Friday, August 3, 2012
Died in Vain?
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be earned through the law (good works), than Christ's death was in vain!"
In a perfect church-lady soprano, the soloist rang out--
"Lord, may I live my life in a such a way that you did not die in vain." (Hold "vain" note out...longer....longer...hold it, hold it....glass begins to vibrate...
Wait, what was that she just sang?
I sat up in my seat. I was at a funeral for a friend I had known through work. The service was long. Very long. I was trying to stay respectfully awake. When family members would speak, the crowd would come to life again, but as soon as someone got up to sing or lead us in a hymn, everyone seemed to doze off. We sang EVERY LINE of at least four hymns (from what I recall) and each one was sung in a way that matched the tone of the service - slow, somber, lifeless. And to top it off, we actually had a conductor at the front of the church, waving her wand at us to ensure we sang along and stayed on beat. If there was a beat.
But I was suddenly awake when she sang that line.
If I don't live my life in a certain way, Christ will have died in vain?
The song went on to talk about loving others, living right, serving God, etc., in order that Christ's death was not in vain. At least, that was how I understood the message of the song. Simply put, unless I get my act together and DO SOMETHING, God's death in all for not.
My first thought? The one that startled me awake and made me shift uncomfortably in my chair?
Hey, I'm just being honest. That's really what this blog is all about. I blog it as it comes. And in this moment at the funeral, when I heard this line, that's what came to mind - loudly and arrogantly, but thankfully, only in my mind.
Another hymn began. I wasn't even trying to follow the conductor. The hymnal was heavy in my hand, but all could think of was...
I can do nothing to add to or take away from Christ's death! I cannot add or detract value from it!
I can do nothing to add or take away from my salvation!
Well, yes and no. Or Maybe. Work this out with me a bit, won't you?
I'll be honest, I can't fully wrap my head around the full of meaning of this song nor remember every line, but what I do remember, doesn't seem quite in line with what I believe. Christ's death fulfilled God's plan for salvation. Nothing man can do can change that. Nothing man can forget to do or fail to do, can reverse or alter God's plan of salvation or make the gift of Christ's salvation less powerful, valuable or render it pointless. His death can never, ever be in vain, or "all for not" based on something man does or doesn't do. He died. He rose. He saved. Complete. Valuable. Priceless. Perfect.
I can decide THE GIFT is not for me. Sure, He gave His life, but it doesn't change mine. I don't buy it, believe it or accept it. But doesn't that just mean MY LIFE is in VAIN and NOT the Gift? I can choose to ignore, deny, denounce what Christ has done for me or I can reach out and take hold of that precious gift of forgiveness, love and believe it with my whole heart. I can live in such a way that reflects how appreciative I am for this gift.
So, let's say I deny Christ's gift of salvation (I say, "Sorry Jesus, you and your gift are not for me! I can do it on my own! Don't need God! I'm good - thanks a mill', but I'll take it from here. Not really sure you exist anyway, so I'll just be over here doing my thing, being as good as I can...")
Then my gift sits unopened.
Then what Christ did (died & rose again) was in vain because I didn't accept the gift? Because I didn't live a life full of good deeds to make it worth God's while?
What if I DO accept the gift? The gift doesn't change! It doesn't suddenly become valuable because I accepted it. Jesus death and resurrection do not "suddenly have power and meaning" because I did something (believe/accept it/do lots of really good things). However, my LIFE suddenly becomes valuable, powerful and eternally meaningful BECAUSE of the gift!
I Corinthians 15 helped me a little bit, especially verses 9-10 (but read the whole Chapter to get the context):
"For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am (Paul), and His grace toward me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I , but the grace of God which was with me." Did you catch that? Paul is saying (at least as I read it): "I was a very bad man who persecuted Christians. God saved me. By the GRACE of God, I am preaching the good news, laboring for Christ more than anyone else so his grace toward me is not in vain, but yet it's not really me, it's the GRACE of God with me that allows me to do the work."
I like JB Phillips translation (as usual!) of this same passage:
"...the grace he has given me has not proven a barren gift. I have worked harder than any of the others -- and yet it was not I, but this same grace of God within me."
So whatever works Paul did, it was grace that enabled him to do them. Even his greatest works. All his works. Apart from Christ, he and we, can do nothing.(John 15:5)
So how can the gift be in vain until I do something, if even my "doing something" is possible only through and in Christ?
I guess the bottom line for me is while I do believe I must ACCEPT in faith the gift of salvation through Christ, I am not sure I believe that I must do something to make sure it is not in vain. My LIFE could certainly be in vain, if I chose to live only for myself. My talents could be in vain, if they are only used for my personal pleasure and entertainment and not for God's purposes. Any gift given to me by God, I can waste. Hording my time, money, toys, talents, treasures is totally pointless since I can't take any of it with me! But the gift of God's Son? I just can't believe I can do anything to make it "all for not". If I don't accept it, it still holds its value. Any good works I do now, even my greatest works, don't give value to the death and resurrection of Christ. I can only do good works with his help anyway.
I know this is as clear as mud. I am still trying to wrap my head around it. I am sure I will read this two days, two months, two years from now and think, "Huh? What was I thinking?" (Maybe even two hours from now!)
I do know one thing. Nobody wants to die in vain. Funerals prove that. The funeral I attended featured a table in the lobby that displayed all the awards and medals this person had won for "giving back to the community." He was a mentor, a great father, a community advocate and friend to the poor. The table showed he hadn't lived in vain. He hadn't wasted his life in front of the TV or behind a desk. He had made a difference, left a dent, had an impact. His 67 years weren't in vain. He used them well. I am not sure he found God, although it seemed he may have near the end. I am not one to judge what his life was worth or where he is now. There were young men in the audience who he mentored for years and they could probably speak better to how much his life meant.
No matter where I land on the question, no matter whether I understand it or not, I know I don't want my life to be in vain. God gave up heaven to come to me with the gift of salvation. He saved me from myself. May He grant me the grace to make the time he gives me here on earth count for HIM. Not that I can add to God or anything He's done for me, but because I want to live a life that shows just how thankful I am for the gift.