Simul justus et peccator
That’s the Latin phrase Martin Luther used to describe the state of the human soul: simultaneously justified and sinful.
And while I’m less Lutheran than I am Wesleyan, nevertheless, I wanted the people of Good Shepherd to catch at least a sense of the ambiguity and dilemma of that phrase.
So I never used it, of course — it’s hard enough to get people to understand Jesus in English without introducing Luther in Latin — but I attempted to get people to understand our precarious their situation is without Jesus and yet how embraced they are in Jesus.
So Value Of A Soul launched with “Precious,” a sermon with this bottom line:
The value of your soul doesn’t depend on what you deserve, but on what God declares.
I’ve got a price tag here with me. This particular one comes from Mattress Firm & indicates the price of a mattress is $999. Of course. Nice! But the interesting thing about price tags is this: they only work if the buyer agrees to the price that the seller has written on it. If Mattress Firm had said the house cost, say, $50,999, then they’d hold on to it forever because no matter what they say, it’s a $999 mattress It’s only truly worth what you actually pay. Like you can put a price tag on your house – and does anyone else out there stop & pull info sheets out of For Sale houses just to see the price? (AV, me?) – of $1M but that doesn’t mean it is worth that at all. It’s actually worth only what someone truly pays. Price tags are all around us, on object large and small, visible or invisible (yeah! You pay for invisible computer security!), enduring and temporary.
I tell you that because we’re entering a season where we are talking about the Value Of A Soul. The price tag on that part of us that will transcend our earthly existence (not really our earthly body, however), the real US that most of us in Xnty believe will last forever. And we’re combining that emphasis on VOS with a giving project for all you who call GS home because we want your giving to be connected not to the preservation of an institution but to the salvation of souls. That’s all. It’s all going to culminate on Nov. 20 with a short film that you will want to invite all of your friends – body & soul – to come to with you.
Because as we think about the value of souls – yours, mine, and otherwise – I think we move pretty quickly to the realm of worth and merit and earning. Like how often have you heard – or said – someone described as “worthless”? Maybe even as a “worthless piece of …. dirt!” Sometimes you even hear of someone getting the death penalty for some particular heinous crime and you’re like, “Good. Worthless sot got what he deserved.” Criminals kill each other and you react, “well, that’s two less worthless ppl to worry about.” For some of you, you even apply that language to you. You have a history of shameful, hidden behaviors that make you feel, yes, worthless. More peculiarly, for some of you the cloud of depression hovers over you regardless of circumstances in your life, and that prompts you to place of deep despair & even thoughts of self-harm. The value of YOUR soul, the price tag on YOU, feels consignment store cheap because ultimately you don’t DESERVE IT.
And so to launch into the answers to all this, I want to look at a letter written by Peter, the same Peter who as a young man didn’t deserve much good from the early church because he was guilty of Foot In Mouth Disease. But as he writes I Peter, he’s got some perspective and some wisdom and I also think he has learned to harness his impulse to speak without thinking. Look at what he says in 1:17:
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.
OK, we’re all going to be judged by the same standard, NOT on a curve, NOT on birthright or ethnicity, NOT even on income level. All judged impartially and fairly. AND, according to this verse, if Jesus has us / owns us then our remaining time on earth we are foreigners, strangers, aliens . . . oddballs.
So then Peter digs deeper into the subject in 1:18-19:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
There are a couple of unbelievably important AND almost contradictory things here (but I think the Gospel of Jesus is in that contradiction!). First look at “you were redeemed.” What does that mean? It means people then and people now need redemption. And that idea of redemption has at its root the slave auction block (AV), whether in ancient times or even what you’d seen on the streets of Charleston. That means, literally, that every person is OWNED by something. The devil? An enemy? The world? All possible, but most likely Peter is thinking of plain old sin. It’s like I often tell you all about Alcoholics Anonymous, which acknowledges up front, at the beginning, “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol.” Well, alcohol or not, all of us are powerless over something, usually ourselves, and in that sense, sins has us in shackles.
It’s all Peter’s way of saying that in your natural state, your soul, the everlasting YOU, is in enemy territory, DESERVES NOTHING, and so God has a decision to make. Do I give them what they deserve and leave them alone or do I intervene? So don’t skip over the word “redeemed” there; the fact that it is in use means that you, me, and all of us really are in a desperate place. On the slave block, owned by a malicious force called sin, and for a whole lot of us the prime indication of the hold sin has on us is the way we deny that it does.
But after that chain-filled, yucky, auction block news, look at 1:19 again:
19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Not with perishable but with precious blood. In other words, price tag stuff could have never bought you out of enemy territory. Because price tag stuff by definition applies only to stuff that is temporary! Only the ultimate price – blood, precious Jesus blood, blood that’s never had a single sin or blot through its veins – could free you from the trap that is you and your sin. Nothing temporary could have done it, none of what the world calls valuable could have done it, only blood. Eternal blood. Nothing but the blood blood. God’s decision when he could have abandoned. God’s declaration when he could have remained silent.
And then it hits you: The value of your soul doesn’t depend on what you deserve but on what God declares. That’s it. That’s all. You’re so messed you need the cross and so loved that’s what you God. You’re so desperate you deserve to be abandoned and so valued you got embraced. The contradiction is the thing! So messed up you need redemption, so loved redemption’s what you got. To have at all an accurate picture of your standing before God you need to see both with crystal clarity: deserve nothing. Get everything. The value of your soul doesn’t depend on what you deserve but on what God declares.
Yes! It’s what he decided, not what you’ve done. It’s what he said, not how you sinned. It’s his miracle, not your mess. We act as if we are worthless and God comes along and with a trail of blood says “no, no, no . . . Priceless.” The value of your soul doesn’t depend on what you deserve but on what God declares.
It’s so much like Clint Eastwood. How can a sermon NOT be about Clint Eastwood?!?! Check it out: AV deserve’s got nothing to do with it. Yep, deserves got nothing to do with the value of your soul. Or it’s even like Dennis the Menace who in one cartoon gets an unexpected gift of cookies from Ms. Wilson. And his friend Joey asks him, “what did we do to deserve Mrs. Wilson’s cookies?” Dennis, wisely, answers: “Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we’re nice but because she is.” Deserve’s, again, got nothing to do with it! The value of your soul doesn’t depend on what you deserve but on what God declares.
It all makes me think of that time not too long ago when Julie and I were eating out at one of Steele Creek’s finer dining establishments (can we get a shout out for Rivergate?!). Anyway, after dinner and riveting conversation, it was time for the bill. And the server told us, “it’s been taken care of. By those folks over there.” And guess what? Those folks over there didn’t even go to GS! They go to another church! I had done nothing to deserve it except to “be.” And they picked up the tab. And so has God. On my soul. The soul that deserved to stay in bondage to sin, the soul that deserves to reap the consequences of all that it has done. But God says, “I’m picking up the tab” and then he pays in his blood.
You’ve noticed, I hope, the contrast Peter draws between perishable & imperishable. Look at v. 23 & v. 25:
23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”[b]
The contrast between what is temporary and what is eternal is woven through this whole passage. Guess what? This just underscores why gospel and church is NOT about self-improvement. It’s not 7 Steps To A Better You! Because all that stuff is temporary! A better you still won’t last. A redeemed you will. That’s why instead of steps to a better you, we want to give you STEP to a delivered you! It’s not about self-improvement; it’s about self-denial! Dead to the slavery of sin so you can be alive to the sweetness of the Savior. The value of your soul doesn’t depend on what you deserve but on what God declares.
Here’s why all this matters. It’s true of your soul. Every single person here who has considered suicide, who is wrapped up in self-harm, or even who is caught up in self-destructive behavior . . . what you have treated as worthless God has declared to be priceless. Every one of you. And the flip side, each of you who is pretty confident in your own goodness, who figures you’ll go to heaven when you die because you’ve been better than most . . . oh you are fooling yourself! Master of self-deception! You need to be redeemed: to acknowledge how sin & lies have trapped you and then embrace how the blood frees you. This is all true of your soul.
But here’s the even bigger deal, at least from the standpoint of this series: it’s true of souls around you. They’re not worthless. Just as you have infinite value not because of what you’ve done but because of what God has declared, so does everyone you meet. But they don’t know it! Walking around clueless! Either defeated by life or arrogant about eternity! Everyone you meet is someone for whom the precious blood of Christ was poured out. The VOS is all about getting that news from inside these walls to beyond them. To those who figure they’re worthless or think that without help they’re worthwhile. Nope on both counts. The value of your soul doesn’t depend on what you deserve but on what God declares. The worth comes from the declaration, a declaration signed in precious blood.
All this is why on November 13 you’re going have an opportunity to let us know your giving in 2017 – giving that’s based not on the needs of an institution but on the value of a soul – and it’s why on Nov. 20 we’re going to show the VOS short film to which you will want to invite every blasted soul you know.
Because . . . remember this? (Price tag.) The thing that is only worth what the buyer says it is?
Huh. God declared your value as INFINITE.
Because the price he paid was ULTIMATE.