Daily Reform, Day 213
Galatians 3:2 and Mark 12:28-34
From the Reformer
How was it with Cornelius? Cornelius and his friends whom he had invited over to his house, do nothing but sit and listen. Peter is doing the talking. They just sit and do nothing. The Law is far removed from their thoughts. They burn no sacrifices. They are not at all interested in circumcision. All they do is to sit and listen to Peter. Suddenly the Holy Ghost enters their hearts. His presence is unmistakable, “for they spoke with tongues and magnified God.”
Right here we have one more difference between the Law and the Gospel. The Law does not bring on the Holy Ghost. The Gospel, however, brings on the gift of the Holy Ghost, because it is the nature of the Gospel to convey good gifts. The Law and the Gospel are contrary ideas. They have contrary functions and purposes. To endow the Law with any capacity to produce righteousness is to plagiarize the Gospel. The Gospel brings donations. It pleads for open hands to take what is being offered. The Law has nothing to give. It demands, and its demands are impossible.
—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians
Pulling It Together
We should be very careful to make this distinction between Law and Gospel. No Jew ever kept the Law, let alone a Gentile—even a fine one like Cornelius—let alone like you and me. Luther elsewhere, gives us an example of how impossible it is to keep the Law. Suppose you just wanted to keep the first and greatest law, instead of all 3,000 of them. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might. (Deut 6:5) In fact, do not go so far as to do all three. Simply love the Lord with all your heart; make that alone your law. Good luck. Try as you might, you will never love God with all your heart. There will always be part of your heart that is reserved for others, for things, for yourself. You cannot keep the Law. You cannot even keep one commandment. You cannot keep even a part of that first commandment.
The good news is that God does not come to you because you keep the Law, are good enough, or bring him sacrifices. The Holy Spirit did not come upon Cornelius because he kept the Law but because he believed the Gospel.
One result of believing this good news of Christ is not the ability to keep the Law of God, but to keep trying to keep God’s commands. After enough failures at keeping God’s commands, we would become so desperate that we would stop trying. Faith allows us to think, Of course, I did not keep the Law. But my Lord has fulfilled it; he kept the Law for me. So I will keep trying to please God even though I know my efforts could never be enough to win God’s heart. God’s heart has already been won over to me by his Son. What pleases God is that we believe this to be true.
© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers