Foundations: You Are What Jesus Says You Are
By Harrison Goodman
You, Christian, are the salt of the earth. Salt mattered more before we had refrigerators. It's not just that you give the world its flavor, and too much of you is bad for everyone's heart. You are the preservative. Jesus says you are what keeps everything from rotting and falling apart. You, Christian, are the light of the world. You stand between the world and the dark. That's a tall order. It's terrifying, especially as our numbers appear to shrink, our world appears to rot, and dark and latter days hem us in. It feels like we're losing. It feels like everything's falling apart. And somewhere down the line the hope of the Church stopped being about sharing Jesus with sinners and turned into just surviving another generation. Our concern stopped being that the world doesn't have enough peace and started being that we don’t have enough money, or power, or kids. It turns you from people Jesus died for into a commodity that will keep things going after this generation can't anymore. We're not just afraid for our institution. We're afraid for our future. Our relationships. Our health. We're afraid we don't have enough of whatever it takes to make things okay. If the salt has lost its saltiness, it's no good for anything. Trample it underfoot. It's called despair. It's not good for anything (Matthew 5:13).
Good for Nothing
Jesus seems to only want to twist the knife. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). The thing is, they were probably better at this stuff than we are. The Pharisees weren't villains who twisted fancy mustaches. They were men who thought family mattered. They stood for morality and the good of their people. They supported their church. They were the upright people you’d expect to see standing against the darkness of the day. They were the ones building something that would last another generation. But that isn't enough. Their temple was torn down. Not one stone stood upon the other. Everything they fought for wasn't enough—not for this world, and not for the next. They were trampled underfoot, so where does that leave us?
So much of our struggle, our fear, our despair, is rooted in the fact that we go looking in the scriptures for a challenge rather than an identity. What can I do to achieve something worthwhile? Succeed where others failed? Build something that moth and rust can't destroy? (Matthew 6:19) What can I do to show I'm the salt and the light that will make this place better and make me stand out from those who make it worse? It puts a burden on kids who have too much on their plates already. It turns the Church into just one more obligation for youth who are looking to find help there but instead end up feeling it's their job to carry the Church forward.
Jesus for You
Christianity is not about you. It's about Jesus for you. Christianity is not a challenge, it's an identity. The light of the world is Jesus. He is the light that dwells in darkness, which the darkness cannot overcome. The light became the light of men. Now the light is you. Not because of what you did. Not because of what you built. Not because of what you’ll stand for. Because Christ and His righteousness are yours. Now. For real.
The Light of Life
He is the light set on the hill. The light that comes into the darkness, that creeps in every time we sin and fail, every time we try our best and it isn't enough, and every time we contribute to the destruction by our own sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. The light has come into our darkness, and the darkness can not overcome it. The light was set on the hill of Calvary. Jesus died there for sinners. The afraid sinners. The despairing sinners. The sinners who couldn't do enough and the ones who made things worse. He died for me. He died for you. He died for Pharisees. He died for all. Your sins are forgiven you. Rot comes undone as He rises from the grave. Death is destroyed, dark is vanquished. Light shines from Christ.
That light shines through Christians to the world. Others see our good works. It's more than just the outward works of the Pharisees. More than the ability to build an institution or the power to enforce morality. More than your outward works. Who Christ is for us shows the world the inward work of love. Mercy. Forgiveness. Peace. This isn't a challenge, it’s an identity. You are love, because you were first loved. This is not a quantity of works, but a quality of character. You are not the sum of your sins weighed against the sum of your works. You are not what you've broken or failed to do. You are what Jesus made you. Salt. Light. Holiness. Loved.
Don't Fear Your Sin
This identity lets you face the fullness of the Law without fear. You don't need to downplay it or excuse it. You don't need to justify yourself by abolishing the parts that make you look like a sinner. Your sins are forgiven. You are in Christ. The Law can't hurt you. When the Son of God calls you holy and forgiven, the Law can't give you an identity. You don't need to excuse the Law, or hide or relax it because Jesus fulfills it for you. The more you relax the Law to flee from what it would call you, the more you try to not need Jesus.
To relax the Law is to point away from Jesus. To see the Law fulfilled and not relaxed one iota is to see Jesus. To teach the Law fully is to teach Jesus. Be not afraid of your failure. Be not afraid of your sin. Christ has fulfilled the Law. Christ has won your forgiveness. Christ has given you an identity, not a challenge. This is just who you are now. Baptized. Holy. Loved. Light.
Rev. Harrison Goodman is the pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas.
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