The saying is sure:
- If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
- if we endure, we will also reign with him;
- if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.
From the second letter to St. Timothy.
Continuing in the second letter to St. Timothy, we read St. Paul exhorting St. Timothy to keep the faith, and in so doing, to suffer for it. “Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” Paul says. He has certainly suffered plenty for the Gospel, and while writing this letter, Paul is imprisoned in Rome for the last time.
It is no small command. Paul’s parables of the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer, teach that the life of faith demands fidelity, has rules for conduct, and has an eternal reward.
The story of Ruth is a great example of a life of faith. Ruth was a Moabite, a gentile, and through her faithfulness to the LORD, became the mother of the greatest King of Israel, David. David is an ancestor of Jesus, through Joseph, the husband of Mary who raised Jesus as his own.
Because of Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi, and so to the LORD, the lineage Abraham to Jesus was continued when she wed Boaz, and became the mother of Obed, and the grandmother of Jesse, the father of David. Notice that Naomi’s late husband Elimelech had come from Bethlehem, where Jesus would later be born. Faith had come full circle.
As I said last week, faith is something that we question, because the future seems so uncertain. And yet, our God is the Lord of all time, and our times are in his hands. Faith is the hope and certainty of things you cannot see, to paraphrase the letter to the Hebrews.
St. Paul reminds us, even if our faith fails us, the Lord remains faithful. I know for a fact that when my faith failed me, when I had no more to give, the Lord never lost faith in me. His plan for my life would come to pass no matter how hard I resisted.
St. Paul wrote about the fact that it is God who is faithful several times in his letters. He wrote to the Corinthians that, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted (or tested) beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul wrote, “So faith comes by hearing, and what is heard comes by the preaching the message of Christ Jesus.” And, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,”
The doctrine of Justification by Faith alone was one of the hallmarks of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, that German monk who challenged the Church with his ideas, wrote this in 1537:
“The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us…”
This inspired Article XI of the Articles of Religion found in our Book of Common Prayer:
“We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort…”
This seems to conflict with the Catholic view that good works must accompany faith, but one must be careful not to confuse works of the Law of Moses with the good works that are the fruit of true faith.
The Anglican Theologian Richard Hooker found the common ground when he taught that justification came in two parts. First, the sacrament of Baptism necessary for the forgiveness of sins, noting that Jesus taught that none can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
The second part of justification is effected by the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, which are necessary for salvation.
It is possible to integrate the doctrine of justification by faith alone with the need for the continued participation in the sacraments, which for St. Paul, are illustrated in the concepts of the soldier who works to please his commanding officer, the athlete who competes according to the rules of the sport, and the farmer who is rewarded for his labors. While we are saved by grace through faith, this does not give us license to sit back and relax, to skip church and the sacraments, to avoid works of charity, and works of piety.
As St. Paul wrote, we must continue to run the race set before us as we look forward to that great Day when the Lord comes for us and takes us to his home. As St. Paul reminded us, keep the faith, run the race, and remember the one who is the giver of grace, the one who is always faithful, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. Amen.