Local News: The Women in the Church, or WIC, of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson (PCA) will be hosting a Mother/Daughter Luncheon on Tuesday, June 18. Lou Anne Harper will give a message on, “We Love Because He First Loved Us.” The event is open to all the women of the church and is not exclusively for mothers and daughters. For more information, go to www.fpcjackson.org.
In the West, the Friday preceding Easter, commonly known as Good Friday, was observed on March 29, but in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which observes a different calendar, Christ’s crucifixion is commemorated today, May 3, on “Holy Friday”.
It may seem odd that the day on which Christ was killed, the day on which the worst sin that ever could be committed–the execution of God’s Son–was committed, should be called Good or Holy Friday. Of course, the suffering inflicted on Jesus Christ, the pain he underwent at the hands of cruel people, was not good; it was extremely bad. The day is regarded as good or holy because of what God accomplished through Christ’s sufferings.
Christ’s suffering on the cross is the essence of the gospel; through Christ’s death, God has reconciled the world to himself. Because of sin, all people stand under judgment; all are lawbreakers. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. He bore our sins in his body, thereby making us right with God.
This is the “news” that the New Testament refers to as gospel, or good news. Without the event of Christ’s death, salvation would not have been accomplished and the human race would still be estranged from God. Thankfully, though, through Christ forgiveness of all sins is offered to all who will receive it.
In our culture, there is much misunderstanding about what, precisely, the gospel is. One sometimes hears the quotation, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel wherever you go; if necessary, use words.” The point of the statement is to draw attention to the fact that actions speak louder than words, and if we want to introduce people to Christ, we should live in such a way as to make Christ attractive. That, of course, is true. At the same time, it simply isn’t possible to “preach the gospel” without words since the gospel, at its core, is news. However kind and nice and Christ-like you are towards the people around you, that behavior in itself doesn’t convey the news that Christ is God’s Son and that he died on the cross as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
There is, and perhaps, always will be a tension between “deeds” and “creeds”, with some churches putting the lion’s share of the emphasis on right living and other churches putting the lion’s share of the emphasis on right doctrine. Both are important, and right living should flow out of right doctrine. Many American evangelical churches have missed this–they have bought into the error that says if you want your members to live right, the Law of God must be preached emphatically from the pulpit. Of course, God’s Law should be preached. But that is not the key to getting people to live holy lives. The Law shows us what God expects, but it doesn’t empower us to meet God’s demands. The Law shows us our need for a Savior, and that need drives us to the gospel–the news of what Christ has done for us–and that is where the power to live differently comes from.
Deeds and creeds, then, are inseparable. If our “deeds” do not flow out of the right “creed”–if they do not flow out of belief in the gospel, if they are not being done out of response towards the gracious offer received from Christ, they are not the kinds of deeds the New Testament calls us to. We are not to work out our salvation with fear and trembling in order to compensate for all of the bad we’ve done, as if we could accumulate enough good deeds to offset our bad ones. We can’t merit God’s favor. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, as Paul says, because God is already working in us to will and to do what he would have us do. The gospel is not our offer to God, but rather God’s offer to us, and the essence of the Christian life is not about us doing things for God, but rather God doing things through us. Those are the kinds of deeds that the apostles constantly exhort people to in Scripture–not self-improvement through willpower, but complete transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Again, the change that all of us need is only possible through the gospel, the work Christ did for us which is being commemorated today on Holy Friday. Were it not for Christ’s innocent suffering and death, we would have no hope. Because of his death and resurrection, we are “justified”, or declared righteous, by God when we trust in Christ. Thank God for Holy Friday.