Resting and Restless


"Simul justus et peccator"

These words were spoken by Martin Luther to explain one of the strongest tensions in Christianity. "Simul" is the Latin word that we get our English word "simultaneous". "Justus" is the word that we get our word "just" or "righteous". And "Peccator" is the word that we get peccadillo from--or sin. The total translation is: "At the same time righteous and sinner." For Luther this accurately described the paradox that we experience as Christians. We are at the same time clothed in the righteousness of Christ, blameless before God--not of works that we have done, but according to His great mercies; and we are at the same time sinners. Paul explains this tension personally when he says in Romans 7:21-23: "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me." Paul is simul justus et peccator. His eternal standing is secure in Christ, but the same "evil law of sin" is waging war against his new spirit.

There are many tensions in Christianity. For example, God is sovereign over all things, yet man does what he wills and is one hundred percent responsible for his actions. Or Christians are already at this very moment citizens of heaven; but we live here on earth, work normal jobs, and submit to earthly governments. These are "both and" tensions that instead of merely simplifying them, we have to wrestle with and work out with a Biblical focus.

One such tension that I have been thinking of recently is that we as Christians are to be at the same time Resting and Restless. Similar to Luther's Latin dictum, this I think hints at a very real tension that we must live in as Christians.

Resting

We are to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We need to trust fully in that work, grab a hold of it by faith, and rest in what He has accomplished. Unlike every other world religion in which you have to work or do something to earn your salvation, Christianity says that you are saved not on the basis of what you have done, but by the grace of God; a free gift that can be received through faith.

This is a foreign concept to us as humans. We are skeptical of free gifts, because experience tells us that nothing is truly free. We know that actions have consequences, so for eternal salvation to truly be a free gift purchased by Christ on the cross (and not hinging on anything that we do)--it all sounds a little too good to be true. But God revealed His great love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The truth is, for those of us who have believed the gospel message and are trusting in Jesus for salvation--the "work" is completed and the verdict is in. We are righteous because Christ is righteous and He has declared us so.

We need to rest in this truth daily because it is natural to forget who we are before God. The temptation can quickly be for us to observe sin in our life, and try to work hard to re-gain God's favor. Legalism (where we add our own works to the gospel in order to be saved or gain God’s favor) is a subtle but genuine temptation that we need to daily guard against. For as Paul writes in Galatians 3:10: "All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'" Resting in the gospel then looks like reminding yourself who you are in Christ daily and remembering the work he has done on your behalf. It is the "reprograming" to a new mindset that tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We are secure in Him.

Restless

But while we rest in the amazing grace given us by God, we are to at the same time called to be restless. For we are not what we will one day become. Our world is still a broken place, our time on earth is short, and we have Kingdom work to do. Paul tells his protégé Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:10, "For this we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." Instead using the eternal hope as an excuse for laziness and worldly living, Paul rather uses it as motivation for working out his salvation out of obedience and thanksgiving to God.

In Philippians 3:13:14 Paul writes in a similar vein: "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." The "it" Paul has yet to attain to is heavenly perfection. And because Paul has yet to be perfected, he forgets what is behind and pushes forward--"straining toward"--to the righteous life that God has called him to. Paul is quite restless. For him to receive amazing grace from Jesus Christ and to NOT press forward to that ultimate goal of perfection would be ridiculous in his eyes.

So we are to be at the same time resting in what Christ has done for us, and restless for both our perfection and His Kingdom. The Resting is not to communicate resting in a lazy sense, and Restlessness should not imply an eternal insecurity. We are restless not for the purpose of gaining favor from God, but for the singular purpose of glorifying Him and thanking Him for what He has done for us.

Ephesians 2:8-9 summarizes this "paradox" beautifully:

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Here we see both working together. We are saved by grace through faith, but we are saved for good works which God has prepared beforehand for us to accomplish. Let's learn to embrace this beautiful tension.

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