Once we have figured out that we are justified by God’s grace through Christ – and by nothing else – can’t we then move on to better spiritual things?
Most of the seminarians and preachers I know talk this way. We can master and understand how deeply God loves us, then we can get on to putting things into practice. Deeds not words, we holler.
Those who say, “Don’t move so quickly past justification – God’s grace in Christ that forgives you apart from your work,” have garnered a lot of flack for this kind of speaking. Indicatives then imperatives, say the haters, who get frustrated with guys who sometimes end a sermon promising that all of the work has already been done.
Luther faced the exact same resistance in his ministry. Let me be so bold as to say this is truly the core of Luther’s theology. Now listen to Luther say it:
People are not justified and do not receive life and salvation because of anything they’ve done. Rather, the only reason they receive life and salvation is because of God’s grace through Christ. There is no other way.
Many Christians are tired of hearing this teaching over and over. They think they learned it long ago. However, they barely understand how important it really is. If it continues to be taught as truth, the Christian church will remain united and pure — free from decay. This truth alone makes and sustains Christianity. You might hear immature Christians brag about how well they know that we are justified through God’s grace and not because of anything we do to earn it. But if they go on to say that this truth is easy to put into practice, then have no doubt they don’t know what they’re talking about, and probably never will. We can never learn this truth completely or brag that we understand it fully. Learning this truth is an art. We will always remain students of it, and it will always be our teacher.
The people who truly understand that they are justified by faith and put it into practice don’t brag that they have fully mastered it. Rather, they think of it as a pleasant taste or aroma that they are always pursuing. These people are astonished that they can’t comprehend it as fully as they would like. They hunger and thirst for it. They yearn for it more and more. They never get tired of hearing about this truth.
(From Faith Alone)
Luther knows that comfort comes only in the pursuit of this aroma, the pursuit of knowing deeper and deeper that Christ’s love sustains us, not our fleeting and wavering love for him. Your deeds will reflect Christ’s work in your life, but never because you have moved beyond justification. In fact, only because you have moved deeper into this truth in your life. You become better the more God’s unconditional love humbles you.
Luther also said that the preacher’s job is to get the gospel into his congregant’s head, then keep preaching it week after week until it is in her heart.
On Easter weekend, when you may be extra religious and devoted, remind yourself that our glorious savior Jesus Christ loves you even when your devotion falters, which for most of us will be Sunday afternoon when the festivities have died down. Christ’s love is for you even then.