The Sainted Sinner

Daily Reform, Day 91

Galatians 2:11 & Romans 8:1-11

From the Reformer

When he says, “to his face,” Paul accuses the false apostles of slandering him behind his back. In his presence they dared not to open their mouths. He tells them, “I did not speak evil of Peter behind his back, but I withstood him frankly and openly.”

Others may debate here whether an apostle might sin. I claim that we ought not to make Peter out as faultless. Prophets have erred. Nathan told David that he should go ahead and build the Temple of the Lord. But his prophecy was afterwards corrected by the Lord. The apostles erred in thinking of the Kingdom of Christ as a worldly state. Peter had heard the command of Christ, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” But if it had not been for the heavenly vision and the special command of Christ, Peter would never have gone to the home of Cornelius. Peter also erred in this matter of circumcision. If Paul had not publicly censured him, all the believing Gentiles would have been compelled to receive circumcision and accept the Jewish law. We are not to attribute perfection to any man.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

The bumper sticker proclaims, “Christians are not perfect, they’re just saved.” Luther said, “Simul justus et peccator” — at once saint and sinner. His contemporaries were fond of pointing out his imperfections. He did not deny them but instead pointed beyond his imperfect self to his perfect Redeemer. We idolize preachers in our day only to discover later that they were all too imperfect. Instead of pointing at the sinner, point to the one who sanctifies him. That is Jesus’ business: to make holy the unholy and perfect the imperfect. That is why Luther and you may point to Christ crucified who assigns his righteousness to the unrighteous and rewards the undeserving with his grace.

No, you are far from perfect but you are holy. Christ Jesus has attributed his perfect holiness to imperfect you. “Hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mat 5:6) but never be satisfied with your own failing efforts. Be brutal with sin and strive on for perfection — and discover that you will still stumble in your sin. But do not stay down; rise up, sinner, liberated from guilt, for Christ Jesus has set you free.

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

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