The Arresting Question

An "interrobang" is a little-used quesclamation mark that may be used intead of a question mark and exclamation point side-by-side.
An “interrobang” is a little-used quesclamation mark that may be used intead of a question mark and exclamation point side-by-side.

Daily Reform, Day 9

Galatians 1:1-5 & John 14:1-11

From the Reformer

If you ask how God may be found, who justifies sinners, know that there is no other God besides this man Christ Jesus. Embrace Him, and forget about the nature of God. But these fanatics who exclude our Mediator in their dealings with God, do not believe me. Did not Christ Himself say: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”? Without Christ there is no access to the Father, but futile rambling; no truth, but hypocrisy; no life, but eternal death.

When you argue about the nature of God apart from the question of justification, you may be as profound as you like. But when you deal with conscience and with righteousness over against the law, sin, death, and the devil, you must close your mind to all inquiries into the nature of God, and concentrate upon Jesus Christ, who says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Doing this, you will recognize the power, and majesty condescending to your condition according to Paul’s statement to the Colossians, “In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” and, “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Paul in wishing grace and peace not alone from God the Father, but also from Jesus Christ, wants to warn us against the curious incursions into the nature of God. We are to hear Christ, who has been appointed by the Father as our divine Teacher.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

A drunken, belligerent man walked into Church and caused a scene. He called everyone present hypocrites, though he did not know a soul there. A pastor invited him into his office to carry on the “discussion.” There, the man continued his tirade, alleging inconsistencies in the Bible, and talking about evolution, dinosaurs, and dozens of other things as though they disproved God’s existence.

The pastor listened to the man for over an hour and then asked him a question. “What are you going to do with Jesus?” The man had not considered Jesus at all and so, the question arrested him-even seemed to sober him a good deal.

There are many questions to answer and there are many that cannot be answered. But at the end of the argument, one still has to deal with Jesus. What are you going to do with Jesus? He lived. He died. He really did say the things in the gospels. What are you going to do with him? One has not honestly dealt with their objections and questions until they have done so while considering Jesus. He cannot be excluded from these considerations. When one asks a question while considering God’s answer, Jesus Christ, the “Ahha!” is near.

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The Soul Purpose of God

Daily Reform, Day 8

Galatians 1:1-5 & Hebrews 12:7-11

From the Reformer

It is a principle of the Bible that we are not to inquire curiously into the nature of God. “There shall no man see me, and live,” Exodus 33:20. All who trust in their own merits to save them disregard this principle and lose sight of the Mediator, Jesus Christ.

True Christian theology does not inquire into the nature of God, but into God’s purpose and will in Christ, whom God incorporated in our flesh to live and to die for our sins. There is nothing more dangerous than to speculate about the incomprehensible power, wisdom, and majesty of God when the conscience is in turmoil over sin. To do so is to lose God altogether because God becomes intolerable when we seek to measure and to comprehend His infinite majesty.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

When one thinks about his own earthly father, in some moods or situations all he conjures is a taskmaster and man of discipline, hardness, and demands. Sometimes fathers seem impossible to please. So it is important to recall an earthly father’s duty to his child. He must raise him to be a responsible, contributing citizen who is aware of the law. God the Father’s purpose is seen growing purposefully in the scripture. His aim has always been to restore fellowship to his creation. His greatest desire has always been to be your Friend (John 15:15). Your soul must be suited to this relationship but your personal discipline cannot attain to it; your law abiding ways are not sufficient means. And so a Savior was needed.

It is imaginable that God the Father had long trained his Son to be a Savior, taking his arms, so to speak, and spreading them wide to teach him how he must die. It is the Son who was disciplined for those who could never be trained well enough. Because a Father loved his world so much, he sent his only Son to achieve a singular purpose in the history of all people: to redeem our souls to himself. Christ is the agent of this wondrous event. We must never lose sight of his outstretched arms.

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A Pernicious Doctrine

work-day

Daily Reform, Day 7

Galatians 1:1-5 & Ephesians 2:4-10

From the Reformer

The world brands [grace] a pernicious doctrine. The world advances free will, the rational and natural approach of good works, as the means of obtaining the forgiveness of sin. But it is impossible to gain peace of conscience by the methods and means of the world. Experience proves this. Various holy orders have been launched for the purpose of securing peace of conscience through religious exercises, but they proved failures because such devices only increase doubt and despair. We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace.

The Apostle does not wish the Galatians grace and peace from the emperor, or from kings, or from governors, but from God the Father. He wishes them heavenly peace, the kind of which Jesus spoke when He said, “Peace I leave unto you: my peace I give unto you.” Worldly peace provides quiet enjoyment of life and possessions. But in affliction, particularly in the hour of death, the grace and peace of the world will not deliver us. However, the grace and peace of God will. They make a person strong and courageous to bear and to overcome all difficulties, even death itself, because we have the victory of Christ’s death and the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

He tried and tried to feel good about himself. He partied with friends. He dabbled in the arts and took leisurely walks through glens and forests. He read religious books. And he volunteered whole days to the needy in his community. But the disquiet grew within him. No matter how hard he tried to stifle it or simply feel at peace within himself, it grew. He tried going to church and meditation and yoga and various religions. But the restlessness increased.

Then he finally understood what some had been trying to say to him his whole life: there is a man who is also God, who paid the price for what troubled him. That God-Man made things right between the troubled heart and its Maker. No amount of work would make things right, no matter how good the works. The only thing that would make things right was the God-Man’s free gift of forgiveness and friendship. This gracious favor from God changed everything in his life.

He tried even harder to do good but now, when he failed to do good or enough of it, he still had peace because he understood his efforts did not and could never provide peace. He also understood that God was still his friend even when he dd not measure up. God would continue to be faithful to him even when he was faithless. (2Tim 2:13) Peace would never again elude him or be taken away since the supply was continually being refreshed. All he had to do was receive it — not work for it, though work he still did, for the joy of serving and doing good but not for the sake of finding peace. That now was graciously provided.

Friends and family wondered at his change and could not imagine how he had become such a person. He had not been raised that way. They had offered him other brands of peace and considered his heavenly peace no good in this world. They laughed and derided but to no avail; he had experienced God’s wondrous peace and the grace to continue receiving it despite himself.

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The Obedience of Faith

Daily Reform, Day 6

Galatians 1:1-5 & Romans 1:1-7

From the Reformer

The greeting of the Apostle is refreshing. Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, and a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

We misunderstand if we think the Christian life is obedience by faith or obedience that comes from faith. The Christian life is that of the obedience of faith. The “obedience of faith” is not doing stuff for God or being good. When we think the obedience of faith is being a good girl or a good boy, we will fail in faith. When we fall down on the job (and we will), we think the supply of grace must have run out and we become uncomfortable being near God simply because we have not been good enough. That is why Paul so often blesses his readers with “grace” and “peace.”

May you have the grace from God to be obedient with continued faith even when you are faithless in your actions. Be obedient today by continuing to believe on God even though you have been unable to be as faithful as you would have desired. (Rom 7:15) If you continue to be obedient by believing on Christ in God alone for your salvation, you will have peace. If you put your faith in your efforts and abilities you will be oppressed.

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I’m Buying

Daily Reform, Day 5

Galatians 1:1-5 & Romans 3:23-25

From the Reformer

The terms of grace and peace are common terms with Paul and are now pretty well understood. But since we are explaining this epistle, you will not mind if we repeat what we have so often explained elsewhere. The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

My dad took me to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game but it hadn’t entered my head that this was for my birthday. I kept getting up to buy hot chocolate and hotdogs and a program guide. He kept wanting to pay but I prevailed and bought for him. My wife informed me later that night what a dolt I had been since my dad just wanted to give me a gift.

We do the same thing with God: he gives us a great gift in his Son and then we want to pay the price for our sins. The Galatians did it by turning back to the Law. We do it by our own versions of ignoring grace. It is difficult for us to remember what God in Christ has given us because we keep wanting to put the onus back on ourselves.

Paul wishes us grace and peace because that is what we need: the grace to continue believing that God has paid the price and the peace to live with ourselves when we do not believe it.

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Your Final Answer

Daily Reform, Day 4

Galatians 1:1-5 & 1 Corinthians 2:1-15

From the Reformer

It is the lot of God’s ministers not only to suffer opposition at the hand of a wicked world, but also to see the patient indoctrination of many years quickly undone by such religious fanatics. This hurts more than the persecution of tyrants. We are treated shabbily on the outside by tyrants, on the inside by those whom we have restored to the liberty of the Gospel, and also by false brethren. But this is our comfort and our glory, that being called of God we have the promise of everlasting life. We look for that reward which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man.”

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

The popular television game show always asked the contestant, “Is that your final answer?” Sometimes it would be but very often they would change their answer or ask for help from a friend or from an audience member because they were not confident their answer was correct. The Apostle Paul was confident in his final answer; he never wavered in his conviction.

Paul was determined to know nothing except the crucified Jesus Christ. (1Co 2:2) This gave him a decided edge over his detractors. Their argument was that of man’s limited reason, as it is in our own age and every age. It is easy for us to get caught up in such arguments. Paul had answers to these points but would not allow himself to get mired in endless debates. Instead, he answered points and then appealed to “Christ and him crucified.” He is our final answer and only comfort. There will always be debates and detractors and fanatics. And there will always be Christ Crucified. “Where is the one who is wise? … Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world” (1Co 1:20) with the wisdom of the cross? It alone is the saving power of God. (1Co 1:18)

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Where Our Hope Rests

Daily Reform, Day 3

Galatians 1:1-5 & 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

From the Reformer

Paul is so eager to come to the subject matter of his epistle, the righteousness of faith in opposition to the righteousness of works, that already in the title he must speak his mind. He did not think it quite enough to say that he was an apostle “by Jesus Christ”; he adds, “and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”

The clause seems superfluous on first sight. Yet Paul had a good reason for adding it. He had to deal with Satan and his agents who endeavored to deprive him of the righteousness of Christ, who was raised by God the Father from the dead. These perverters of the righteousness of Christ resist the Father and the Son, and the works of them both.

In this whole epistle Paul treats of the resurrection of Christ. By His resurrection Christ won the victory over law, sin, flesh, world, devil, death, hell, and every evil. And this His victory He donated unto us. These many tyrants and enemies of ours may accuse and frighten us, but they dare not condemn us, for Christ, whom God the Father has raised from the dead is our righteousness and our victory.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

Sometimes we are so fixed on faith that we forget what our faith is fixed upon. Our faith has as its focus Christ and his death and resurrection from the dead. Our faith is not in the Church but in whom the Church believes. Our faith is not in doctrines but in the One upon whom those doctrines stand. Our faith is not in the Apostles’ teaching but to whom their teachings point us. Everything about this faith of ours rests initially and finally upon the physical life of the Son of God and his death and resurrection from the dead. From him alone springs the hope of Paul and Luther — and you and me. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam 3:23)

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Holy Pride

Daily Reform, Day 2

Galatians 1:1-5 & Romans 1:1-6

From the Reformer

This is our comfort in the ministry, that ours is a divine office to which we have been divinely called. Reversely, what an awful thing it must be for the conscience if one is not properly called. It spoils one’s best work. When I was a young man I thought Paul was making too much of his call. I did not understand his purpose. I did not then realize the importance of the ministry. I knew nothing of the doctrine of faith because we were taught sophistry instead of certainty, and nobody understood spiritual boasting. We exalt our calling, not to gain glory among men, or money, or satisfaction, or favor, but because people need to be assured that the words we speak are the words of God. This is no sinful pride. It is holy pride.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

One cannot reason their way into a holy vocation because he decided that he wanted to preach or visit folks. To be sure, many end up in the ministry who should not be there. This is not because parishioners dislike their ministry. It is because God did not set them apart for the work. Blessed is the congregation who has a pastor who has been called by God and knows it. When the church is assured of his holy calling, they know an oracle (1Pt 4:11) is in their pulpit. When the preacher knows he is called of the Lord and not his own authority, he will speak the truth in love and without fear because he is assured he speaks for God. This confident voice is lofted on a holy pride that everyone called of God must have, else they will cower in the face of criticism.

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Not of Men

Daily Reform, Day 1

Galatians 1:1-5 & Jude 3-4

From the Reformer

St. Paul wrote this epistle because, after his departure from the Galatian churches, Jewish-Christian fanatics moved in, who perverted Paul’s Gospel of man’s free justification by faith in Christ Jesus. The world bears the Gospel a grudge because the Gospel condemns the religious wisdom of the world. Jealous for its own religious views, the world in turn charges the Gospel with being a subversive and licentious doctrine, offensive to God and man, a doctrine to be persecuted as the worst plague on earth. As a result we have this paradoxical situation: The Gospel supplies the world with the salvation of Jesus Christ, peace of conscience, and every blessing. Just for that the world abhors the Gospel.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

The Church has been entrusted with the Gospel (Jude 3) and is commanded to give an answer to everyone who inquires of the hope that the Gospel provides us (1Pt 3:15). Yet so many Christians seem fearful to open their mouths and speak, perhaps rationalizing, I don’t want to embarrass my Lord or myself. The thing to remind yourself is that God has revealed himself to you in his word. If you are a student of that revelation, you have found it to be trustworthy. So do not rely upon your reason alone and especially not your experiences, for they will always be just your experiences to someone else. Depend upon God’s word. The persons you share your hope with will almost always have nothing to base their convictions on. Their response will so often be, That’s what I believe or That’s just what I think. Upon what do they base their flimsy convictions? Themselves. They hope in themselves. They are their own subjective truth, always changing, rarely reliable, and certainly not eternally so.

Your conviction depends upon something more trustworthy than your own views. Your belief is buttressed by objective truth, a revelation of truth beyond yourself. It is based upon that word that you have studied and found trustworthy (Titus 1:9) and not merely your experiences and feelings. Your belief is founded upon faith, to be sure, but a faith that is now held up by that good news that comes not from unreliable men but that which has been revealed by God. Hold fast to that word while others hold to nothing but self and you will win some of them to the Kingdom.

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The Heart of God

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

From the Reformer

“There is but one God,” says St Paul, “and one mediator between God and man; namely, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself a ransom for all.” Therefore, let no man think to draw near unto God, or obtain grace of him, without this mediator, high-priest, and advocate.

It follows that we cannot through our good works, honesty of life, virtues, deserts, sanctity, or through the works of the law, appease God’s wrath, or obtain forgiveness of sins; and that all deserts of saints are quite rejected and condemned, so that through them no human creature can be justified before God. Moreover, we see how fierce God’s anger is against sins, seeing that by none other sacrifice or offering could they be appeased and stilled, but by the precious blood of the Son of God.

—Martin Luther, Table Talk, “Of Jesus Christ”

Pulling It Together

This is the message of the scriptures and the Reformation. It is foretold in the blood of the covenant that God made with Abraham: God would have humankind alive again in the garden of fellowship with him—even if it meant his own death. And it did. God so loved his creation that he came to it in the Son and took his own “blood and sprinkled it on the people” (Ex 24:8). It is only “the blood of the new covenant which is poured out for the remission of sins.” (Mt 26:28) He is one with the Father and Spirit and as such is the only one who can bring you back into a right relationship with God.

You cannot bring yourself back to God by reason or works or the law or fasting or mutilation or virtue or piety or even the Church. None of these channels of religion restore one’s relations with God. Yet God has provided the way back by giving himself. He is the only artery that leads to his own heart.

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