Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Gospel: Good News for Legalists

I was reading Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians 5 this morning in preparation for Sunday's sermon. The following quote struck me again - it was already underlined and highlighted from previous readings.

“Even if the law accuses us, and sin frightens us, they cannot drive us to despair; for faith, which overcomes the world, says, “These things have nothing to do with me; Christ has set me free and delivered me from them all.” Similarly, death, which is the mightiest and most dreadful thing in the world, is utterly vanquished in the conscience by freedom of the (Holy) Spirit...If we could apprehend this with a sure and steadfast faith, then no rage or terror of the world, the law, sin, death, or the devil could be so great that it could not be swallowed up, just as a little drop of water is swallowed up in the sea...Reason cannot grasp how wonderful this is!”

The Japanese are a people enamored with rule-keeping, and as I've reflected on Galatians 5 this morning I've thought a lot about what good news the grace of God is for legalists like the Japanese. I say that with a great deal of certainty, because I'm a recovering legalist, too. I continually catch myself trying to clean up enough to satisfy God. I'm rather proud (and look down on others) when I think I'm doing that well, and I slip into a place of hopelessness when I think I'm not doing what I should (to make God happy).  Sadly, I expect many of you can relate to this.

A few paragraphs later, Luther helped me some more...

"When that great dragon - that old snake, the devil - comes and tells you that not only have you done no good, but you have also transgressed God's law, say to him, "You are troubling me with the memory of my past sins; you are also reminding me that I have done no good. But this is nothing to me, for if I either trusted in my own good deeds or feared because I have done no such deeds, Christ would in either case be of no value to me at all. I rest only in the freedom Christ has given me. I know he is of value to me, and so I will not make him of no value, which I would be doing if I either presumed to purchase favor and everlasting life for myself by my good deeds or despaired of my salvation because of my sins."

These are just some of the implications of the Gospel. Good news for legalists like the Japanese. Good news for legalists like me.

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