Poking Holes

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Original photo by Ana C. Golpe

Daily Reformation, 1 Kings 18:17-21

From the Reformer

When man, conscious of his failure to keep God’s command, is constantly urged by the Law to make payment of his debt and confronted with nothing but the terrible wrath of God and eternal condemnation, he cannot but sink into despair over his sins. Such is the inevitable consequence where the Law alone is taught with a view to attaining heaven thereby. The vanity of such trust in works is illustrated in the case of the noted hermit mentioned in Vitae Patrum (Lives of the Fathers). For over seventy years this hermit had led a life of utmost austerity, and had many followers. When the hour of death came he began to tremble, and for three days was in a state of agony. His disciples came to comfort him, exhorting him to die in peace since he had led so holy a life. But he replied: “Alas, I truly have all my life served Christ and lived austerely; but God’s judgment greatly differs from that of men.”

Note, this worthy man, despite the holiness of his life, has no acquaintance with any article but that of the divine judgment according to the Law. He knows not the comfort of Christ’s Gospel. After a long life spent in the attempt to keep God’s commandments and secure salvation, the Law now slays him through his own works. He is compelled to exclaim: “Alas, who knows how God will look upon my efforts? Who may stand before him?” That means, to forfeit heaven through the verdict of his own conscience. The work he has wrought and his holiness of life avail nothing. They merely push him deeper into death, since he is without the solace of the Gospel, while others, such as the thief on the cross and the publican, grasp the comfort of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins in Christ. Thus sin is conquered; they escape the sentence of the Law, and pass through death into life eternal.

—Martin Luther, Assorted Sermons, “The Twofold Use of the Law & Gospel”

Pulling It Together

It is easy to poke holes in the religious notions of ancient peoples. It is easier to jab at the philosophies of contemporaries. Yet, oh, how hard it is to dig at one’s self. Ahab worshiped both Yahweh and Baal and Jezebel her Asherah; and they were wrong to do so. Others may overly venerate a Saint or some preacher.

Yet, how often is one caught in the trap of worshiping self—without even knowing he has done so? This is precisely what one does when he depends upon himself, his goodness, his worthiness through personal holiness and devotion. Our good works are so much rubbish when it comes to a righteous standing before God. (Phil 3:8) Jesus has already paved that road. Get to the other side and away from yourself. Get to Christ! There are no holes to poke at in him. He is your only confidence. Depend on him and him alone.

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

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