Jesus is the subject, but you are the object.
It is our fallen nature to want to interject ourselves into the salvation equation. We always want to try to take some credit for the completed work of Christ on the cross.
We are children with our plastic toy hammers and saws who go to work with our carpenter Big Brother (we will call Him Joshua for now). We bang on wood with our plastic hammer that has no effect except to make a somewhat humorous, but often irritating squeaky sound. We like to think of ourselves as big boys, but we are really doing little but being underfoot and in the way.
When lunch comes, we come and sit with the men and we open our lunch boxes to find a meal that was packed for us, because even if we were able to pack our own lunch, we would pick candy bars and BBQ potato chips (I love BBQ potato chips). Joshua has been working hard building a church, and yet as He has done so He has kept one eye on us to make sure that we are safe in His care. The end of the day comes, and we are found sleeping in the back of Joshua’s pickup because we got bored—so we climbed in, under His camper shell and dozed off. Joshua scoops us up into His arms and says to us, “Good work, big man, I am so proud of you.”
All we did was get under foot, made some noise and left some trash from our prepacked lunch, and He is so proud of us. But why? What did I do that He should be so proud of me?
We strut around like we’re some sort of big deal when, in reality, the only thing that we brought with us was a need to be taken care of and a mess. We are like the five-year-old who thinks he is a big boy because he worked so hard, and yet, we, in and of ourselves effected nothing. Yet, our Big Brother takes us home to Our Father and tells Him how we built so much today.
So it is with the grace of God. Your Big Brother, Yeshua… Joshua… Jesus, has done all things for your salvation. He has counted all of His good work to your account. Even though you are little more than a nuisance, your Brother, your Lord, your God has spoken all that He has to be yours. He has done all things needful for you and for the whole world, so that you might be an heir of the kingdom with Him, and so that you may know your Father and bask in His joy.
As the Son of God spoke all things into creation, so He has spoken you to be righteous. As the Son of God lived perfection in His life, so He credits His righteousness to your account. As the Son died and rose from the dead, so He has taken you into death and resurrection with Him through the waters of baptism. As the Son of God is the Bread of Life, you partake of Him as we gather in His name and at His table. There we, together, take part with all the saints of all time in the “Feast of the Lamb which has no end.”
You see, you really have nothing to do with the equation because you are not the Subject who does the verbs of salvation, but you are the object for whom those verbs are done.
This is the work of the Church, to proclaim the glories of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Out of His incomparable mercies flows works of thanksgiving, not in order to please God but because our Big Brother and our Father are so amazingly kind, merciful and loving to us little guys who are so full of our self-importance that we don’t often give thanks for all that our God has done for us and yet, the Helper, the Comforter, the Spirit comes to us and whispers in our ears, through the Word, “You are His, and He is yours.”
As we grow up in the faith, learning more of how we fall short of the perfect demands of the Law, more and more with every day (Romans 7), we also find that the mercies of Christ are new every morning. These mercies are only for sinners—for you and for me.
It would be easy as a pastor to encourage you to go out there and work hard in the kingdom and build God’s Church, but in the end, we find that it is the Lord who does all of the work—and when He sees fit, He will use us, mostly in spite of our best efforts. He uses us as empty vessels that He fills, that He pours out onto others and when we find ourselves being used, we like to think that we are the Subject, but that is still Christ and He is doing the verbs of salvation, for you and for me.
Martin Luther said it this way:
“Once I debate about what I have done and left undone, I am finished. But if I reply on the basis of the gospel, ‘The forgiveness of sins covers it all,’ I have won. On the other hand, if the devil gets me involved in what I have done and left undone, he has won, unless God helps and says, ‘Indeed! Even if you had not done anything, you would still be saved by forgiveness.’” - Luther, LW, Vol. 54, p. 106