By Bob Hiller –
Last week, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame announced this year’s inductees. The 2015 class consists of three men who clearly deserved a seat in the Hall: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz. Oh, and Craig Biggio somehow got in too. (I guess he was consistently good for a long time.) Anyhow, listening to the conversations and debates surrounding the votes got me thinking about Law and Gospel. To be clear, everything makes me think about Law and Gospel. So, for the next few weeks I want to talk about what the Hall of Fame can teach us about Law, Moral Relativism, and the Gospel. This week, let’s think about the Hall of Fame and the Law.
Hall of Fame voting offers a brilliant picture of the Law’s exacting and damning nature. Every year, the nation’s baseball beat writers receive a list of players who are potential inductees and vote on who they believe should be immortalized with Hall of Fame status. The voters pour over each players statistics, analyze their impact on the game, debate how “obedient” they were to the rules (something we’ll take up next week) and then vote on who they believe should be in. A player’s career is examined with a fine-toothed comb. Their performances are meticulously judged. In theory, only the best of the best get voted into the Hall. In this way, baseball, and all sports for that matter, operate under the system of the law.
The great Francis Pieper (theologian who, I’m sure, loved baseball) says there are only two religions in the world: the religion of the law and the religion of the Gospel. The former teaches that righteousness with God is earned in one way or another, be it by good works, spiritual enlightenment, intellectual superiority, etc. In this religion, your status before God and the world is achieved. The religion of the Gospel, on the other hand, demonstrates that all attempts at such a righteousness are in vain. By sending His Son down to us in the flesh, God reveals that our attempts to climb up to Him and earn our place are worthless. That bloody Word from the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” shatters all idolatrous, self-righteous efforts to please God. The fact that we must be drowned in baptism and raised to a new life only proves that all attempts on our part to earn God’s favor are affronts to a God who gives all good things and receives nothing from us.
The trouble is that this sort of thing is not preached a whole lot. Too often, the church is found to be preaching a Hall of Fame type of theology. That is a theology that says Jesus has done his part, He got you a spot on the roster, but now it is up to you to earn your keep. Perform well, and you’ll earn your spot in Heaven! If you are truly righteous enough, you may even earn sainthood or get a bigger crown or have a better seat at the kingdom feast! You can earn a spot in the Heavenly Hall of Fame!
I remember reading that awful devotional, “My Utmost for His Highest” in High School. Here is a book that is viewed by many Christians as spiritual “solid food” but is straight from the stinking bowels of the law’s religion. It turned my daily devotions into a spiritual abuse session: Are you loving Jesus enough today? You’ve given Him your heart, but have you given Him your eyes, your hands, your hair? Do you enjoy your friends? Sure you do, because they are your idols! Is your Christian ERA low enough to make you pleasing to God? How are you going to earn your place in God’s Hall of Fame? How do you know your name is written in the book of life? And on and on it would go.
It is a terrifying prospect to consider that my righteousness, or being in a right relationship with God, is somehow dependant upon my performance under the Law. Like the Hall of Fame voters, the Law (or the legalisms derived from it) will examine every detail of my life to see if I have earned my spot. It leaves no stone in our lives unturned. It is a cold, heartless judge that shows no recourse in analyzing every single thought, word, and deed of our lives. At the end of the day it finds nothing worthy of being called righteous. It only exposes me as a failure and a cheat. It always says, “You aren’t doing enough. You aren’t accomplishing enough! You aren’t giving you utmost-est!” It only and always exposes sin and failure.
But our God is no Hall of Fame voter, exacting our every move to see if we are worthy to be in His kingdom. Don’t get me wrong, He uses His Law to expose your sins and kill you. But, then once you are dead in your sins and trespasses, He votes you in to His kingdom! See, ours is a God who goes out to the dead sinner, the unworthy guest, and gives him or her a seat in His kingdom. He’s the sort who doesn’t vote for the healthy but the sick. He receives sinners and eats with them. The Word of forgiveness that exposes your inability to lay claim to righteousness is the same Word that gives righteousness to you! While you and I were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And, by virtue of His death on your behalf, God has declared you to be a member of His kingdom! At your baptism, He wrote your name in His book of life with His blood. Because of Christ’s righteousness granted to you freely by His grace, you are “in” no matter how much the law casts a vote against you!