By Paul Koch –
There exists an inherent difficulty with our faith. It’s not primarily a physical difficulty, that there is too much work demanded of us or too much sacrifice. The difficulty isn’t necessarily one of wisdom: knowing the right things and confessing the right things. The difficulty is in the disconnect between our senses. Between what we hear and what we see, there exists a major problem. And this disconnect between what we hear and what we see manifests in the most troubling of places, in our understanding of exactly who we are. We have heard that we are heirs of eternal life and that we are the redeemed saints of God, but what we see always remains quite different. We see sin. We experience our own doubts and fears.
As a pastor this disconnect is heightened, not only because it is felt in my own life, but because it plays out in the congregation I serve. I am called to preach and teach the Word of God. I strive to rightfully and faithfully divide the Law and Gospel. I attend to those who are home bound and hand over the gifts of our God. Now, you might think that when you do such things there would be a consistent and positive reaction: the church would grow, our Bible studies would be packed, the fellowship would expand beyond these walls, and unity would prevail. After all, this is the place where Christ arrives to forgive sins. This is the place where death and life happens again and again. But what I see is very different. I see broken lives, fearful people, and an unwillingness to love.
Our lives are lived in drastic movement. Sometimes we find ourselves on an incredible mountain peak, and the very next moment we are in the darkness of the valley below. Even when the peaks are not that high and valleys not that low, there is still movement along the path. We constantly hear one thing and see another. Faith, we are told, does not come by sight. We have learned that lesson well. Faith comes by hearing. But sometimes the movement between what we hear and what we see and experience is just too much.
The constant movement of life, though, is nothing new. It has always been with us. It is found in the pondering of the ancient philosophers and in the simple questions that we ask our children. Plato may have tried to understand the difference of being and becoming, but all of us as children were asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and then “What do you want to study at school?” or “What career path will you take?” or “Who will you marry?” or “Will you have any kids?” or “Are you saving for retirement?” or “Now that your retired what are you going to do?” The questions regarding our life of movement never cease. Undergirding all these questions lies the great question, “Who are you?” Who are you here and now? Are you only what you will become? Are you only the promise of some future version of yourself? Just who are you?
Now the shocking thing is our God actually answers this question. Our Lord does not shy away from the great question of all of humanity, at least for you. For those who believe in his name He answers, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” We are the children of God. It is a simple and clear assertion of your reality and your identity. It isn’t a word of encouragement to work towards being a child of God. It isn’t a step by step plan on how to get things worked out in our life so that you might look a little bit more like the children of God. It is simply stated as fact. This is a fact that flows from the love of the Father.
But even this assertion by our God doesn’t necessarily deliver us from the disconnect between what we hear and what we see. I mean, sure, it’s good to hear that we are the children of God: even when we don’t look like it, even when it is easier to skip the study of God’s Word than engage it, even when it is more convenient to sleep in on an Sunday morning that get the family moving, even when our minds wander during the service, even when we are filled with doubt and fear about the future. But all those things happen with such prevalence that we often begin to wonder if we are actually what God said we are. Are we really God’s children?
Again, our God has not left us without comfort and guidance. He speaks about this disconnect as a tension between what is already a reality and what is not yet revealed. He speaks about the “now” and the “not yet.” He says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Though you are God’s children now, what you will be has not yet appeared. What you will be is like God’s own Son. What you will be is pure and holy and righteous in all you thoughts, words, and deeds. The life of faith is a life of hope in the promises of God. To have hope in the promises of Christ is to have the promise that one day you will be revealed, for all to see, as the pure and holy children of God. This is what he says you already are, we just can’t always see it in the now.
So here we are, living in this disconnect between what we hear and what we see. We are living between the now and the not yet. Your identity has been proclaimed: you are the children of God! So we wait the day that the truth of this proclamation will be revealed. Now, what do we do in the meantime? What is it we are to do while we wait for that great day of the return of our Lord? Well, again we are not left without a word from our Lord. He says, “Little children,” (see how he likes to call you His children) “let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” He simply calls you to live as the children he has created you to be. He does not call you to live in order to become those children, but He allows what he has already done in you to bear fruit. He has taken away your sin, He dwells within you, and He calls you by name. So go and live like it. You can actually practice righteousness.
Who are you? You are the children of God: the baptized, the holy ones, the forgiven, and the redeemed. This is who you are, and soon all of creation will see it. All glory be to God.