When Jesus Smashes Our Religious Piggy Banks

 
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What is the value of a friend? What about a marriage? Children? What is the net worth of a successful career, large house, and good health? How much does happiness cost? Is our whole life defined by the economic law of supply and demand? And, if that is true, what about the Christian faith? Does faith come with a price tag? Is faith defined by our "outflow" and God's "inflow"? And what does that mean for love, which is the fruit of faith?

Maybe that is why, when we talk about the Commandments we talk about love in the way of our obedience, not love in the way of God's self-giving. For Old Adam sinners, obedience to God's Word of Law is about making sure we do the right thing, even though our motives are selfish. We imagine that the purpose of the Law is obedience, and so we must obey, otherwise divine punishment will be visited upon us. Obedience is also the currency we use to fill our religious piggy banks. That way, at the Last Day, we have enough saved up to pay our way into the heavenly feast. It is also why, in the name of meeting our obligation to God to produce religious works, we end up looking more like Tahitian volcano worshippers than honored guests at the Supper of the Lamb.

But, when we focus on God's self-giving Word, when we turn our attention to Golgotha, we are shown a wholly different way of viewing the Commandments. In relation to Calvary, our religious economics are exposed as a Ponzi Scheme. God's triune love does not accept our fabricated religious reports and fraudulent spiritual investments. Instead, He pays our debts to death and hell in full. Jesus' death announces to every man, woman and child that the promise of well-above-average returns on their religious works is a scam.

Jesus crucified and risen exposes our need to assess and set the value of every relationship, even our relation to God. He exposes our religiosity for what it is in truth: self-love. It turns out that our need to put a value and price on every person and relationship does not demonstrate our Christian faithfulness. It is simply what Martin Luther called, "incurvatus in se." We are curved in upon ourselves. We are selfish. We are sinners.

God's Word, on the other hand, is selfless. All the law hangs on Him. All our self-indulgent, self-destructive religious investitures are hung on Jesus. God's self-giving love—not our selfish, self-seeking ways of proving our love to God—is the thing. That is why Jesus saves, not good little girls and boys with religious money in their piggy banks, but all the stone-broke, deadbeat, overextended losers of this world. He sets us free in the liberation of His death and resurrection from religious bookkeeping.

By focusing intently on what one wants to avoid, we often crash right into the moral hazard we are trying to evade.
— Donavon Riley

So, now, when religious loan sharks ask us, "How do you expect God to give you a good return on your religious investments of time, money, and talents if you're not willing to work for it," we can tell them, "Jesus already did the work for me. He paid my debt to sin and death with His own precious blood, and His own innocent suffering and death. Now, I’m freed from hopeless religiosity, and since Jesus is always with me—His faithfulness is my faith, His works are my works, His death is my death, and His rising is my resurrection. And the Good News is that it's all free, all gift today and always."

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'.