Over the past year or so I have struggled greatly with the doctrine of justification. It is not that I have been tempted to abandon the orthodox position for a cheap substitute, but that it's a doctrine not easily applied to life. Maybe it's because most of the literature I've read on the subject is very intellectually focused, or my flesh desires to have the right answers without the necessary pain and discomfort that coincide with obedience, but either way, I know that this great truth doesn't really look that great when set next to my life. In short, something is wrong.
The Bible is full of absolute commands. Christ seemed to be especially fond of saying things like, "...if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23) Or, "if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26) The problem I find with these commands is not that they are bad commands, but that they aren't the type of commands I want Jesus to give--they are too vague. They are too ambiguous for an aspiring Pharisee such as myself. What I mean is that they are not easily obeyed. Christ isn't telling us to make a big, wooden cross and walk all over the world with it. That is too easy. He doesn't demand that we never speak with our disfunctional families ever again. That's even easier (for me, at least). He is asking of us something much deeper than external obedience.
Yet my search for obedience is too often characterized by this type of external obedience. I go to church twice every Sunday. I play in the worship band. I go to bible studies, church work days, and potlucks. In short, I look good. Everybody sees my good works and I know it. But this isn't what Christ asks of me. His righteousness hasn't been imputed to me so that I can continue trying to establish my own. Paul puts it this way--"O foolish Galatians (Mike Gorski)! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal 3:1-3) So, what's a boy to do?
Psalm 116 says, "What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people." (v. 12-14) First and foremost, I am to give back to God the very thing which He has given to me, salvation. There is no greater work than God's own, and no greater thing I can offer than praise and thanksgiving for the saving work of His Son. Living in the light of this truth should completely change my life. It should cause me to deny myself and follow Christ, to love Him so much that any love I might have for family and friends will look like hatred. And the necessary and natural extension of this is external obedience. Not just an outward 'obedience', but obedience that grows out of a pure love for God and a realization that we having nothing good to offer Him in return. At the end of every day, I can truly boast in Christ alone. His life. His Death. His resurrection. His intercession on my behalf.
Praise God that "...whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith--that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."--Philippians 3:7-11