Saturday, November 05, 2011

Learning to say “No” Again

A few posts below is yesterday’s post entitled Learning to say “No”. Today I will address the other side of the coin, so to speak. While it most certainly is true that the Lord is able to supply whatever is needed so that one is enabled to help one’s neighbor when the Lord leads one so to do, is there ever a time when the Lord would have a person to say “No”? Another way of asking this is: Is it ever wrong to help one’s neighbor?

While this question may sound peculiar or even absurd, the answer is actually a very powerful YES. There are times when helping one’s neighbor can be contrary to God’s will.

For example, if one’s neighbor is robbing a convenience store. It would be wrong to help the neighbor to commit this crime, even if the neighbor is homeless and without food and shelter and is unable to obtain employment and has been turned away from every shelter and food pantry.

Another example, an example that may not seem quite so obvious, is when helping one’s neighbor causes one to steal from one’s spouse the devotion and commitment that the Lord commands. If I, for example, allow my helping of my neighbor to keep me from doing what my business requires for staying in business and paying the bills, I have robbed my wife, just as much as if I helped my neighbor rob the convenience store of money or goods would be stealing. Moreover, my customers are looking to me to help them, and they have a prior commitment from me. If I help my neighbor to such a degree that I do not fulfill my commitment to help my customers in a timely manner, I have robbed them.

So what do I do? My neighbor needs help. My customers need for me to fulfill my commitments. My wife needs for me to be a devoted husband and faithful provider.

How can I not fail? How can I keep from sinning through omission? How can I keep from neglecting someone?

The sad fact is that I cannot. My wife is very forgiving, as are my very kind customers, but that does not change the fact that I let them down with choices to elevate the needs of a needy neighbor above their needs. And, if I move the other direction and refuse to help a needy neighbor in order to fulfill my previous commitments, I still fail in helping my neighbor.

Either way I am wrong. Either way I sin.

This is the broken condition of the world ever since sin interrupted the Lord’s plan and design for us. This is why we cannot begin to be righteous by our own efforts and works. Moreover and even more importantly, all of our efforts and works are corrupted by our sinfulness. Even when we do good, it still is lacking in proper motive and love. Our sinfulness permeates our entire being as well as all of our thoughts, words, and deeds. This is why our only hope is Jesus. Jesus alone can save us for He alone is perfect. Our works can never make things right. Only His works make things right. Only His works merit salvation.

This is why Luther became so agitated regarding indulgences and other false doctrine regarding mingling one’s own works with the works of Christ in the desire to obtain merit before God, so that he challenged his fellow theologians with his Ninety-five Theses. On October 31, 1517 he nailed his theses to the church door, not realizing what fireworks would ensue. This little action was used by God to bring about a mighty change. Much of what Luther wrote was still terribly lacking, but his questions did open people’s eyes and hearts to realize that the Gospel by which we are saved is not about our works, but the works of God in Christ.

And this is how we are empowered to face each and every day. Knowing full well that none of our works are meritorious in any degree, we rise each morning and look to the Lord as our gracious God and Savior, trusting that He will work good for us and in us and through us despite our sinfulness. And we go forth boldly, knowing that even our best efforts are still corrupt and sinful, and yet reckoned by God as holy for Christ’s sake. And so, moved by God’s own love we help our neighbor knowing that we will sin against wife and customer. And sometimes, we refuse to help our neighbor, because we have obligations that simply must be fulfilled, and so we turn away our needy neighbor, at least for the time being. In every case, we trust God’s forgiveness and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit to direct us in our conscience and make the best decision that we are able and go forth and “sin boldly.” This does not mean that we willfully sin. It means that knowing that our actions cannot be without sin inhering to even our best efforts, we go forth in God’s grace, loving wife and customer and neighbor and trusting that for Christ’s sake our shortcomings are counted as full and holy and good. And so in the evening we again confess our sinfulness and beseech God’s merciful forgiveness for Christ’s sake and go to sleep in the assurance of the peace that only God can give.

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