As Christians we should strive to keep God’s commandments. Obedience to the Law is necessary and expected.
Wait a minute! You might be thinking to yourself. Aren’t we taught in Scripture that our salvation is not by works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 2:16)? Indeed we are! But that does not mean we can simply dismiss the Law.
When I write of the necessity of striving to keep the commandments, it is not so that we can win God’s approval and earn our salvation. Collectively and individually we have dug ourselves into a hole that we cannot climb out of. All our efforts to extricate ourselves only digs us in deeper. The ability to trust God and to delight in his commands and promises was lost in the Garden of Eden.
God’s Word is clear. Our rescue from sin and its resulting consequences of death is by faith, and not by our efforts! Even that exercise of faith is something we are not naturally interested in or capable of. That interest and capacity comes about by the new birth, which is a spiritual birth from above (cf. John 3:3-8). It comes as a gift of grace (cf. Eph. 2:8-9).
With the new birth, which is given us in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, a new nature arises in us which believes and delights in God’s commands and in his promises (cf. Rom 6:4). But as any Christian knows, the old sinful nature sticks around and tries to maintain control over our lives. And so a battle begins!
We are saved and find favor with God in Christ’s righteousness alone. We add nothing to his merit. But the process of our restoration is necessarily that we might live out the vocation God intended for us in the beginning, that we might represent him to the rest of creation and to love our neighbor. The new nature can begin to live in this way! Yet, it will be a struggle. Without the struggle there is always the danger of sliding back into a hardened, debased condition.
Since You Asked…
Why is incense used in some churches?
The use of incense is not unique to Christianity or Judaism and is used in many of the world’s religions to enhance special times and places by sight and smell. In Christian worship incense is effectively used at the beginning of the Service of the Word and in preparing for receiving Holy Communion. The burning of incense is associated with the prayers of worship rising before God (cf. Psa 141:2; Rev 8:4). Good worship should engage all the human senses. In this connection it should be pointed out that the olfactory sense is perhaps the most sensitive of the five senses; it continues to function even during sleep. (Indebted to Aidan Kavanah in his “Elements of Rite”.)