Yes, but. It's a phrase I find myself repeating often in life. When my husband asks for forgiveness, I too often respond, "I forgive you, but…” and then continue with a list of my grievances. When I want to gossip about someone but still uphold the front that I’m really a loving and thoughtful person,” I’ll say something like, “She has a good heart, but…”
Life appears to almost always have a clause attached to it. We are programmed to believe that “Yes, but” is not only true, it’s the only possibility.
And yet the Gospel teaches us something entirely different. The Gospel proclaims all “Yes” all the time. All goodness, all gift, and no commandment, contingencies nor clauses. The Gospel takes both our “Nos” and our “Yes, buts” and proclaims them useless.
"The Law issues only commands and demands. The Gospel, on the other hand, only makes offers. It means, not to take anything, but only to give,” CFW Walther reminds us.
It’s difficult to let go of the “Yes, but” clause, even for those of us who believe the Gospel to be true. I remember my eighth grade history teacher’s explanation of the Christian faith. At a liberal, college prep school where Christians were a minority, in retrospect, her explanation was a thorough exegesis of Ephesians 2:8-9,
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
In response to her explanation, my classmates exclaimed all too enthusiastically to have truly been holy, “So we don’t have to do anything else but believe? We can do whatever we want if we just believe in Jesus?”
Yes, but, I thought in my head. Yes, but you must obey, Yes, but you must be faithful, Yes, but…you can fill in the blank with your own commandment. If they really believe, they would want to obey, I told myself in a frantic attempt to confirm my own self righteousness. After all, I was quite certain I was obeying and being faithful and following all 10 commandments at all times. Sheesh, I thought, these posers will never get belief down if they didn’t first understand obedience.
Yet no matter how hard I seem to try, whenever I work to fulfill a “Yes, but,” a very funny thing ends up happening. The contingency or clause I decide to place on something good, true, or given ends up taking the cake. The command is all I actually focus on while the Yes slowly fades into the background until it’s goodness ceases to exist. All these years later following failed attempt after failed attempt to fulfill my “Yes, buts,” I wonder if those 8th grade classmates weren’t on to something much truer about the Gospel than my own interpretation.
The Yes that proclaims the forgiveness of sins and the promise of life everlasting. The Yes that says the belief that is gift is the only means by which you also receive salvation. The Yes that assures you no matter how many times you mess up, there is still forgiveness for you. What if the Yes was all we heard?
Would this shift take away the desire to obey, the desire to listen to the law? I hardly doubt it. In fact, scripture promises that obedience follows faith. Romans 1 and Romans 16 talk about an obedience that comes from faith, and in Hebrews 11:1, we learn that it was through faith Abraham obeyed.
So if obedience comes from faith and faith from God’s grace, what the heck are we so worried about? I mean, honestly, why are we so afraid that we will believe and not obey and more importantly, that others will claim belief and not obey? Why are we obsessed with each other’s obedience as the Yes of Christ’s cross for you and for me slowly fades into the background?
It can feel scary and uncertain, perhaps even wrong, to drop all those buts because we are programmed to measure. Our sinful flesh all too often convinces us that proving or measuring our belief in the Yes is more important than the belief itself.
The Good News of Christ’s life, death and resurrection puts that distraction to rest, because it’s here where we are forced to answer this question without any addendums:
If you never did anything good again, but you believe Christ died for you, would the Gospel still be true?
It would. It would be true for you and for me. Let the Yes of the Gospel and the freedom that comes from the good news (the freedom to do anything because you have been cloaked in righteousness!) be what you hear. You may even be surprised by the goodness that follows.