A Little Better than Bad

Photo source: capl@washjeff.edu
Photo source: capl@washjeff.edu

Daily Reform, Day 68

Galatians 2:3 & Romans 3:9-20

From the Reformer

Paul did not condemn circumcision as if it were a sin to receive it. But he insisted, and the conference upheld him, that circumcision had no bearing upon salvation and was therefore not to be forced upon the Gentiles. The conference agreed that the Jews should be permitted to keep their ancient customs for the time being, so long as they did not regard those customs as conveying God’s justification of the sinner.

The false apostles were dissatisfied with the verdict of the conference. They did not want to rest circumcision and the practice of the Law in Christian liberty. They insisted that circumcision was obligatory unto salvation.

As the opponents of Paul, so our own adversaries [Luther’s, the enemies of the Reformation] contend that the traditions of the Fathers dare not be neglected without loss of salvation. Our opponents will not agree with us on anything. They defend their blasphemies. They go as far to enforce them with the sword.

Paul’s victory was complete. Titus, who was with Paul, was not compelled to be circumcised, although he stood in the midst of the apostles when this question of circumcision was debated. This was a blow to the false apostles. With the living fact that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised Paul was able to squelch his adversaries.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

The morning after the revival service, Mr. Hunter stepped outside during his work break to enjoy a cigarette. He was still excited about the night before. He had gone forward during the service and accepted Jesus as his Savior. As he lit the cigarette, another worker on break said, “I thought you were a Christian now.” He replied, “I am. I told you so just this morning.” He was further challenged, “Then what are you doing smoking? Christians don’t smoke.” The new Christian simply replied, “I think you’re right,” put out the cigarette, and never smoked again. It’s been over 40 years since that day.

Is it a sin to stop smoking? Certainly not; if God has spoken to your heart, obey. But it would be wrong of you to make your calling compulsory for the salvation of everyone else. Is it a sin to speak in tongues? If God gives the utterance, surely not. But should you insist that every Christian have your spiritual gift and call them an unbeliever if they do not? Is it a sin to believe that you should be immersed? Of course not. But it would be wrong to hold that mode of confession over the conscience of another. It would be worse still to call someone a heathen who has called upon Jesus to be her Savior.

We scrutinize scripture and culture in order to discover details that will make us better than the other guys — smarter, wiser, righter, more theologically correct. Surprisingly, it does not take much effort to discover two things about ourselves that seem to escape the notice of many Christians. One, we are not good at all. (Rom 3:10) The only hope we have without God’s gracious intervention is to be a little better than bad. Two, there is only one way to be right and that is also by the grace of God. (Eph 2:8-9) Hold to this instead of holding your dogma over the heads of people who have already been saved. By grace. “For by works of the law no one will be justified in God’s sight.” (Rom 3:20)

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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