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Galatians 2:11-21


When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?"


We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (ESV)













Depravity and Christology

Thursday of Lent 5

10 April 2014

A Roman Catholic friend of mine has been at pains to understand Martin Luther's position on the bondage of the will. He has struggled because he thinks that Luther's doctrine of justification through the merits of Christ alone turns humans into automatons; robots who can gain no merit with God through the turning of their well disposed will to God. We have discussed this problem over many years, returning to it again and again. I had nearly despaired of making any kind of breakthrough in understanding with my friend, until I changed my tack. I explained to him that Luther never argued purely from a human-centered set of presuppositions about the weakness and depravity of humans, although about that depravity he was quite certain. He also saw human incapacity through the lens of the cost of salvation from God. In other words, we might have some idea how bad man's problem might be only if we see how enormous the cost of salvation was. Look, God offers the spotless life of His own Son into the clutches of death that He might redeem sinners to Himself. How big is the problem that requires that price? Um, pretty big!


Recently, I overheard two friends talking about the surgery undergone by a third friend known to them both. I did not hear the beginning of the conversation and so was not sure what illness required the surgery. But I became quite clear about the seriousness of the disease when they mentioned that the surgery was ten hours long. Only the most serious problems require surgery of that length. So it is for us Christians; only when we see the enormous cost of our healing do we truly have any inkling about how sick we have been. It cost God the life of His own dear Son. What could be incomplete or inadequate about that price, what lack could we have offered to make up by our effort, good will, or right disposition? What could you contribute to make that work of God's Son complete? Our "own contribution" to salvation is a bit like suggesting that we should help the surgeon by handing him the scalpels during our surgery. Our desperate need is made clear by the enormous price to be paid by Christ.


This view suddenly helped my friend, who, after gaining a flash of insight, said: "Oh, so you think that the Roman Catholic approach to salvation is too man-centered?" Uh, you said it, brother! While Christ saves humans, Christ is always the subject of the sentence. He is always the doer of the action. He is always the one laying down His life for the sheep. Faith is only receiving what the Shepherd has done. Christ has taken care of my desperate need. Only when I know Him rightly do I fully understand my desperate situation as a sinner. My depravity is made perfectly clear by Christology.


Augustine of Hippo


"The Lord Jesus Christ came in the flesh, and, in the form of a servant, became obedient even to the death of the cross (Phil 2:8), for no other reason than, by this dispensation of His most merciful grace, to give life to all those to whom, as engrafted members of His body, He becomes Head for laying hold upon the kingdom of heaven: to save, free, redeem, and enlighten them, who had before been involved in the death, infirmities, slavery, captivity, and darkness of sin, under the dominion of the devil, the author of sin. Thus He became the Mediator between God and man, by whom (after the enmity of our ungodly condition had been terminated by His gracious help) we might be reconciled to God unto eternal life, having been rescued from the eternal death which threatened such as us. When this shall have been made clear by more than sufficient evidence, it will follow that those persons who are not concerned with that dispensation of Christ which is brought about by His humiliation, have no need of life, salvation, deliverance, redemption, and illumination.


"Because this belongs to baptism, in which we are buried with Christ, in order to be incorporated into Him as His members (that is, as those who believe in Him), it of course follows that baptism is unnecessary for those who have no need of the benefit of that forgiveness and reconciliation acquired through a Mediator. Now, seeing that they admit the necessity of baptizing infants, finding themselves unable to contravene that authority of the universal Church that has been unquestionably handed down by the Lord and His apostles, they cannot avoid the further concession, that infants require the same benefits of the Mediator, in order that, being washed by the sacrament and love of the faithful, and thereby incorporated into the body of Christ, which is the church, they may be reconciled to God, and so live in Him, and be saved, delivered, redeemed, and enlightened. But from what are they saved, if not from death, and the vices, guilt, enslavement, and darkness of sin?"

Augustine, On the Merits of Forgiveness and the Baptism of Infants, 1.38



Lord Jesus, you have saved us from death, and the vices, guilt, enslavement, and darkness of sin. Help us to see Your life, death, and resurrection as our own by faith. Keep us from doubting our own depravity, that we might extol the greatness of our salvation in You. Amen.


For all those who are suffering from weakness and debilitation during the season of God's weakness in Christ, especially Bud Obert, Cliff Scherer, Sr., Luke George, and Juanita Duffala, that they would be strengthened in their sufferings


For the families of deployed military personnel, that the Lord Jesus would be with them, encouraging them during their separation and that the Lord Jesus would strengthen those who serve them


For those who are struggling to confess their faith, that the Holy Spirit would enable them to honor Christ by sharing His mercy with sinners


For all those who have strayed from regular Bible study, that the Holy Spirit would lead them into the green pastures and limpid waters of God's Word

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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