All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3, verse 3.
In Lutheran churches there is a phrase: ‘works righteousness.’ It’s a desultory term actually; an observation about a belief system that many people embrace. If we work hard enough, we can earn our own salvation. Our efforts make us righteous; our righteousness comes from something we do. It’s actually at the heart of what drove Martin Luther to question the Roman Catholic church because works righteousness was at the heart of the indulgences the Pope was selling (to pay for his new cathedral). Lutherans (and many other believers) reject that idea. It is Christ who makes us righteous; there is nothing we do to earn or make that so because He did it. He, and what He did, are simply facts.
So how is it that this verse seems to insinuate that we do something, that we purify ourselves? Is having faith a form or working towards your own righteousness (or working out your own salvation)? Tough questions asking for tough answers.
Brace yourselves. The answer is “it doesn’t” and “no.” The verse doesn’t insinuate that we do anything to cleanse ourselves from our sins. Christ did that, and He imparts that to us as we acknowledge “I believe.” But back up a few steps and remember what drove each of us to make that confession. We can’t even begin to say “I believe” without God having pursued us to get to know Him. It has always been this way. Read through Scripture and you find that, all the way back to Eden, in every action, prophecy, every historical time when God’s people went to Him, He was already waiting to hear their request. God reaches across eternity to even us today to let us know, before we even question Him, that He is there and He is God. It doesn’t matter what you or I try to do or think. That isn’t God or how He rolls. He has already purified us…are we ready to accept it?
And, no, having faith isn’t a work of works righteousness. Same answer as above: we couldn’t have the faith if God hadn’t already reached out to us, in love, to show our need for faith in Him. Or to show how He loves us. He provides for us whether we believe in Him or not. He loves us even when we hate Him (as evidenced by how we misunderstand provision…He provides for unbeliever and believer alike). We gain salvation not through choosing faith but, instead, having our hearts convicted of our need for faith, then opening up to the love that is already standing in front of us.
Chew on that one whether you’re Lutheran or not.
Dear Lord, thank you so much for purifying me because I couldn’t do it myself. And thank you for being there for Me even when I didn’t realize You were.