By Bob Hiller –
Don’t you hate those sappy sermon illustrations in which the pastor stands up and uses some cutesy moment from the life of his children to describe some biblical principle? My kids hate them too. If that is you, you’ll forgive my blog this week, as I’m totally using my son’s t-ball career as an illustration for the Christian life.
First things first: if you are feeling down in this dreary world of sin, spend next Saturday morning at the local youth ball fields for an hour or two of t-ball. You will not be able to keep from smiling the entire time. (Also, if you need training in patience, sign up to coach…) We signed my youngest up for this delightful baseball prep league. It is wonderful training ground for teaching kids how to stand in the box, where to play for each position, which direction to run around the bases, and so on. These fresh minds are tasked with learning the rules of a rather complex game. And they don’t care at all. They love to hit, throw, run, and tackle their own teammates in an effort to “field” the ball.
The other day, the ball was hit right at my son. It was incredible. He saw the hit, lined his body up perfectly, got in position to scoop up the ball, and perfectly threw it back to the coach. Beautiful. The only problem was that he was the runner! He looked back at me with pride, giving me the old “thumbs up” for making such a great play on the ball. I just smiled, returning the thumbs. I’m still smiling.
These kids mess up the game of baseball at every turn on the field. They don’t understand the rules at all. But they get out there, each of them waving at their cheering parents before swinging seven times at a stationary ball and running the wrong direction. It is this wonderful hour of kids wearing uniforms much too big for them, coaches yelling directions in vain, funny plays, and beaming parents. T-ball is basically the life of faith.
In the Smalcald Articles, Luther has this marvelous comment in his article on Justification and Good Works, in which he says,
[Through] faith’ (as St. Peter says) we receive a different, new, clean heart and that, for the sake of Christ our mediator, God will and does regard us as completely righteous and holy. Although sin in the flesh is still not completely gone or dead, God will nevertheless not count it or consider it.” (The Smalcald Articles, Article 13: How a Person Is Justified and Concerning Good Works)
In other words, when God sees you “in Christ,” he reckons you, a dead sinner, to be a living saint. You are counted righteous on account of Christ Jesus, through faith, regardless of the sinful nature that clings to you. This all is because Jesus died for you on the cross to pay the full penalty for those sins. God reckoned Christ the sinner on the cross, and because righteous Jesus “became sin for us,” we sinners have become “the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Galatians 3:27), God no longer sees you as a sinner but as His beloved child. In Christ, God “smiles on you” and He is “gracious to you” (Numbers 6:24-27). Of course, “Good works follow such faith, renewal, and forgiveness of sins” (SA 13). Now, those good works will remain imperfect. But no matter, for “Whatever in these works is still sinful or imperfect should not even be counted as sin or imperfection, precisely for the sake of this same Christ” (SA 13).
In other words, the life of faith is like a crazy t-ball game! There, just as my boy is clothed in a jersey much too big for him, you and I have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ. You put those clothed kids in the dugout before the game, and they are ready to explode onto the field of play. Similarly, the faithful Christian cannot cease from doing the works God prepared in advance for them to do (Eph. 2:10). After all, “It is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly” (The Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration, Article IV: Good Works). You just can’t keep those kids off the field. But once they are on, they can’t seem to get anything right. They can’t seem to follow the rules; they run the wrong way. Is it too obvious to say they are imperfect on the field? But they have no fear! They are completely free in this wide-open field of play. Why? Because when they look back to wave, there is their father’s face shining upon them with pure joy. He’s not even looking at their mistakes. He’s just thrilled He paid to put them on the field!
So it is for you in the Christian life of faith. You are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and set loose in the wide-open field of God’s creation. You will get it wrong. You will face all kinds of trials and tribulations. You will stumble, and you will fall. And you will do all of it within the Word of the Aaronic benediction. God’s face will be shining on you, and He will be gracious to you, for you are clothed in His Son’s righteousness. He sent His Son to pay everything necessary to put you on the team. You are free to play in this messy, imperfect game knowing that, for Christ’s sake, the Father can’t stop smiling!