As we begin this morning, I invite you to think about some realities about your personal life: This is the one and only life that you are ever going to live. Your life has a beginning and your life will have an end. You are at some point along the timeline of your life, but you do not know how far. You do not know when your life will end. It could be today, next year or seventy years from now, though for some of us, because of our age, another seventy years is not likely. Regardless of how old you are or how much life you have left to live, all of us have this present moment and all of us are faced with the essential and ultra-important question: Who are you? Or to put it another way, what kind of person are you in this moment?
If I were to hold up a mirror before you that could reflect back to you the kind of person that you really are, and I asked you, “What do you see?” how would you respond? Most of you would give one of two answers, both of which are wrong. Some of you might say, “I am basically a good person.” Nickey Gumbel, in the Alpha video series, offers a thought experiment for those of you who believe yourselves to be good people. Imagine for a moment, that one of these support beams was a vertical scale that was used to rate the goodness of all the people in the world. As you go up the scale you increase in goodness and as you go down the scale you decrease in goodness. Now I need to tell you in advance that the next four questions are not rhetorical questions for you to think about, but real questions to which I am inviting you to give a response. Can someone give me a name of a famous person who is really good? Where would you place that person on this scale? Can anyone give me the name of a famous person who is really bad? Where would you place that person on this scale? Now I am inviting you to think about, but not answer aloud, the following question: Where would you place yourself on this scale? Some of us would place ourselves on the upper half of the scale. We would acknowledge that there is some bad, but altogether, the good in our life outweighs the bad, so we would be towards the upper end of the good scale.
But here is the foundational mistake that we all tend to make. We tend to compare ourselves to others and we say to ourselves, “Well, at least I am not as bad as that other person is, so I am basically a good person.” But the scale of goodness is not measured by comparing ourselves to what other human beings do. The scale of goodness is measured by perfection and all of us fall short by a long ways. Another way to say it is this: the top of the goodness scale is not the top of that beam, the top of the goodness scale is the sky. None of us, not even Mother Teresa is really good when measured against perfection. The Bible tells us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “all” includes everybody. As we said during our Confession of Sins, God is a holy and powerful God and sin cannot exist in his presence.
It is common in our culture for people to think and to say or imply that everyone is going to go to heaven when they die regardless of whether they believe in Jesus or not. Let’s think about this for a moment. Most reasonably intelligent people will admit that they have some sin in their lives. Now imagine that you are transferred from this life into eternity just as you are. If you go into eternity with even a little bit of sin, and that sin is spread out over the infinite future, what will you have? You will have an infinity of sin, and another word for an infinity of sin is hell. Measured against perfection, no human being is good enough to say “I am basically a good person.”
Others of you might respond to the question, “What do you see in the mirror?” by saying, “I am worthless.” Maybe when you look at your life you don’t seem much in the way of accomplishments that are valued by those around you, you don’t see worthwhile talents or useful gifts, or you don’t seen an accumulation of wealth or property and so you conclude, “I am worthless.” This too is an incorrect answer. God knows that you are sinful and deserving of punishment and yet he says this about you in Malachi 3:17, “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.” God loves you so much that he came into this world, became a human being and lived a human life that meets the sky-high standard of perfection. The God-human, named Jesus, then took upon himself the penalty for all the sins of the whole world.
Imagine that you are standing in the Columbia River Valley downstream from the Grand Coulee Dam. Now imagine that behind the dam, instead of water, is all of God’s wrath over all the sin of all humanity. As you watch in horror, you begin to see a crack develop in the wall of the dam. Within moments, the dam bursts and a wall of God’s wrath begins rushing towards you. But all of a sudden, the ground opens up and swallows up all of the wrath so that none of it, not even a drop, touches you. That is what Jesus has done for you and for all humanity. He has stood in between us and God the Father and swallowed up all of the wrath of God through his suffering and death on the cross. As J. D. Greear writes when he used this word-picture that I borrowed, “[Jesus] … swallowed up every ounce into Himself, so that not a drop remains for you or me. He drank the cup of God’s wrath to its dregs, turned it over, and said, “It is finished.”
Because of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven for all of your sins. Jesus has taken away your sin and covered you with his perfection. Now, because of Jesus, you are welcomed into the presence of God. More than that, you are given special status. You are now children of God. The apostle John declares this truth so beautifully in his first letter to the church. I invite you to listen as I read it again from The Message paraphrase, starting with chapter 2, verse 28.
And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ. Then we’ll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives.
29 Once you’re convinced that he is right and righteous, you’ll recognize that all who practice righteousness are God’s true children.
3:1 What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at
it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.
2 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. 3 All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.
4 All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order. 5 Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin. There is no sin in him, and sin is not part of his program. 6 No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. They’ve got him all backward.
7 So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah. 8 Those who make a practice of sin are straight from the Devil, the pioneer in the practice of sin. The Son of God entered the scene to abolish the Devil’s ways.
9 People conceived and brought into life by God don’t make a practice of sin. How could they? God’s seed is deep within them, making them who they are. It’s not in the nature of the God-begotten to practice and parade sin. 10 Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.
Dear friends, I urge you to stay with Christ, live deeply in Christ, abide in Christ, and continue in Christ. Stay just as rooted and connected to Jesus Christ as the branch of a grape plant is rooted in and connected to the vine. Let the nourishment and life of Jesus flow in you and through you and Jesus will produce fruit in your life that God will count as very good.
So what does it mean to live deeply in Christ? Simply this, remind yourself each day of these two truths: First, you are a sinner so deeply infected by sin that it would take a sacrifice of infinite worth to pay the penalty for all your sin. Second, Jesus loves you so much that he gave his own life to be that sacrifice of infinite worth so that you could have forgiveness and eternal life with him. That is what it means to stay with Christ, live deeply in Christ, abide in Christ, and continue in Christ.
Who are you? Because of Jesus, you are a forgiven child of God. As things are now, you don’t look any different and you may not feel any different than someone who is not a child of God. But one day, Jesus will return to this earth to set all things right. And when that happens, your status as a child of God will be revealed for all to see.
In The Beauty and the Beast, the Beast is transformed by the love of the beautiful Belle, a transformation that is revealed outwardly when the beautiful one makes a declaration of love for the beast before time runs out on the enchanted rose. The same will happen for us when our beautiful one returns and declares his love for us when time runs out on this broken world. “When Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and is seeing him, become like him.” (1 John 3:2b The Message).
Remember who you are in Christ: you are a forgiven child of God. But also remember that you are not the only one that Jesus loves. There are thousands of people in our area who are not children of God and are headed for an eternity where they are condemned by their own sin. What if we made it our goal to have all the people of the Langley-Surrey-Abbotsford region be revealed as children of God at the end of time? I do not know how to make that happen. I am not smart enough. But I know that all things are possible with God. And I also know that it will begin with the people of this worshiping community remembering and living out who they are in Christ: forgiven children of God. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley, BC, on August 11, 2013.)
 J. D. Greear, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2011), 101.
 Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (1 Jn 2:28–3:10). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.