Only Christ Will Do
Monday of Pentecost 22
6 November 2017
In 1518, Martin Luther traveled to Heidelberg, Germany to participate in a debate on his theological opinions in the presence of the Augustinian friars, to which monastic community he belonged. Out of the meeting of the Augustinians came a short work entitled the "Heidelberg Disputation," which gained a positive reception from the younger men in the order. They made an enormous impact by spreading the evangelical preaching outside of Saxony, from which Luther hailed. Among the radical contentions in the Disputation we find that it contains Luther's "theology of the cross." What humans expect of God, God, mocking those faulty expectations, turns to a completely different use. That is the theology of the cross. The cross, a sign of grisly death, becomes the sign of life and salvation; and all contrary to human expectations.
After the Heidelberg Disputation Luther seldom employed the term "theology of the cross." Did he abandon it? Did he move on to greener theological pastures? Not at all, Luther's whole theology may be called a theology of the cross. Luther is constantly extolling the God who delights to mock human wisdom by using what humans think foolish to save foolish humans (1Co 1:18-31).
In the twenty-first century, we still need Luther's salutary warning against acquiring righteousness in the presence of God through our own pious actions. Today I hear the teenagers talking so much about "making good choices" that I am beginning to suspect that there is too much of this talk. On one level, in the kingdom of this world, making good choices is basic human wisdom and something that needs to be inculcated into teenagers. However, on another level, their simplistic dependence on the "good choices" mantra may lead to the delusion that goodness is defined by repeating good behavior. This dependence could become quite fatal to the Christian faith, which does not consist of our choices, but God's remarkable and shocking choice of us in His Son. 

Luther rejects the views of Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, who taught that by continually doing the right thing, we would be ever more strongly confirmed in the right. It could be summed up: "To do right is to become right." Aristotle does not conceive of the human weakness that derives from the fall into sin, nor does he know the wisdom of God to count the world righteous for Christ's sake. For biblical thought, we become right through Christ, so that we can do right. Doing right always follows the gift of righteousness.
We Christians get right with God by God's doing, not by our doing. Faith receives what is done. Faith does no work. It receives God's work. No repetition is possible here; only reception of God's work in Christ. Luther is not suggesting that we become slothful in our lives. Good choices are still necessary. It's just that such choices don't avail before God as righteousness. Only Christ will do.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"For the righteousness of God is not acquired by means of acts frequently repeated, as Aristotle taught, but it is imparted by faith, for 'The righteous shall live by faith' (Rm 1:17), and 'With the heart one believes and is justified' (Rm 10:10). Therefore, I wish to have the words 'without work' understood in the following manner: Not that the righteous person does nothing, but that his works do not make him righteous, rather that his righteousness creates works. For grace and faith are infused without our works. After they have been imparted the works follow. Thus Rm 3:20 states, 'By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight,' and, 'For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law' (Rm 3:28). In other words, works contribute nothing to justification. Therefore, a person knows that works which he does by such faith are not his but God's. For this reason, he does not seek to become justified or glorified through them, but seeks God. His justification by faith in Christ is sufficient to him. Christ is his wisdom, righteousness, etc., as 1Co 1:30 has it, that he himself may be Christ's action and instrument."

Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, 25
1 Corinthians

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, free me from the fear of death by holding before my eyes the sign of Your death on the cross. Send Your Spirit by Your Word that I might see the sign of death to be the sign of life. Amen.
For Millie Johnston, that the Lord who gave her life would grant her peace and comfort by the truth of the gospel
For the family of Georgia Buvinghausen, whom the Lord Jesus took to Himself, that those who mourn her death would do so in faith and confidence in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
For all those who fear death, that they might be freed by the Lord Jesus Christ who has defeated death and him who holds the power of death
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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