Nothing Greater
Tuesday of Pentecost 18
10 October 2017
Abraham lived by faith and it was counted to him as righteousness (Rm 4:3). He lived by faith in the presence of God. He also lived by works in the sight of men. These two ways of living must be clearly distinguished. Each has its place. There is earthly piety that must stand before human beings. We are required to be and must be seen to be good parents, citizens, neighbors, and church members. All these vocations, given by God, are under masks in which we serve others for their good. Those whom we serve may and should praise us for our good works in the realm of human life and piety. Civil society cannot survive without pious participation on the part of its members. God gives our various masks so that we might fulfill the various roles assigned to us in human society. For example, students at the Lutheran High School where my daughter, Hilary, was a student saw me leading their chapel services, but were amazed to find out that I am also Hilary's father. I wear more than one hat. I am pastor and father, among other things.
 
While masks cover us in the world, none of those vocational masks are opaque to God. He sees us through and through. Therefore, our righteousness may not be based on the appearances that are so crucial to earthly society. Works must give way to faith when we stand before God in the membership of His kingdom. Our righteousness then is not assured by our actions but is assured by the work of Christ, whom Abraham believed and hoped for.
 
Even Abraham's good works did not gain him righteousness before God, so what are the chances that ours will? Not very good. So we must always make the distinction between faith and works very clearly in our lives. Our righteousness before God must be Christ's own righteousness. When it is, all other troubles, trials, and struggles that have to do with the masks of this world, recede into insignificance, for we have a life hidden in God. We reign with Christ, who is our righteousness. There is nothing greater.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"It is a laudable and happy thing to imitate the example of Christ in His deeds, to love one's neighbors, to do good to those who deserve evil, to pray for one's enemies, and to bear with patience the ingratitude of those who requite good with evil. But none of this contributes to righteousness in the sight of God. The outstanding good deeds of Abraham did not help him to be pronounced righteous in the sight of God. In the same way imitation of the example of Christ does not make us righteous in the sight of God. For us to be righteous in the sight of God a price far higher than human righteousness or the righteousness of the Law is required. Here we must have Christ to bless and save us, just as Abraham had Him as the One who blessed him and as his Savior. How? Not through works but through faith.
 
"The Abraham who had faith is enormously different from the Abraham who did works, and Christ who blesses and redeems is enormously different from Christ the example. Here Paul is dealing with Christ who redeems and Abraham who has faith, not with Christ the example and Abraham who does works. Therefore, he adds meaningfully and great emphasis: 'Those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith' (Gal 3:9). Thus the Abraham who had faith must be separated from the Abraham who did works as far as heaven is separated from earth. The one who has faith is a completely divine man, a son of God, the inheritor of the universe. He is the victor over the world, sin, death, and the devil. Therefore, he cannot be praised enough. Let us not permit this Abraham who had faith to be hidden in the grave, as he is so far as the Jews are concerned. But let us extol and proclaim him with the highest praises, and let us fill heaven and earth with his name.
 
"Thus we shall see nothing whatever of the Abraham who does works, so important will the Abraham who has faith be to us. For when we speak about this Abraham who has faith, we are in heaven. But later on, when we do the things that were done by the Abraham who did works, human and earthly things rather than divine and heavenly things (except insofar as they had been divinely granted to him), we live among men on earth. Therefore, the Abraham who has faith fills heaven and earth. Thus every Christian fills heaven and earth by his faith, so that beyond it he sees nothing at all."

Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent
Galatians 3:1-14
 
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain- if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith- just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"?
 
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
 
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith."  But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (ESV)
Prayer
Almighty God, You have granted righteousness to us in Your Son. Help us to live by faith that we might not rely on our works in Your presence, but always live by faith in the Son of God, who gave Himself for us. Amen.
 
For President Lawrence Rast and the faculty and staff of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, that they might faithfully proclaim the righteousness of Christ in all the world
 
For Pastor Charles Wokoma, that the Lord's word would be proclaimed to all persons and that he would be kept safe while in Nigeria
 
For all mothers with children, that they and their children would be kept safe and be given joy in their lives together
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
Sent by smurray@mlchouston.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact