Articles 12, 13 & 14 Good Works Sunday 26th January 2020 9.45 & 11.30am
By porthkerryandrhoose, Feb 6 2020 05:53PM
I have recently discovered the fun of Snapchat filters. If you are my age or older and don't have teenagers in your family, you probably don't know what I am talking about. It's an app on your phone which changes the way your face looks when you take a photograph. There are some silly ones, like giving you a reindeer head, or making you look like Boris Johnson but there are others which erase all your blemishes and wrinkles, leaving you looking far more beautiful than you do in actual life. Some even change the size of your eyes and the proportions of your face to make you even more endearing. It's flattering to see yourself like that, especially as you grow older. But for some, using these filters has become more than a diverting pastime. It has become a necessity. Last year the newspapers told the story of 19 year old Maisie Hazelwood who couldn't even bear to look at herself without using a filter. When Snapchat stopped working on her phone she was unable even to get out of bed. Thankfully the story has a happy ending, as she realised she was in trouble and got help. She now uses her experience to help others. But the struggle is real. There are any number of Youtube videos where you can learn to do your make up so you look like you do through a filter, and some girls spend hours each day attempting to capture that image. It's all about hiding the real you, and wanting to show a different, better person to the world. People are afraid that if others see them the way they really are, then they won't love them. But it's not true. True love is unconditional.
Over the last few weeks, our Articles of Religion have been giving us a long, hard look at who we really are. It has been difficult because we'd all rather see an airbrushed version of ourself, yet it's when we know the reality of our situation that we can truly receive and know the unconditional love of God. Our Old and New Testament readings this morning both remind us of the dire situation we are all in. Psalm 51:5 "Surely I was sinful from birth", Ephesians 2:1-3 " As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath." But that isn't the end of the story. We have also discovered an amazing God who loves us as we are. Ephesians 2 continues:
"4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Though our true selves are ugly and sinful God loves us, and we saw last week that his love was so great that Jesus died in our place to save us and to bring us back to God. We don't have to pretend to be lovely for God to love us. He already does, far more than we could ever imagine.
This is great news! But it also raises questions. One of the big ones is 'If God loves us as we are, is there any point in being good?' Where do good works fit in? Our next 3 articles all answer aspects of this question, so we're going to deal with them together. They are printed out for you. We're going to start with the second one there, number 13.
" WORKS done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin."
Basically it is answering the ideas that 'doing good things get us ready to receive Jesus' or 'being good makes God more likely to love us', or even 'I do good things and God works with me to save me'. This is the 'grace of congruity' Cranmer mentions in the Article. It is the kind of thinking that we as human beings tend to naturally default to. It says that we do good to earn merit. It's built into how we live our lives from the reward charts we use with children, to target based bonuses at work, to pensions based on how much we have put in, whether money or work years. It is how we tick. And it is also how the majority of people without a thought out faith imagine God works too. We need to be good enough for God, and so long as I can appear OK then I'll be all right. But this isn't how God works. We can't earn God's love and if we don't know him even our best behaviour has the 'nature of sin'. We can't make God more likely to love us. If you want to know more on this topic, then look up Article 10 on the Sermon blog on the website, as it covers it in detail.
So Article 13 covers the common misconception of predominantly non Christians about good works. But article 14 shifts the focus to Christians, and it is a way of thinking I've come across in the church. It says "I know I am saved, but if I want God to keep on loving me, I must ensure I am extra specially good.", or to put it in the language of Article 14:
" VOLUNTARY Works besides, over, and above, God's Commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants."
The language is quite hard, but basically 'works of supererogation' are good deeds which are over and above the things God asks us to do. This way of thinking can lead to a real loss of assurance and hope in the Christian life because you can never know if you've done enough. As with every other assumption which destroys our peace, it is based on a false truth. It says that there is more that we should be doing for God than he asks, and that the more we do , the more we can store up his good favour. It reminds me of a gif you can find on the internet. It is a film clip of a man in a silver suit standing with his arms raised and captioned 'Dave did the hoovering and stood back to receive his applause'. It is a bit sexist but true in lots of households. Of course Dave should do the hoovering, he lives there too. But we take this kind of attitude with God. 'Look God, I went to church!' 'So you should. You should be there every week.'. 'Look God, I gave some money!' 'So you should. Every Christian is called to give." 'Look God, I helped at that church event!' 'So you should. Every Christian is saved to serve.' We can't out good God. That's what our gospel reading was about: Luke 17 "7 ‘Suppose one of you has a servant ploughing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? 8 Won’t he rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty."
So, if we don't earn God's love by being good, and if we don't keep God's love by being super committed, what place does being good have? Can we just do what we like? Let's look at Article 12.
" ALBEIT that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's Judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit."
Doing good is part and parcel of being a person who has been saved by God. He doesn't just love us unconditionally and prevent us from facing the punishment our sins deserve, he takes us and gently shapes us to be more like Jesus. He prepares good works for us to do and he gives us a heart to do them. You can tell someone has a truly changed heart by the way they interact with others, by their priorities and by their desire to serve God. Good works spring from a life lived with God in the same way as apples grow on an apple tree. You might be thinking 'I'm not sure I have any fruit. Am I not a true Christian?' If that's the case, why not do what I suggested to the Wednesday congregation this week as we looked at 1 John 2 together. Think back to when you came to faith (or your earliest memory of being in a relationship with Jesus) and think what you were like then. Now look to see how God has changed you. And if that doesn't work, ask a good Christian friend as they can often see things more clearly. We're never going to be finished works this side of heaven and we'll always mess up, but we won't be in the same place we started, because God is a God who delights in transformation.
So, a look at where good works fit into the Christian life. We don't do good things to win or to keep God's favour. They are not a bargaining tool to be used with God. We do good things because God is at work in our hearts, shaping us to be more like Jesus. Because, though he loves us exactly as we are, warts and blemishes included, he loves us far too much to leave us as we are. He delights to draw us into his work of transforming the world. Praise be to our God whose love reaches to the heavens, his faithfulness to the skies. (Psalm 36:5)