God Doesn't Give Us a Pass, and That's Good
What if everyone adored us no matter how selfish we were? What if, no matter what we said, people didn't hold it against us? What if everybody forgave us no matter what we did, but God judged us? What if God kept a record of everything we said and did, and judged it all?
Everyone else can give us a pass, but God doesn't ignore our selfishness. He won't let our selfishness go un-judged. God doesn't let sin go unpunished. So we have good reason to be afraid of God. But that's good because unless we fear God's judgment, we'll never receive God's grace and peace. Fear of God and God's grace and peace go hand in hand.
How is that possible? How can the fear of God and God's grace and peace go hand in hand? Are we selfish? Then we've got a good reason to fear God. It's not just the bad things we do that are selfish. Even the good things we do are done for selfish reasons. We don't do anything unless it seems good to us. But, at the same time, we're Baptized into Christ. In Baptism, God forgets our selfishness. Baptized, we live in God's grace and peace.
That's why there's nowhere for us to go except Jesus. Outside of our relation to Jesus, there's only the Judge. There's only, "God damn your selfishness." In relation to Christ, there's only the Father. There's only, "The Father forgives your selfishness."
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Do people adore or loathe us? Do they brush aside what we say or hold it against us? Are we more often forgiven or cursed? It doesn't matter. All that matters is what God thinks of us. Are we baptized? Are we children of God? If we want judgment and fear, then we stick with other people’s opinion of us. If we want grace and peace, we stick with Jesus.
So long as there's breath in us, so long as we're "in the flesh," as Paul calls it, we're selfish. Selfishness is our cross to bear. For this reason, we're going to be afraid. We're going to worry about what people think of us. It's going to get in the way of our relationship with Jesus. We're going to fear God's judgment. But, we're also baptized into Christ. So we don't give up hope. Jesus will help us and strengthen us. He will guide us in his Baptismal grace and peace.
To use an example from Martin Luther, our relation to God will be like that of a block of wood in the hands of a master wood carver. He chisels and takes away wood that doesn't belong to the carving. He forms the work until finally the old block of wood has been chiseled away and carved into something new. A new man. A man the woodcarver treasures and adores.
So don't lose hope. God is chiseling away at us for our good. He's chiseling away all our selfishness, everything that gets in the way of our enjoying a gracious and peaceful relationship with Jesus. He's carving away our selfishness because we're someone He treasures and adores.