This piece comes from Mockingbird friend Jason Redcay.
After I became a Christian, I still thought Christians were hypocrites. Like anyone, our standing before the Law reveals hypocrisies in spades. And yet a Christian is said to be sanctified, made good, holy, righteous… a saint when they are still so obviously, well, not. How can it be, the reality of living in two worlds so distinctly and fully? I watched the new series Awake the other night and began to see some parallels.
In this series police detective Michael Britten is newly returned to work after being in a car crash along with his wife Hannah and his son Rex. After the crash Britten discovers that every time he goes to sleep he switches between two realities, one in which his wife died in the crash and one in which his son died. To differentiate between the two realities, Britten wears different colored rubber bands in each reality: a red one, for the one in which his wife is alive, and a green one, for the one in which his son is alive. He also has two psychiatrist’s in each of his realities trying to convince him that they are real, that “this is reality” and the other place is the dream.
I’m also reading a book by Gerhard Forde, A More Radical Gospel, and in a section called “Luther on Justification and the Christian Life” I’m beginning to see the Christian person also living in two worlds. It’s not so much either/or, or a mixture of the two, half-sinner and half-saint, but rather 100% sinner and 100% saint. Luther called this simul et justus et peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner). Here’s an excerpt from the book.
“Thus already in his Lectures on Romans Luther finds no other way to understand Paul or the scripture than in terms of the simul. Commenting on Romans 4:1-7, he maintains that the imputation of righteousness to Abraham and its connection with the forgiveness of sins can be understood only by propounding two theses:
(1) The saints are intrinsically always sinners, therefore they are always extrinsically justified; but the hypocrites are intrinsically always righteous, therefore they are extrinsically always sinners.
(2) God is wonderful in his saints (Ps. 68:35); to him they are at the same time righteous and unrighteous. And God is wonderful in the hypocrites; they are to him at the same time unrighteous and righteous.
Luther leaves no doubt throughout the entire commentary that the most vital enemy of the righteousness of God is not so much the “godless sinner” as the “righteous” who thinks in terms of law and “intrinsic” moral progress.”
The rebuttal then to “No moral progress!?” is generally “What then becomes of sanctification, getting better, being saintly” and the next section of the book addresses that question. Here’s another excerpt from the book (Also a great article from Tullian Tchividijian called “Rethinking Progress”):
“Sanctification is simply included in justification since it is a total state. Sanctification is simply to believe the divine imputation and with it the totus peccator. For where can there be more sanctification than where God is revered as the only Holy One? But God can be revered as the Holy One only where sinner, the real sinner, stands still as the place where God enters the scene. That is the place where the sinner must realize that his or her own way is at an end. Only those who stand still, who know that they are sinners and that Christ is for them, only they give God the glory. Only they are “sanctified.”"
It seems even the idea of Christian progress is antithetical to the Christian life and the message of imputed righteousness and justification by faith alone. To progress would be mixing the two realities, becoming less sinful and more saintly would be a misunderstanding of sanctification and a confusion of the depth of the totality of our sin and the height of the righteousness we need.
If Christianity is just a religion like any other based on rules, doing right, working our way towards God then the label “Hypocrite” is very much accurate. It’s common for anybody to say they wouldn’t go to church because they don’t need a set of rules from an institution to tell them how to live a moral life. Or maybe they understand how messed up they are, and aren’t comfortable hanging out with a bunch of self-conceived holy people. If the Christian faith is just a religion, then I completely agree with this and wouldn’t want or need church! But what if it is about something we receive rather than something we do? If it’s about receiving, rather than doing, it sheds light on a major misunderstanding.
We all may be living in two worlds. I’m not sure which world is true in Awake, maybe both, maybe neither. Who knows? The distinction I see between the show and life, though, is the difficulty of Michael’s decision–not wanting to choose between a life without his wife or his son. So often when Christianity is painted as moralism, churchgoers have the same difficult decision—cost-benefit analysis. With the Gospel, though, it’s a non-decision, a no-brainer. We can either live under the banner of lawful expectations, a life of moralism that says “do this and then you shall live,” or live free under the banner of grace, a life in the unconditional love of God that says “Christ has done it all for you”. Believe, the sainthood is yours.