Have I done enough? Have I identified and confessed all my sins and done enough penance to be saved? These were the questions that bedeviled Martin Luther (and others throughout the ages) and can still trouble us today. And why not? In today’s readings, Amos, Peter, and Matthew all speak of the terrible consequences of failing to follow God’s way. But who among us is not painfully aware of the countless times when we choose to sin, to fall short of God’s righteous standard? In this Advent season, as we look ahead to Christ’s coming as the righteous judge, how can we not cower in fear and trembling of the punishment we have earned?
Hallelujah! Our fear is banished because, in this season of Advent, we also look ahead to the joyous celebration of Christ’s first coming—as the sacrificial Lamb of God who paid the price for our sin by His blood shed on the cross. We need not fear sin’s penalty of death, because Jesus has already paid that penalty for us. We need only do what Paul and Silas told the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31: “Believe [Greek pisteuo—to trust in completely, to entrust to completely, to bet your life on] in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…”
If we choose to “believe in” Jesus, we will naturally try to live by God’s righteous standard. We will fail often—because of our inherited, active sin nature—but our failures are already covered and washed away by the blood of Jesus. Eternal life with God, which we do not deserve and can never earn by our own efforts, is offered to us as a free gift because Jesus has paid the price with His blood. This is the gospel—the good news—which all followers of Jesus are commanded to share with everyone wherever they go.
Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You that we do not have to earn eternal life with You; we need only accept the gift that You offer through Your blood. With Your help, we will strive to live as You would have us live, not only in this Advent season, but in all our days to come. Amen
The Rev. Dr. Dallam G. Ferneyhough (MDiv 2000, DMin 2008) Chaplain, Dogwood Village, Orange, VA Former English teacher in China