The process for designing a sermon series identity –the main graphic we put on all our series-related content– begins with time in the Bible going over the scriptures that will be preached from, obviously. The main series identity for Romans 4 was no different. But before it ever was put in front of the congregations eyes, there was question that kept popping up about one element in the artwork: the color bars in the upper left.
Personally, the artist in me was perfectly happy leaving its purpose undefined and ambiguous. I mean... I knew what it's purpose was, that's enough, right? Besides, it's sort of fun to provide a viewer with an image whose message is obvious, while simultaneously providing another image within that's less defined. It allows for engagement with a piece of art to take place. It might even generate some useful questions. Yes... questions such as "What's with the color bar thingy in the upper left-hand corner?" Which is basically what Pastor Josh asked me in an email after reviewing the Romans 4 artwork.
Nailed it, folks.
Pastor Josh found my explanation satisfactory, but he wasn't the only one that inquired about its meaning. In fact, that question came up during a planning meeting with multiple people representing our leadership, production, and communications staffs. So I explained its meaning to everyone, and, again, I was perfectly happy leaving its purpose undefined and ambiguous, everyone else... not so much. They felt it was a useful teaching tool and something beneficial for us as a congregation so it shouldn't be left undefined. In the end, we struck a deal to let it roll without an explanation at first, then after a couple weeks write a post explaining it. After a few weeks of being subjected to color bars and test patterns in the Romans 4 artwork and the pre-sermon bumper video... let me explain.
The design process allows us a wonderful opportunity to dig for gold rather than rake leaves in God's Word. And this is where resources like study bibles become valuable. In this case, I opened up the ESV Study Bible and read the following from the study notes:
Rom. 4:1–25 Abraham as the Father of Jews and Gentiles. Abraham is considered here as a test case for the view that justification is by faith alone. Abraham was the progenitor of the Jewish people, and hence his example is crucial for Paul’s argument.
ESV Study Bible notes (emphasis added)
For some odd reason that one line, "a test case for the view that justification is by faith alone," stuck in my head, specifically the part about Abraham being a "test case". That's when the idea for the color bar hit me.
It's a standardized tool developed by The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) for calibrating color on screens. Simply put: you test and you calibrate accordingly. It made Romans 4:1-2 stand out to me in this instance:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
We're always fighting this battle against works-righteousness; the idea that we can earn our salvation and that our righteousness is derived from doing good works. The reality is our salvation is a free gift of grace from God; we are justified by faith in Christ alone, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, again, by faith alone.
So, what's the purpose of works then?
Our works are a natural outflowing of a new heart that seeks to glorify God. Our work never becomes an instrument by which we gain God's acceptance. The Westminster Assembly spells it out wonderfully in saying that our good works are:
"done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, ..."
Westminster Confession of Faith 16:2
We do good works as a result of the gratitude we have for the work Christ has done and is doing in us. And we should test the motivation of our works. Am I doing this so that I may boast? Am I doing this because I'm seeking God's acceptance? Am I doing this because I'm thankful for the faith and the assurance I have in Christ and want to magnify His glory?
It may sound terribly contrived to some, but that's what the color bars represent: a test of the motivations for our works, our faith, and the necessity of recalibrating ourselves to the gospel.
So, hopefully that visual makes sense and sticks. Hopefully it helps us ask necessary questions of ourselves that lead us to seek the Spirit's work in shaping our hearts in gratitude for all Christ has done. Hopefully it moves us to good works to magnify the glory of Christ to the world around us.