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Psalm 56

 

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life. For their crime will they escape? In wrath cast down the peoples, O God! You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (ESV)

Making Christ Perfectly Useless

Friday of Pentecost 19

24 October 2014

"Why do you Lutherans make such a big deal about the distinction between law and gospel? We need both, don't we?" We make a big deal about law and gospel because it is a big deal; especially when we are suffering in a crisis of faith. When we fall into a spiritual struggle it is so easy to judge our status in God's sight on the basis of our own works and pieties. As useful as those works and pieties are in the world, they cannot be set in the presence of God as signs of our merit. When you are caught between your good works and death, then all of the merit you think you have gained will evaporate like the morning dew. When you are set in the vice between the law and your own claims to righteousness, you will be crushed.

 

When you feel death about to squeeze the life out of your heart, when your breath comes only in shallow heaves, when your eyes are beginning to dim, and your extremities will no longer move at your command, what will you plead before God? A pious family life? Exceptional leadership skills in the church? Good citizenship? Boy Scout merit badges? What? Even if these things did avail for holiness in God's sight, they would have to be done perfectly in every way (à la Mary Poppins), they would have to be done with never a single slip, and never without a perfectly holy attitude. This is when we ought to begin to despair! What work could be brought into the courtroom of God's judgment that would ever pass the scrutiny of such intensity? Some well-meaning friend or relative will come to your deathbed and say in a cheery voice when he can see the terror in your eyes, "But you must have done something that was truly virtuous. You were, after all, a good church member and taught Sunday School. You were in church most Sundays. If anyone is going to get to heaven, you are!" Now you are in the pinch, because you know that all that represents your failure, weakness, and spiritual poverty; because it was never done wholeheartedly or without any stinting. What certainty could ever come from such incomplete measures?

 

At this moment despair becomes a well-written prelude to Christian freedom. For to despair of my own works, efforts, and virtues is to be left with no hope but in Christ alone. I have no choice if I am to live than to live through the faith of the Son of God who died for me and gives me the freedom from the burden of my own works. No matter how such works are prescribed, they are dangerous to you in the life of justification before God. Even the Ten Commandments themselves must be silenced, when we are clothed with Christ's perfect righteousness. The whole law and every bit of it is no contribution to your eternal life with Christ. So accuse away, Mr. Satan. I haven't done anything worthwhile in the sight of God in accordance with the divine law. I gladly confess it. But, Christ has done everything, perfectly, and without any stinting; and He has done it FOR ME. To return to the law for my vindication in God's sight would be to make Christ perfectly useless to me. 

 

Martin Luther

 

"Let us remember this [the righteousness apart from works] well in our personal trials, when the devil accuses and terrifies our conscience to bring it to the point of despair. He is the father of lies (Jn 8:44) and the enemy of Christian freedom. At every single moment, therefore, he torments us with false terrors, so that when this freedom has been lost, the conscience is in continual fear and feels guilt and terrors. I say, when that great dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil, the deceiver of the whole world, who accuses our brethren day and night before God (Rev 12:9-10) comes to you and accuses you not only of failing to do anything good but of transgressing against the Law of God, say: 'You are troubling me with the memory of past sins; in addition, you are telling me that I have not done anything good. This means nothing to me. For if I either trusted in my performance of good works or despaired because I failed to perform them, in either case Christ would be of no avail to me. Therefore whether you place before me my sins or on my good works, I do not care; for I put both of them out of sight and lean solely upon the freedom for which Christ has set me free. This I know to be useful to me! Therefore I shall not render Him useless to me, which is what would happen if I either presumed that I shall attain grace and eternal life because of my good works or despaired of my salvation because of my sins.'" 

 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.2

 
Prayer

Dear Lord Jesus Christ, our enemy is seeking to lead me into hopelessness through despair. Free me by Your gospel that I might plead guilty of all sins, even those of which I am not aware, and fall at your feet to receive Your all-availing righteousness, in accordance with Your promise. Amen.

 

For the faculties of the LCMS colleges as they educate the people of God, that they would carry out their calling with joy and peace

 

For Pastor Murray as he travels home from representing the LCMS at the convention of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, that his travels would be safe and his homecoming joyful

 

For those who are despairing of their own righteousness, that someone would tell them that the righteousness of another avails before God, so that they would believe in Christ, be rescued from despair, and live
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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