Two Spiritual Needs

Daily Reform, Day 146

Galatians 2:18 & 2 Corinthians 3:7-8

From the Reformer

We must not drag good works into the article of justification as the monks do who maintain that not only good works, but also the punishment which evildoers suffer for their wicked deeds, deserve everlasting life. When a criminal is brought to the place of execution, the monks try to comfort him in this manner: “You want to die willingly and patiently, and then you will merit remission of your sins and eternal life.” What cruelty is this, that a wretched thief, murderer, robber should be so miserably misguided in his extreme distress, that at the very point of death he should be denied the sweet promises of Christ, and directed to hope for pardon of his sins in the willingness and patience with which he is about to suffer death for his crimes? The monks are showing him the paved way to hell.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

The Law and the Gospel need to be kept separate so they can each perform their designated task. The commission of the Law is to make a person aware of God’s righteous requirements and that they are not living up to them. Once this fact is accepted, a person will easily come to the awareness that he never will keep the Law, at least in any sort of consistent and comprehensive manner. Jesus made the Pharisees, who did superficial rituals but failed to keep weightier parts of the Law, very aware of this predicament. (Luke 11:42) Offering a person grace before they truly realize their predicament is counter-productive. Why would they accept the Gospel when they do not comprehend their need for grace?

Worse, to offer reparation through works to someone who knows their quandary, who feels the burden of their sins, is not only false, it is pitiless since it is ineffective. No amount of works, whether they are good deeds or right attitudes, will produce salvation. The pressing need of someone who is crushed beneath the weight of his sins is not more law, more deeds to perform, or more attitudes to adjust. The need of such a burdened person is the Gospel.

If I am rebellious toward God, do not offer me grace; throw the book at me with its threat of death and damnation. But if I am already distressed about my sin, tell me about God’s grace. Remind me of the precious promises of God in Christ.

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

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