Article 15: Christ alone without sin

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 15 states:

XV. Of Christ alone without Sin

Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptized, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Although Articles 2-4 already dealt with some basic matters of Christology – knowledge of the Christ – Article 15 returns us to that subject in the context of our salvation.  Having established the human condition to be one of utter loss in the midst of sin, it is now pertinent to observe the One who was sinless: Jesus.

It begins with a reminder of Christ’s full humanity, with an allusion to Hebrews 2:14, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil” and Hebrews 4:15, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  A fully human, yet sinless, Jesus is put forth here.  This Article even quotes 1 John 3:5, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

All this is emphasized in contrast to the rest of us Christians, who, “although baptized, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things.”  Article 15 even goes on to quote St. John again: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).  These verses are included in the “Words of Comfort” in the liturgy of the Communion service, highlighting their importance to us in the Anglican tradition.  The doctrine that Christ is sinless and we are sinful is not meant to put us down in drudgery, but to highlight the fact that Jesus truly is the way of salvation.  His victory outweighs our failings, and for that we can rejoice!

One might wonder why this Article was included; it seems like a no-brainer.  The controversy at the time was that, among some of the radical reformers, a teaching was arising that true Christians don’t sin anymore.  Or, more subtly, an ideal of Christian perfection was being taught, as if we might cease to sin in this life.  Article 15 keeps us in our place and protects us from such heresies; we are not Jesus, and we will not be entirely like Jesus in this life.  Anyone who teaches such human glory before the resurrection is a deceiver, and to be rejected immediately.

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Love’s Limits

As Christians we talk about love quite a lot.  Love the Lord your God – that’s the first and great commandment.  Love your neighbor as yourself – that’s the second.  Love is the fulfillment of the Law.  Perfect love casts out fear.  Love not only your neighbors, but your enemies also.

Are all these loves the same?  Certainly not!  The love I have for my wife includes actions and commitments that would be inappropriate (and illegal) to direct toward my son; I love them differently.  The love that I have for the flock God has given me is not the same sort of love that I have for my friends.  The love that we are to have for God is not the same as the love we are to have for others.

When we mix up these loves, catastrophe follows.  St. Augustine of Hippo experienced this in his pre-conversion life.

The reason why that grief had penetrated me so easily and deeply was that I had poured out my soul onto the sand by loving a person sure to die as if he would never die.  The greatest source of repair and restoration was the solace of other friends, with whom I loved what I loved as a substitute for you, and this was a vast myth and a long lie. (Confessions, IV.viii(13))

As a young man, he was utterly devastated at the death of his closest friend.  Upon writing his Confessions, he realized that he had given this friend a form of love that cannot healthily be given to anyone but God himself.  He loved this friend “as if he would never die.”  It may seem a little morbid, at first thought, to take death into account when investing your heart in someone else’s life.  Who wants to think about their spouse dying sometime in the unknown future?

But then I remembered the words of the wedding service: “Will you love her, honor her, comfort and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?”  There it is, at the very beginning of the marriage life: a momento mori – a reminder of death.  In our present culture, the emphasis on the words “as long as you both shall live” is usually the challenging reminder that divorce is against God’s law except in the most extreme cases.  But what I’m noticing here, also, is that even spousal love is acknowledged to have its limits.  I love my wife deeply, and I do not doubt that I would miss her should she depart this life before I do.  Already, after not quite even seven years, it is difficult to imagine life without her.  But, the day we entered into Holy Matrimony, we verbally acknowledged that our marriage vows will end.

In fact, Saint Paul took this a step further in his writings.  “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives.  If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes” (1 Corinthians 7:39), and also, “a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage” (Romans 7:2).  So even the love found in the great sacramental rite of holy matrimony is limited.  Only our Lord God is worthy of (and able to receive and reciprocate) the total abandonment and trust of unrestrained love.

Now, I don’t mean to say that we married folks need to start planning for our spouse’s death, apart from the usual last will and testament stuff.  This doesn’t mean we should shy away from good friendships for fear of losing them.  No, such attitudes betray an unhealthy fear of death.  Rather, we are to acknowledge the reality of death, and live accordingly.  This is a thoroughly Christian and biblical attitude; we must live this life in a Christ-like way now, while we can still serve God in this present world, for soon it will pass away.  So by all means, we make friends, get married, have children, invest in the world around us.  But we mustn’t forget the kingdom-building reality that it is in Christ alone that we find true and perfect eternal love.  In the resurrection, we will love as he loves, but until then we love imperfectly, and live imperfectly.  Thus it is necessary and right that we put our greatest love in God alone, and order our other loves accordingly.

God is love, after all.

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Article 14: Supererogation

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 14 states:

XIV. Of Works of Supererogation

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.

By the time of the Reformation, a doctrine of “works of supererogation” had developed.  Supererogation, loosely translated, means “going above and beyond.”  Roman Catholic teaching put forth the idea that some good works a person can undertake are in fact beyond the ordinary demands of the law of Christ.  A classic example of a work of supererogation was making (and following through on) vows of life-long celibacy.  God does not ordinarily demand such a sacrifice, so to do so willingly out of love and devotion for God was considered a good work above the norm.  Appeals were made to Ephesians 6:8, which states “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.

But the Reformers took issue with this doctrine.  As this Article quotes, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10).  This is consistent with the conclusions drawn in the previous three Articles: we are justified by Christ’s merits, not our own (Article 11), the good works we do only proceed from God’s grace of justification (Article 12), and we cannot do any good works before we are justified anyway (Article 13).  Thus it is fruitless to attempt to discern forms of good works that go “above” the standards of God, as there is no efficacy in any work, however good, toward our justification.

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Learning from the Liturgy: Easter Week

Although Holy Week gets far more attention in popular piety, Easter Week also has a special set of daily services.  For just as the events surrounding Christ’s passion and death require a full week to unpack and explore, so too do the ramifications of his resurrection!

Easter Sunday

Some churches hold a sunrise service, choosing to greet the risen Lord like the women who discovered the empty tomb, rather than staying up late at night for the miraculous resurrection moment traditionally accorded to be at midnight.  At a sunrise Eucharist service, one of the Old Testament readings is chosen from the Vigil service’s list, along with the same Epistle and Gospel from the Vigil.

The service of Morning Prayer provides us the beginning of Exodus 12, reminding us of the origins of the Passover, which sets the context for Christ’s death and resurrection.  We also read there from Revelation 1:4-18, where we find the risen Christ appearing to St. John in a vision, declaring himself to be the Beginning and the End.

The primary Sunday morning service of Holy Communion for Easter Day, however, takes on slightly different readings.  The Gospel of the resurrection might be from Matthew or Mark or Luke, the Epistle lesson is substituted with a reading from Acts (10:34-43), and the Old Testament reading is from Exodus 14 or Isaiah 25 or Isaiah 51.

The service of Evening Prayer sets forth Exodus 14, the Crossing of the Red Sea – a prototype of our Baptism into new life.  We also there read from John 20:11-23, which is an appearance of Jesus on that first Easter evening.

An evening Communion service is also appointed, where we read from Daniel 12:1-3, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, and Luke 24:13-35.

Easter Monday

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

The Gospel for the Communion service this day tells the story of how the Jewish authorities tried to cover up the “disappearance” of Jesus’ body in the tomb.  How easily we turn from the awe of that great miracle and hide the light of Christ within us!  May we never hide it under a basket or recoil in shame of our faith.

Easter Tuesday

Next we are drawn to Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene on the morning of his resurrection.  There he reminds her (and us) that his resurrection is not so that he can continue to live on earth from then on, but to prove his victory over death before returning to his Father in to complete his intercession for us.  Thus we do not cling to him in the flesh, but in his human and divine glory.

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever.  Amen.

Easter Wednesday

The next post-resurrection appearance to be featured is in Luke 24:13-35, where Jesus walks, talks, and eats with Cleopas and another disciple (probably Luke himself).  There he demonstrates a liturgical pattern of Word (teaching) and Sacrament (holy communion) that abides to this day in the Church, where the Scriptures first are opened to the hearers, and then the revelation of Christ himself in the bread and the wine is made.

O God whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Easter Thursday

Continuing from yesterday (now Luke 24:36-49), Jesus appears to the main body of his disciples, eats with them, shows them his wounds, and teaches them from the Scriptures.  They, as we still often do, needed encouragement from God himself of the truth of the Scriptures and the Gospel they proclaim.

Almighty God, you show those in error the light of your truth so that they may return to the path of righteousness: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Easter Friday

Almighty Father, who gave your only Son to die for our sins and to rise for our justification: Give us grace so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

On this day we are directed to Jesus’ appearances to a few of his disciples on a fishing expedition.  They caught nothing all night, until Jesus directed them where to cast their nets in the morning.  This rather blunt change of fortunes illustrates the fruitless of our labor outside of the strength and direction of Christ, and the fruitfulness of our labor in the Lord.

Easter Saturday

We thank you, heavenly Father, that you have delivered us from the dominion of sin and death and brought us into the kingdom of our Son; and we pray that, as by his death he has recalled us to life, so by his love he may raise us to eternal joys; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

As if to sum up the Gospel readings of the whole week, Mark 16:9-20 gives us a cursory run-down of several post-resurrection encounters Jesus had.  It even finishes with a reference to his ascension into heaven, previewing the end of the formal Easter season which is still several weeks away.

The Daily Office Readings

Like in Holy Week, the daily lectionary through Easter Week is very topical, avoiding continuous and connected readings in favor of highlighting Easter-related passages throughout the Bible. There is one exception to this, however.  The Song of Songs (or of Solomon) is read in its entirety in Evening Prayer from Monday through Saturday.  Its placement there prompts us to consider the deeper meaning of the text.  The love songs therein, celebrating the good and right joy, love, mutual desire, and self-giving between husband and wife, also point us to the great joy, love, desire, and self-giving that God has shown us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Among the topical readings throughout the week, watch for themes of new life, resurrection, Baptism, the New Covenant, and following Jesus.  Easter is a huge holiday with a whole season to plumb its depths.  Take time this week to read these passages of scripture, giving them a chance to be a week-long introduction to this joyful Eastertide.

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Learning from the Liturgy: the Easter Vigil

Although Holy Week gets far more attention in popular piety, Easter Week also has a special set of daily services.  For just as the events surrounding Christ’s passion and death require a full week to unpack and explore, so too do the ramifications of his resurrection!

It begins on Saturday night at the Easter Vigil.  This is an ancient liturgy, finding its precedent in the Early Church, perhaps as early as the 200’s.  The Vigil, as described in our Texts for Common Prayer, is held in four parts: the liturgy of light, the liturgy of the word, holy baptism, and holy communion.

The liturgy of light centers on the Paschal Candle.  A “new fire” is lit usually outside the church building, from which the Paschal Candle is lit.  This candle represents the resurrected Christ, and will remain lit in the church until Ascension Day, forty days later (though it is also brought out again throughout the year for Baptisms and Funerals).  It is solemnly blessed with a series of prayers that meditate on various names and titles of Christ Jesus.  Then, slowly, the Candle is carried into the church and to its place near the Altar up front.  From it, other candles are lit, until eventually the entire chapel is lighted by candles; this symbolizes the Light of Christ that is in each of us, yet from the One and same source.  Nature herself, also, mimicks this image, as the first full moon after the Spring Equinox has just arrived, marking the transition from longer dark nights to longer bright days (at least up here in the Northern hemisphere).

After the chapel is fully lit with candles, a long solemn chant called the Exsultet is sung.  This ancient hymn recalls the people to the purpose of the night’s celebration, and invites us to recall the long history of God’s work to save and deliver his people.  This also functions as a transition into the second part of the service: the liturgy of the word.  Where a normal Communion service has one or two readings, with a responsory Psalm and a Gospel reading, the Vigil has up to ten readings before the Gospel.  Most churches opt for perhaps only 4 or 5 of the Old Testament readings, followed by the Epistle (Romans 6:3-11) and Gospel (Matthew 28:1-10).  All of the Old Testament reading options are excellent sources of meditation in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection, however, so I list them here for your own consideration and exploration:

  • Genesis 1:1-2:2
  • Gen. 7:1-5,11-18, 8:8-18, 9:8-13
  • Genesis 22:1-18
  • Exodus 14:10-15:1
  • Isaiah 4:2-6
  • Isaiah 55:1-11
  • Ezekiel 36:24-28
  • Ezekiel 37:1-14
  • Zephaniah 3:12-20

After this, Baptisms are traditionally held, though if there are no candidates for Holy Baptism that night, a Renewal of Baptismal Vows is now customary.  Where a church doesn’t hold an Easter Vigil, the Renewal might be moved to Sunday morning instead (this has been my practice for the past few years, now).

The liturgy of Holy Communion continues with the joyeous ringing of bells and shouts of “alleluia,” as the somber Lenten fast is ended, and the season of Eastertide begins!

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Holy Communion in Psalm 78

This was my homily last night for Maundy Thursday.

As you may know, there is a lot of poetry in the Bible.  Over the past century, poetry has taken quite a dive in public opinion; what was once considered a sublime art to be appreciated and mastered has given way to a utilitarian perspective of being considered needlessly fluffy and wordy.  As a result, some people today get rather nervous when teachers talk about poetry in the Bible, as if we’re demeaning or belittling the text of sacred scripture.

But for most of human history where systems of writing exist, poetry has held a place of respect in the public ear.  It wasn’t just an art form to show off the author’s skill or amuse the listener; it was also a way of showing special respect and reverence for the information being communicated.  When something important happens today, we write reports and essays about it.  When something important happened in the pre-modern world, they wrote poems about it.

With that in mind, there should be no surprise that the Bible is full of poetry.  Even many of its non-poetic books contain many poetic sections and devices.  I introduce this to you because today, this Maundy Thursday, I’d like to tell the story of Christ using biblical poetry rather than the story-form of the Gospel books or the teaching-form of the Epistles.

Holy Week Psalms

Through this Holy Week, and into the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Day, there are many psalms which stand out famously across various Christian traditions.

Psalm 22 perhaps stands out the most.  In that psalm we find some of Jesus’ last words on the Cross (“my God, my God, who have you forsaken me”).  It was written by King David and was originally written probably to describe one of his life-threatening situations against King Saul or the Philistines or his son’s rebellion.  But as you go through its poetic descriptions of the shame and mockery he suffered, some crystal clear pictures of Jesus’ crucifixion crop up, right down to the casting lots for his clothes.  We use this psalm on a few different occasions; we read most of it on Palm Sunday, we will read it during the Stripping of the Altar tonight, and it is also one of the psalms appointed for the Good Friday service.

Psalm 51 is probably the most famous of the penitential psalms.  It is most frequently associated with the Ash Wednesday liturgy, but it sometimes shows up during Holy Week in a special musical arrangement sung by a choir.

Psalm 118, finally, has a very prominent role throughout Holy Week and into Easter Day.  Parts of it are traditionally used in the Liturgy of the Palms, especially the half-verse “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  But its declaration “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” also earns it a spot on Easter Day.  The triumphant language of Psalm 118 fits it right in on both Sundays.

Psalm 78 on Holy Communion

Today we’ve also heard from a small portion of Psalm 78.  This psalm is an historical reflection on God’s provision during and after the time of the exodus, and its’ also a parable.  The Psalm begins like this: “Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth with a parable, I will utter dark sayings of old.  So although the bulk of the psalm is taken up with recounting some of the story of Israel, the poet’s author has a purpose beyond simple storytelling; these words are to be a parable, a story that teaches us something important.  With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at what verses 14-25 show us as Christians, particularly in this context of Holy Week.

14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light.

As Israelites traveled from Egypt through the desert of Sinai for forty years, they were led by a great continuous theophany – a dramatic visual appearance of God.  The Christian journey, however, is not through a physical desert in one little corner of the world, but through the spiritual desert of this life throughout the entire world.  Thus God leads us not with a revelation of cloud and fire, but a revelation of Spirit and Truth.  The cloud and fire given us to us is the preaching of the Gospel, the reading of sacred Scriptures; these show us Christ, and Christ is the Way.

15 He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. 16 He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

God continues to provide us with miraculous life-giving water; we drink deeply of the Holy Spirit, given to us first in Holy Baptism and strengthened in our lives through faithful obedience and through the other Sacraments.  These are God’s gifts to us; he leads us to still waters.  At Holy Communion the invitation is to take, eat, and drink the life of Christ into ourselves.  If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts!

17 Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. 18 They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. 19 They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? 20 He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?”

Despite the great guidance and provision that God provided the Israelites, they wanted more.  It is so easy to look back and judge them for their lack of faith.  But upon honest reflection, we find that we, too, are constantly testing God, making demands, questioning the extent of his provision.  I have received new and eternal life in Christ, but can God help me with my taxes…?  God has given us the Word of Truth in the Bible, but can’t I just read some nuggets of inspirational pick-me-ups instead?

21 Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, 22 because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.

When we question our Lord and Savior, when we reject his gifts of love, especially his greatest self-offerings in the Word and Sacraments, is it any wonder that our lives become more difficult?  When we ignore God’s gifts, of course we find ourselves feeling spiritually lacking and sick.  To turn away from the source of the life is to embrace the source of death!  God’s wrath is not capricious, it’s the obvious result of our blatant sinful rejection of him.

23 Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven, 24 and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven. 25 Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance.

Even though we sin against our Savior daily, his love for us does not abate.  When Israel was in the desert of Sinai, God fed them manna for 40 years whether they were obedient or not.  Even when punishments were thrown down upon them for their various rebellions, the manna was still there, six mornings a week as promised.  So it is today; no matter how attentive or inattentive you are to our Lord Jesus Christ, he continues to make himself available to you.  Whether you read it or not, that Bible is still sitting on your shelf, or table, or car seat, or wherever.  Whether you attend or not, the Sacrament of Holy Communion is offered at least every Sunday.  Our God provides for us, faithfully, patiently, lovingly.  As St. Paul wrote, and as we proclaim at every Eucharistic celebration, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast!

Therefore let us keep the feast.

We could study the account in Luke 22 of the Last Supper, and see how the context of the Passover meal informs our understanding of Holy Communion.  We could analyze the teachings of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 to get at some of the key doctrines concerning what Holy Communion is, and is about.  Maybe next year I will.

For today, at least, let us attend to the words of Psalm 78.  Holy Communion is no mere ritual that you hire a priest to enact for you on a weekly basis.  Neither is it a mere gathering of friends and family to remember Jesus together.  It is nothing less than Christ himself, offering his Body and Blood to his beloved people.  It is the Good Shepherd calling his sheep in to give them food.  It is the food of angels offered to mankind.

Holy Week is a time of intense reflection upon the death of Christ.  Holy Communion is our regular entrance into that death, our participation in that sacrifice, our act of faith that says “Yes” to God’s offer of eternal life.  Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your heart by faith, with thanksgiving.  Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you, and be thankful.

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Article 13: Works before Justification

This part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 13 states:

XIII. Of Works before Justification

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.

This might seem a bit harsh at first – is it really impossible to do any good works without the inspiration of God’s Spirit?  Romans 14:22-23 says “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God; happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves. But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”  The immediate context there is dealing with whether it is appropriate or not to eat food that had been associated with pagan sacrifices, which is irrelevant to the issue put forth in Article 13, but the underlying theological assertion made by St. Paul there is very telling: “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”  To a large extent, this simple phrase sums up Article 13 simply and effectively.

But there are a few details and questions that still come up.  As argued in previous Articles, it is reasserted here that good works do not “make men meet [worthy] to receive grace.”  Grace is a gift freely given by God, and our justification is on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not our own.  Our good works before faith in Christ also do not “deserve grace of congruity,” which means they aren’t even good enough to deserve a matching appropriate reward of any sort from God, because those works “have the nature of sin.”  For, again, as Romans 14:23 says, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Now, this does not mean that everything a non-believer does is entirely and utterly wretched and damning.  There is many a “noble pagan” in the world, both today and throughout history.  The assertion made here (and in the previous Article) is that no amount of good deeds will ever outweigh one’s sins, and that even the good that a non-believer does is still tainted by sin.  Perhaps there is a desire for recognition or reward for one’s apparent good works – this would be a sin of pride.  But even when a non-believer does a good work with no selfish motive at all, sin is still present.  Why?  Because a lack of faith in the One from whom all good things come.  Even when good works are done by non-believers without desire for selfish recognition, they are still done from a view of selfish achievement.  Without faith, one cannot credit and thank the Lord who made the good work possible.  Thus a sin of omission is accrued along with the good work.

This is a warning and concern to the regenerated (or “born again”) Christian also.  Our good works, too, are tainted with sin when we do not acknowledge the good grace of God at work within us.  This is perhaps why Jesus taught at length about doing our good works out of public view, with God as our “audience” instead (Matthew 6).

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