Our Merits Are His Gifts
Friday of Pentecost 11
5 August 2016
Only the sick need a physician (Lk 5:31). In fact, a physician doesn't really want to see someone who is well. A doctor might well ask such a person, "Why are you here? You are wasting my time!" Likewise, Jesus only wants to be a Physician for those who know their need for His ministering hands. But He must give us the diagnosis or we would never know how sick we are; we are sick unto death in our depravity. Those who are unaware of the depth of human depravity will never fully understand or believe how great is the goodness of God. He is the God who is reconciled to enemies, who forgives sinners, and who grants His divine life to the ungodly.
 
This is why, in the way of the gospel, the Christian is glad to count himself to be among the sinners and the ungodly. The Christian is not all puffed up about himself, but understands and confesses his lowliness and need in the presence of God. His spiritual poverty can only be made up by God. He is a beggar. This is true. Only Christ has the medicine that can be put into the hands of us beggars. Such medicine cleanses the sores that adhere to us and make us filthy unto death in God's sight. He elevates us from sickness unto death to life; life that cannot die, life that is full and complete in the Giver Himself. Physicians are always with sick people practicing their calling. Jesus is always with the sick people bringing His healing to them and granting them every gift.
 
In a backhanded way our God is the God who has truck only with the wicked, rather than the good. This is why it is not a contradiction of the faith, but an affirmation of it, to confess that we were enemies of God, powerless to seek God, and in ourselves ungodly. As St. Paul promises to us, "To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rm 4:5). For it is to such people that God comes in the flesh, in His Son. Those who are well by their own merits seek nothing from such a Physician. So it is that the only merits the Christian has are God's gifts in Christ. Such merits have value because they are God's precious gifts. Here is the great exchange: those dying of the sickness unto death receive the Physician's health and the Physician embraces their death. How beautifully St. Augustine says in his simple way, "Those things which are called our merit are His gifts."

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Some ask, 'Had God no other way by which He might free men from the misery of this mortality, that He should will the only-begotten Son, God co-eternal with Himself, to become man, by putting on a human soul and flesh, and being made mortal to endure death?' It is not enough to refute these, by asserting that that mode by which God deigns to free us through the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, is good and suitable to the dignity of God. We must show also, not indeed that no other mode was possible to God, to whose power all things are equally subject, but that there neither was nor need have been any other mode more appropriate for curing our misery.
 
"For what was so necessary for the building up of our hope, and for the freeing the minds of mortals cast down by the condition of mortality itself from despair of immortality, than that it should be demonstrated to us at how great a price God rated us and how greatly He loved us? But what is more manifest and evident in this so great proof of His love, than that the Son of God, unchangeably good, remaining what He was in Himself, and receiving from us and for us what He was not, apart from any loss of His own nature, and deigning to enter into the fellowship of ours, should first, without meriting them, bear our evils; and so with free benevolence should bestow His own gifts upon us, who now believe how much God loves us, and who now hope that about which we used to despair, without our meriting it, even with our evil works going before?
 
"Those things which are called our merit are His gifts. That faith may work by love (Gal 5:5-6), 'the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us' (Rm 5:4-5). And He was then given, when Jesus was glorified by the resurrection. For then He promised that He Himself would send the Holy Spirit, and He sent Him (Jn 20:22; 7:39; 15:26) because then, as it was written and foretold of Him, 'He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men' (Eph 4:8; Ps 68:18).
 
"These gifts constitute our merits, by which we arrive at the chief good of an immortal blessedness. 'But God,' says the apostle, 'commends His love towards as, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more, then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.' To this he goes on to add, 'For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son; how much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.' Those whom he first calls sinners he afterwards calls the enemies of God; and those whom he first speaks of as justified by His blood, he afterwards speaks of as reconciled by the death of the Son of God; and those whom he speaks of first as saved from wrath through Him, he afterwards speaks of as saved by His life. We were not, therefore, before that grace just any kind of sinners, but in such sins that we were enemies of God. But the same apostle calls us above several times by two names: sinners and enemies of God-one as if the most mild, the other plainly the most harsh-saying, 'When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.' (Rm 5:6-10). Those whom he called weak, the same he called ungodly. Weakness seems something slight; but sometimes it is called ungodliness. Yet except it is weakness, it would not need a physician, who is in the Hebrew Jesus, in the Greek Soter, but in our speech Savior."

Augustine, On the Trinity, 13.10
Romans 5:6-11

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (ESV)
Prayer
O Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit that I might confess myself sick unto death and receive from You the life that cannot die. Amen.
 
For Addison Kist, that God the Lord would strengthen her in the baptismal faith into which she was placed when she was called out of darkness into God's marvelous light at the font of immortality
 
For the family of Ernest Albers, whom our Lord Jesus Christ took to Himself, that they would confess their hope in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
 
For the Lutheran schools of our community, especially Memorial Lutheran School and Lutheran High School North, as they prepare to start a new school year of service to the community under the confession of Christ
 
For our bishops, that God would grant them the Holy Spirit as they bear the crosier of the Good Shepherd
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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