I was frustrated, yet intrigued, earlier this week by a thread of conversation over at Bunnie's blog. Following Bunnie's post about Ash Wednesday, a frequent commenter (who happens to be Baptist) made this comment:
"Just be sure to act like a Christian while you're wearing your ashes! In elementary school, our bus was hit by a parishoner on Ash Wednesday. He walked all around his car, investigate the damage & swearing at the bus driver (it wasn't her fault). Great testimony to the driver and to all of us kids. "
Glen Piper was on the ball to add:
"Well, he certainly showed that he was a sinner, and Church was a good place for him to have been. Hopefully the realization of what he did brought home the lesson of the need for penitential mediation during Lent.
That incident sounds like a good illustration of the importance of the Ash Wednesday -> Lent -> Good Friday -> Easter progression.
And that's not a bad lesson for the kids to have learned (even if it might have only been fully learned in hindsight).
And someone else added: "Nobody is perfect."
I was intrigued by the initial comment and the following comments. I felt I could see a clear picture developing of a person who thinks that their witness is the most important thing versus what I see as a more biblical approach - recognizing your utter need for a Savior, cling to the cross as your only hope and go forward from that point. Maybe the difference seems small? I think the comments from Bunnie's post clearly illustrated that there is a difference in how you view your salvation. Here are more comments:
"Glen, Good point. That bus incident is a perfect illustration of how Satan waits to trip us up, especially when we fall into Satan's trap of thinking we can "Act like a Christian", even while wearing ashes.
"Acting" like a Christian does no good, is impossible and is offensive to God UNLESS you are acting solely of utter, deep and profound love and gratitude for being saved by grace by God from the fires of hell."
The original commenter attempts again to make her case:
"I certainly didn't mean to imply that those who practice Ash Wednesday are any more imperfect than the rest of us imperfect sinners.
All I meant was, if you are publicly identifying yourself as a Christian, ask God to help you be a good witness. This applies whether you have a John 3:16 bumper sticker, a Jesus Died for You t-shirt, verses posted in your cubicle at the office... or ashes on your forehead. Yes, we're all sinners - but it doesn't do much for the "all Christians are hypocrites" mentality of the unsaved when they don't see that Christ can make a practical difference in our lives.
The next response:
"All Christians ARE hypocrites. What I mean is, they are human. That should be the appealing characteristic, that we can be human and holy at the same time. Acting good has nothing to do with Christ and everything to do with ME. Because of Christ's love we should WANT to be better people, but we don't. The beautiful thing about christianity is that Christ died for you despite who you are or will become. That is how you should proclaim Christianity, NOT "look at me I transformed my life". Christianity is not a lifestyle, it IS life"
The commenter's third and final attempt to clarify and make her point:
Any good thing I do is not done by me, but by the Spirit that dwells within me. HOWEVER, any bad thing that I do is done by me, because I have usurped the Spirit's control in my life. It is clearly God's will that the Spirit will have 100% control in my life, 100% of the time. Obviously, I still have a sin nature, so that ain't happening.
Yes, when I sin it is an opportunity for God's grace to be shown extended to me, a pitiful sinner. But sinning should never be my goal, and it is never a good thing, even if it does demonstrate God's grace.
Romans 6:1-2 "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?"
I found this all to be a very interesting exchange. I can't say that I disagreed with anything she said. Since both points are contained in scripture, the two must co- exist. God's word does say that we can do nothing outside of Christ, but it also says "Are we to continue in sin, so that grace may increase?" I have been taught that Romans 6:1-2 refers to deliberately sinning and claiming it doesn't matter because you are already saved. As someone recently wrote somewhere in the blogosphere, Lutherans do tend to react negatively to pietistic practices because they have tended to fall prey to the philosophy over the years.
In a related post, Focal Point by Theology Geek puts it very simply:
The focus of my theology and practice is:
(Gal 6:14 ESV)But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. This is it.
My mission statement, motto, slogan, etc from this point on will be,
“Adopted, Forgiven, and Loved. By Christ alone, through no works of my own”
When it all comes down to it, what else is there?