Friday, July 22, 2011

Is the Collect Advocating Works-Righteousness?

This week's collect (in the three-year series ... a similar one is in the one-year series for the next-to-last Sunday of Trinity season) asks that "ever mindful of Your final judgment, we may be stirred up to holiness of living here and dwell with You in perfect joy hereafter." Those words initially jarred me. After some pondering and then some explanation from Pastor, they didn't sound so bad.

The flesh hears those words and thinks, "Yup, in the final judgment, God is going to go around zotting bad guys, so I better keep my attention on the wrath to come, and that will motivate me to be a good girl now."

But we know that God's judgment was poured out on Jesus at the cross. In the absolution, we hear His judgment of us: "You are righteous. You are holy. You are pure. I have made you My own." When our hearts and minds are captured by that judgment ["so rule and govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit..."] it brings about a repentance, a faith, a "change of mind," that cannot help but live in the holiness of Christ: doing good, begging forgiveness when we don't do good, and living in prayer and mercy, always with confidence in what He did to save me and not what I do in response.

So here's my plan. If it sounds to me like the collect is teaching works-righteousness, it's high time to figure out what it's really saying. Because it ain't teaching salvation by good works!


  1. Honestly, the idea that I'm "fearful" of the judgement and thus "must be good" right now never even occurred to me when praying that collect. I don't think that's the image of "the judgement" that is given to us in the Scriptures. In fact, I think that idea of the judgement is purely a medieval concoction that would probably be best left in the dustbins of (heretical) history.

    The truth is that I think we know far less about the second coming than we oftentimes think we do. As you pointed out in your post: we know what happened on the cross. We know the the Father sent His Son, and the Son gave up His Spirit in death. We know that the He has descended into hell (even the very depths of the hell that is our own sinful heart). We know that He has ascended into heaven (and there we ascend with Him).

    The nature of the second coming and (so-called) final judgement is not so clear, though, I don't think. And it oftentimes completely misses the point that in Christ, heaven and earth have already been united, and that we live even now as New Creations in the New Creation found in the Resurrected Lord. As for what that will finally look like - I think we have basically no idea.

  2. I have always wondered a little about the Athanasian Creed:

    "At His coming all people will rise again with their bodies and give an account concerning their own deeds.
    And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire."

    I know that Christ is the only one who has "done good" and His righteousness is imputed to me. I cling to Him and get the eternal life He won on my behalf. But it has always seemed to me to be a passage that could easily be misunderstood.

  3. Nathan, that "purely medieval concoction" is alive and kickin' today. Even though it should have been left in the dustbins of history, it hasn't been. The sinful flesh is just far to prone to think that way.

    Cheryl, for many years, Pastor would, uh, "introduce" the Athanasian Creed with a few sentences (or paragraphs!) about what that line means. They are always sweet and beautiful words. I have been surprised to have an occasional Athanasian-Creed Sunday go by without having Pastor say anything. If he doesn't talk about that line immediately prior to the Creed, it will almost always come up in the sermon, and if not there, during Bible class.