“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;”
T. F. Gullixson was president of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, during the middle years of the 20th century when my father was a student there. Some time ago my dad recalled a sermon he heard T.F. Gullison preach titled, “Beware the Downward Pull’. The title speaks volumes.
In this age of technology and impersonalization, the conduct of the individual becomes less and less of an issue. All kinds of morally and ethically destructive behavior is tolerated – if not sanctioned. One person has described life in these times with a heady phrase – ‘chaotic syncretism’. That’s a very erudite way of saying, ‘Anything goes.’ T. F. Gullixson was onto something. The gravitational effect of sin on human moral and ethical conduct is obvious. Someone once said, ‘Character is measured by what you do when no one is watching.’ How many of us could stand the scrutiny of ‘deeds done in the dark’?
The new life in Christ is meant to redeem us from eternal death and free us for love of God and the neighbor. As Lutherans, we know that the Christian life is not a call to moral and ethical ladder climbing in order to make ourselves acceptable to God. We are, in the end, saved by grace. At the same time we are called to struggle with sin, to ‘Beware the downward pull’ of sin. For what is at stake is freedom, the costly freedom Christ has won for us on the cross. When we allow our basest impulses, lusts, and desires to drag us down we cheapen the life of freedom for love that God has given us. Such a self-centered life is of little good to itself or the neighbor. The writer of 1 John wanted more for those whom he cared about, “I am writing these things to you so that you might not sin.” This little letter toward the end of the New Testament could easily be titled, ‘Beware the Downward Pull.” Read it for yourself.
Of course we do sin. We do give in to the “downward pull”. Or as John writes,”…the love of this world…the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life.” No one knew better the power of the “downward pull” than Martin Luther. His many years in the monastary brought him face to face with the full weight of sin and it’s effects. Even after the power of the Gospel had set him free, to the end of his life he struggled to live in love and service to the neighbor, a struggle which he often lost.
So John also proclaims our Advocate to us, “Jesus Christ the Righteous”. In our strugglle to live out the freedom God has given us we do and will give ample evidence of our sinfulness. But Christ Jesus has laid claim on sinners. He is our righteousness and will be so all the way to life’s end. For the “downward pull” is not greater than the “upward call in Jesus Chist our Lord”!
“May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”