Dean's List: Your Permanent Record
By Aaron T. Fenker
They've done wrong.They don't measure up to our community standards.They said something.They did something. It doesn't matter why they did it. It doesn't matter if they matured or tried to make up for it or said they were sorry. What they did, what they stood for was just too bad.
I'm not talking about Christianity, even though lots of people think this is the way the Christian Church works. Sadly, while many individual Christians and congregations may teach and act that way, I'm not actually talking about that. No, I'm talking about the world.
Nowadays, nothing's ever really gone. You can't delete. Well, you can, but then there are screen shots! There's a permanent record somewhere: your internet search history, your posts, your tweets, your texts. Whom you called, where you went, and probably what you ate--all searchable. That's beyond the more boring stuff of medical records, driving records, report cards, transcripts. The list goes on. It's not just your history. It's everyone’s. No one's safe.
You're not safe. The world's purity cult will come for you. Their judgment day against you is just around the corner, especially if you're a Christian with faith in Jesus who saves you. But what will they find? What throw-away tweet? What thoughtless text? What places did you go? Who did you go with? (Cell phone data makes that easy to discover!) Who were your friends then? What will they be able to dig up about you in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years? And what will happen when they do?
You know, don't you? I do. We see it today. Tear down. Shatter. Smash. Break. Erase. Cancel. Belittle. Condemn. Burn. Now, this isn't a commentary on what or who should be our examples or icons in the world. We can always grow to see what is and is not helpful in loving and serving those around us. Of course we should do that, not just as Christians, but just as human beings. But is there anyone who's truly pure? Just think about it. Do you expect perfection of the people you look up to? That's suddenly what the world demands of everyone according to the current standard.
The world's standard is always shifting, changing. That's both good and bad. It can help us better understand and serve our neighbor, or it could also do the opposite. We're witnessing both at the same time! But the actual problem isn't the world's standards, it's God's standard--His unchanging standard. His standard is "holy." No one measures up to that. No one ever has. No one ever will. You haven't. You can't. (Well, that's not 100% accurate, but more on that in just a minute.)
So, what's the Lord to do with the world? What's He to do with all the people in it? What we expect is for Him to destroy it. Well, at least, the really bad people in it, and that's not us. But we still expect it--a stubbed toe, getting sick, having something bad to happen. There's always something coming. Maybe embarrassment or shame. The Lord has His permanent record after all. You can't hit delete. He knows everything. He'll bring it all up again. Scour your entire life, DVR your high points and your low points. What's the Lord supposed to do...with you?
Well, the Father sends His Son for you. "He sent His Son not to condemn the world but that the world would be saved through Him" (John 3:17). He measured up.The holy Son of God comes into the world, "born under the Law to redeem those who were under the law" (Galatians 4:4-5). He lived a holy life--always. This holy Jesus, who lived a holy life wholly under the holy law, was "numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12). He was holy but was judged as unholy in your place. "He bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24), He was "made to be sin for us" (2 Corinthians 5:21). And in the shedding of His blood, there is "redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Ephesians 1:7), and Christ's own clean record, His holiness, His righteousness, is credited to your account, for "in Him we are the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
There's no cancelling with the Lord. No cancelling for you, anyway. He doesn't wipe you out. He won't destroy you, shame you, break you, delete you. But He does that to your sins, though. He "cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Colossians 1:14). He cancelled His Son for your sake: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46) But Jesus wasn't just "delivered up for our trespasses" (Romans 4:25). He was "raised for our justification" (Romans 4:25). Justification means the forgiveness of your sins, that you're declared innocent before God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection alone.
Your salvation can't be cancelled because Jesus for you can't be cancelled. He died and rose. God can't cancel you, not ever. Not only because He made a promise (and He keeps His promises),but if He were to cancel you, the Lord would have to cancel the flesh and blood He took up. He'd have to cancel part of Himself. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14), "And the Son Now is one With our blood forever" ("All My Heart Again Rejoices" LSB 360, st. 2).
Your salvation is cancel-proof. God put His Name on you at Holy Baptism. He's declared you innocent in the Absolution, forgiving you all your sins. He's given you His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. He fills you up with His Word where He tells you all that He did to save you. Many and various gifts, many and various words, many and various times and places, the Lord tells you the same thing over and over again: You're a child of the Father in Jesus His Son, given the Holy Spirit as the down payment of your eternal life.
He's not going to scour your life for mistakes, screw-ups, sins. He can't! There's nothing to see, nothing to search for in Jesus. "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). In Jesus, your permanent record is set: holy, righteous, saved, forgiven. That's you in Jesus, baptized into Him. The only thing the Lord's Judgment Day will cancel and destroy and tear down and burn isn't you, dear Christian. The devil, death, and hell itself will be "thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14-15).
But your name is there, dear saint of God. We're "engraved on the palms of My hands," the Lord says, His nail-scarred hands. You're named with God's own Name--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Your permanent record is the record He won for you. "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure" (1 John 3:2-3). That's you in Jesus. Today. Tomorrow. Twenty years from now. Forever and ever.
Rev. Aaron T. Fenker is the pastor of Bethlehem and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Bremen, Kansas, and the dean of theology for Higher Things.
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