actively serving someone, carrying out God’s desires for human/creature benefit. But none of that makes me a better person before God, because I already have the perfect righteousness of Christ, passively received through faith.
Vocation in the End Times
As we live in our vocations, God strengthens us in passive righteousness through His Word, Baptism, Lord’s Supper, and Absolution (notice: forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith, restoring, renewing, etc. which are all God’s work for us and in us). That is, we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. At the same time, we are strengthened to serve in our active righteousness.
For living in the End Times (which we are!), the key is what Peter wrote in his second letter.
2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Thus, we receive (passive righteousness) and serve (active righteousness) in vocations as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ. We live not in fear, but in faith; not in scrambling for a “war,” but in service to others.