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Lenten Series: Advancing in the Path of Righteousness

Meditation on Luther’s Heidelberg Thesis 26:
The Law says Do this, and it is never done. Grace says, Believe in this, and everything is done already.

Text: Galatians 5.1

Theme: When All is believed...All is Done.
by Steven Hein


For the past five weeks we have received instruction in the Path of Righteousness which has taken us on a journey both in and to the Cross of Christ. Why the journey? What are we after?

Might I suggest it is the following: We want to know that we are OK with God — really OK. We want to be confident — a confidence backed with good reasons - knowing that our salvation is not in doubt, that it is not up for grabs...that it is secure — a done deal. We want to live, really live not simply exist. We want to live before and with our Maker securely and confidently not simply as a fleeting moment, but forever! We want the Happy Forever that God promises all who are citizens of His kingdom and members of his family. But here’s the problem. It is our continual nagging realization, is it not? — that we are not the people we ought to be, living as we ought to live. We hear from none other than God Himself about how the people of God are to think, order their lives and behave, and we note that in so many ways and instances - we aren’t, we don’t and we can’t. And alarmingly we note that as time passes, this realization about how we are doing does not go away, nor do we get any sense that we are improving. We seem stuck and powerless to walk the walk though we continue to talk the talk about how we ought to be as would-be citizens of the Kingdom of God. Well, what are we to make of this?

The Devil thinks that this is just wonderful. He continually uses this realization to destroy our sense of confidence and security in really being OK with God. And he wants us to deal with this insecurity in two ways: He wants us either to question whether we really are so bad off in our doing, or he wants us to question whether God has really included us in his solution in Christ. That is he wants us to question either whether we need only the righteousness of Christ or whether God really wants to give it to us. Our instruction in the Path of Righteousness has been designed to take us on a journey in and to the Cross. Luther was convinced that this is only way to acquire — and to keep — this confident security in the righteousness and free gift of salvation in Christ. It is the only way of having our hope and peace with God firmly anchored where it ought to be — in the gracious saving work and gifts of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our journey has been aided by several key theses of Martin Luther that he drew up and defended in Heidelberg in the summer of 1518. Our instruction has presented God’s perspective from His Word as it has been captured by Luther in his Theses and then also in our mid-week Lenten meditations through the use of paradoxes. Do you remember them from the past 5 weeks? First, The Cross of Christ is not simply our destination in the Path of Righteousness, it is also the character of our Journey. You arrive, by already having been there. Secondly, If you pursue the Law of Life — which of course, you simply must — you end up dying to live. If you do not pursue the Law of life — you end up living to die. Thirdly, Our works which appear good and attractive are probably mortal sins while God’s work which is ugly and unattractive like the Cross of Christ possesses eternal merit before God. Fourthly, We as Christians already possess total and complete righteousness through faith, but we always are in need of more. And Fifthly, we heard last week: Everything you know about righteousness comes from the Law, but by this Law you will not become righteous.

We conclude our Midweek Lenten meditations this evening with our final paradox. Luther put it so eloquently in Thesis 26: The Law says, Do this, and it is never done. Grace says, Believe this, and everything is done already. Or we might put it this way: When all is said and done, there is always more to do. Yet, when all is believed, all is already done and there is nothing left to do. Let’s explore this paradox. First,

I. When all is said and done, there is always more to do

In our previous meditations we have explored God’s word of Law under Luther and St. Paul’s able direction — discovering what that Law has revealed about us, and what it has revealed about God - when both are seen apart from the saving work of Christ. It has been emphasized that the Law does not help but hinders our righteousness. It reveals that our works, and especially our best works are nothing but deadly sins, when offered to God for his approval of us. We have also seen that we may learn in the Law what righteous works are, but because of a bondage and corruption of the will, we cannot pull them off. To do what is in us to do, is to sin. This news is certainly bad enough to crucify us under the curse of the Law. But neither Luther, nor God's Law stop here. There is one further curse of the Law that our paradox this evening wishes to illuminate.

Even if we did succeed to render something to God that was up to snuff according to the standards and dictates of the Law....And even if we were able to somehow, sometime to do such a work spontaneously and selflessly....The Law and all it demands would still in the old saying: What have you done for me lately? The Law presents demands that are not fulfilled once we are able to achieve the kind of works they require.

Should we somehow achieve the standard, the Law still demands, do it again...and again, and again, and again — always and forever it demands again and again. And if we were to inquire, how long do we have to keep it up? The Law replies, Forever! You are never done! Even if you do it perfectly — Even if you have always done works perfectly (which you haven’t and you know it), you are never done! The Law always demands More!

When all is said and done — there is always more to do. We all get it, of course, don’t we on this point about the Law and what God says to us through it. The Law doesn’t simply demand that we achieve or attain righteousness by works but that we continue to maintain it through our works every moment of every day of our existence — yesterday, today, tomorrow, forever. You must do it forever to be righteous and therefore one thing is perfectly clear — at any time before forever - we are not yet righteous and fit for the Kingdom according to the Law.

Now if it is put this way, if these are the demands — then we think - now if to be righteous by the Law requires a life of righteous works that have been performed forever — and we realize that forevers never comes to an end — then we can see that finally obtaining the required works in order that we might become righteousness never comes to an end either. Well, if that is the case, then it is impossible. YES! And that is just what the depths of the Law intend to reveal. Righteousness, any way you want to look at it, according to the demands of the Law is simply an impossible task. Our works are not good enough, our will and resolve are not good enough.....and forever never arrives. When all is said and done — we never are! There will always be a tomorrow with its fresh set of demands in forever. The curse of the law is our sin — coupled with forever. With this final paradox in the Law — When all is said and done, there is always more to do — all who would be righteous (even we in the Church) are crucified and die to sin. And the death is both seen and experienced in the realization and impact of the magnitude of the impossibility of the demand do it forever! And this cross of impossibility has been planned by the God of the Law right from the start. It is this realized impossibility that He uses to take us to the other dimension of the Cross, where we discover the Gracious God who freely gives all that has been demanded in the Law in another paradox of the Gospel...

II. When all is believed, all is already done and there is nothing left to do.

Christ comes to the cross as our champion. He has fulfilled all the demands of the Law and suffered and died for all our shortcoming and transgressions. In the cross, Jesus says to us: Now believe this: I have perfectly fulfilled the demands of the Law for you and I give all of my forever works to you. I have also atoned for all your guilt and sins. The father declares that you are righteous, yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever for the sake of my sacrificial death on the cross. Believe this and all is already done. There is nothing left that you must do.

Here is life from the cross that comes out of the death — Christ’s and ours. In this life of righteousness now possessed and lived with through faith, just think about all the things you can now do. You can stop working to please God. You can rest. You can take the obligations of the Law with all of their forever demands and tear them up, give them the deep six. Trash them! Its over for the Law...there is nothing left that God demands you to do. You are free from this curse. And in the Gospel where faith receives from Christ all that is needed to secure total righteousness, favor with God and the happy forever — there is only one thing left to do....that which you simply want to do. Indeed here is the hilarity of our Gospel paradox. It is to hear the voice of God speaking softly to us in the cross of Christ, saying, What would you like to do, now that there is not anything that you have to do? Listen again to how Luther puts it and see if you can hear the hilarity of the Gospel. The Law says, Do this, and it is never done. Grace says, Believe this, and everything is done already. If you can hear it, then you have arrived at the foot of the cross of Christ. Which is just where we want to be in the path of righteousness. Yes indeed, to be and to stay. Because here we continually hear what we are to believe and....there is nothing left that we have to do. Nothing today, nothing tomorrow, nothing forever. And when it comes to the nothing of works of the Law — nothing is everything! Amen!

Steven A. Hein is currently Headmaster of Shepherd of the Springs Lutheran High School and the Director of Shepherd of the Springs Christian Institute in Colorado Springs, CO. He was formerly Professor of Theology (24 years) at Concordia University-River Forest, IL.

Bible Reference

Galatians 5: 1

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

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