Yesterday I mentioned my little “fourfolds” which serve as a unique headspace for me. I thought today I might share the first fourfold I wrote.
Christianity is about forgiveness, not guilt. When one enters the Kingdom, the most important thing to know deep down in the bones is the gospel proper- that Christ died for my sins, and rose again for my justification. God is no longer angry with his people. There is no charge that can be brought against God’s elect. These are not superfluous doctrines- they are at the heart of the gospel news of Jesus Christ, and the devil knows it, even if the Christians don’t. If a man becomes a Christian and struggles all his life with besetting sin but realizes this, his life will not have been a failure. This is not to say that a man may believe the gospel and continue to delight in unremitting, unrepentant, yet realized sin; no, that man is lost. The true believer does stumble in many ways, but he knows it for what it is and hates it, or at least hates that he hates it not enough. The issue is not what this man looks like next to the apostle Paul; rather, what he looks like next to the old man of sin. Without Christ, a man’s works are an offense to God; in Christ, they are a delight to him. All men may be created equal, but not all men are gifted equally. One has faith enough for great deeds, another for “normal” deeds, and yet another for hardly any deeds at all, just enough to believe that God is for him and not against him. If the man of great faith does “normal” deeds, the man of “normal” faith does small deeds, and the weak man believes with all his might, then he and he alone will have moved mountains. God is equally satisfied with all because all are in Christ, but the weak man pleases him more than all the rest.
Flourish where you are planted, you who fall in rich soil, and you will produce one-hundred fold. Flourish where you are planted, you who fall in mediocre soil, and you will produce sixty fold. Flourish where you are planted, you who fall in dry desert soil, and you will produce thirty fold. The vines that grow in hot and arid climes produce the sweetest grapes. God is pleased with his poor children in a way he is pleased with no others. Though they may do no deeds which resound through history, their “insignificant” acts light up the universe for rulers and authorities in heavenly places to see.
I say God is pleased with his poor children in a way he is pleased with no others. This does not mean that he loves his own unequally; rather, he loves his own uniquely. God is a father; what father loves his children without distinction? He shares a special moment with this one, and gives a special gift to that one. All are equally sons, but not without distinction. If the second-born believes the father’s love is greater toward his firstborn, it is because he misunderstands that love. You will never be an apostle; will you never be loved? You have inherited a faith as precious as Peter’s, but you may never walk on water. Some have been given mercy to live well; some to die well. Do not confuse the two.
Gospel love is unmerited; it is not undistinguished. The strong love the weak, being more capable of love. The weak love the strong, seeing in them more of those admirable qualities reminiscent of Christ. As the strong love the weak, they help them to grow into maturity as they themselves are being exercised in those Christ-like qualities. As the weak love the strong, they too are being exercised in such as they have and give the strong an example to follow, as a candle in a dark room is more evident than a floodlight at noon. Each receives fully from Christ the divine love; each shares it accordance with his faith. This is the economy of heaven. Such love can only grow out of distinction. We are in Christ, and we are being made into his image. The church shares in all that Jesus has. Jesus has made his ascent to the Father; the church age is a participation in his return. He came down, after all, to obtain his bride and present her to the Father without spot or blemish. We are the bride of Christ. There may be many members, but there is only one bride. The bride makes one ascent to the Father, as Jesus made one ascent. How then shall we not help each other in holiness? There are many circumstances, many trials, many falls, many hurts, and many struggles- but there is only one Christian life. There is only one baptism. “Are you able to be baptized with my baptism? Jesus asked the brothers. The strong must help the weak into the waters. They will rise over his head, and he will die; but he will come up remade.
Among the greatest duties and privileges of the strong is to shepherd the weak. Among the greatest duties and privileges of the weak is to love the strong. This admits no envy of station, for both are given by God to promote the good and salvation of the individual and the body. As the body goes, so go its members.
Christian love is better than pagan love because of its distinctions, not despite them. Pagans love the lovely, as they should. They also love the unlovely, but not because they are unlovely; their love rises from pity, not delight. It is a lesser love, not a different one. But the Christian loves his enemy, precisely because he is an enemy. He is able to pray for those who persecute him because they persecute him, not despite it. To the Christian, the one who persecutes has gone through weakness and out the other side, like a petulant and disobedient child.
The strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak. Love your neighbor as yourself- this is the sum of the commandments. The law, we know, was given to show us Christ. How? To reveal guilt. How for the guiltless, those whose sins are paid for? To show forgiveness. Love your weak neighbor, you strong. Bear with his failings. How? What does this look like? Forgive him. This is the sum of the commandments. This is the heart of the gospel, for, as it has been said, Christianity is about forgiveness, not guilt. The man who spends his entire life understanding this, having reached its end, will have discovered that his was a life well spent.