There is a righteousness of God that comes to us apart from the Law because through the Law we only see a righteousness of God that amplifies and exposes that we are dead in our trespasses. Sin has rendered us spiritually dead persons who are not semi-righteous, but unrighteous. As spiritually dead people, it is not that we cannot do enough—it is that dead people can’t do anything to please God. Because death is the problem, improvement, progress, and becoming better is not the solution. Dead people need just one thing: They need life. Semi-righteous people may need to improve, but the Law has rendered us unrighteous and therefore what we need is righteousness itself. This is the recovery of the real problem of sin from the Reformation that we remember and celebrate.
Luther re-discovered from the apostle Paul that there is a righteousness of God that comes to us through faith in the redemption that is ours in Christ Jesus. Jesus is not your helper to become righteous; He is your righteousness, your all sufficient righteousness. It needs no doing, no works, no effort nor any godly labors on your part at all. Jesus is your Savior because He is your righteousness. His forgiveness of sin does not constitute more chances to get your godly acts together, it cancels your need for them altogether. This is the recovery of the Gospel from the Reformation that we remember and celebrate. However, let us not lose sight that such recoveries always occasion the presence and work of the purpose driven Devil.
Jesus Warns About the Devil
Anniversaries of the Reformation and especially this year on the 500th anniversary, it is sobering to understand and appreciate that the Devil always gets busy when the freedom of the Gospel is forcefully proclaimed and embraced. They are reminders that when and where the pure Gospel shines brightly, the gates of Hell are always rattling loudly, and the forces of darkness are out and about producing collateral damage in the Kingdom of God. The purpose driven Devil is out to see that a price is paid where the Gospel has a strong positive impact in the lives of the citizens of this fallen world.
After John had been arrested, Jesus spoke to the crowds. From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11:12). Jesus warns believers in every age about the threat of a purpose driven Devil. There are especially two saving events that set off alarm bells in the nether world. The first is when God captures citizens of Hell and makes them children of God by christening them with the righteousness of Christ in the waters of baptism. The second, is when the cause of the Kingdom of God is advanced through a recovery and spread of the pure Gospel. Jesus makes reference to both events in the ministry of repentance and the forgiveness of sins by the return of Elijah in John the Baptist. This is when Jesus warns that Heaven is assaulted and suffers violence. Both also occurred in profound and dramatic ways in the midst of the preaching and teaching of Luther and the Reformers in Wittenberg.
The Devil and his forces are always out to play off against one another; zeal for good citizenship in the world over against trust in the righteousness of Christ alone to establish peace and favor with God. Make a commitment to your temporal responsibilities or the freedom of the Gospel—take your pick! The Devil gets busy tempting people to become naughty or nice as part of two strategies to wrest them from the Kingdom of God. This was true in Luther’s day as it has been throughout the history of the Church. Shortly after Luther posted his Ninety-five (1517) and then his Heidelberg Theses (1518), his adversaries were quick to point out that advocating the complete sufficiency of grace apart from all human endeavor was a dangerous teaching. It would encourage the Christian citizenry to dampen their zeal for righteous outward living.
Much to the distress of Luther and his colleagues, the adversaries proved right. There was a decline in enthusiasm to be about the labors of temporal responsibilities and worldly virtue. If sinners guilty of mortal sins could be assured of God’s complete forgiveness without the necessity of any penitential work for merit, this would promote a corrupting decline in the moral state of public life. If cleaning up your act was not necessary to be worthy of God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus, the adversaries queried, who would be motivated to do so? Listening to Luther, but then under the influence of the purpose driven Devil far too many of the baptized thought the logic was perfect. Sadly, Luther was reported to have remarked that things are bad with the Pope, they are worse with us.
Faith and Works
When people are taught that their outward works of civil righteousness are necessary to merit favor with God and stay out of Hell, the motivation of the sinful flesh to be a model citizen is as great as it can be. Be good or be damned! Here the Devil cultivates fear of God and promotes motivation and zeal for outward works and earthly virtue out of pure eternal self-concern.
The Devil cultivates fear of God and promotes motivation and zeal for outward works and earthly virtue out of pure eternal self-concern.
This, of course, is a perversion of the relationship between faith and works. We are to place our trust in Christ alone for our welfare and give our works to our neighbors for their benefit. The purpose driven Devil drives us to do the reverse: To give our works to God for our own benefit, trusting that the works can gain God’s favor. The neighbor’s needs just become occasions for doing works out of the interest and love of self. Luther’s observation is that such spiritual warfare and perversions of the Devil always ratchet up when the Gospel is recovered and where it shines brightly.
Luther’s discovery that the just shall live by faith alone included the recognition that faith will not be left alone among the members of Christ’s Church. Faith will be assaulted by attacks and temptations of the Unholy Spirit. Cross life brings us turmoil and affliction from the powers and principalities of the Prince of Darkness. Plan A: the purpose driven Devil is out to produce a zeal for works that corrupts trust in the sufficiency of the righteousness of Christ. Or, if that plan will not work on you, there is Plan B: the Devil is out to pervert your freedom of faith in the grace of Christ so that you will blow-off serving Christ in the needs of your neighbor just for the love of them.
Might he be tempting you with one of these diabolical plans that subvert either the freedom of grace or the bondage of the neighbor?* As you have occasions to celebrate the Reformation and the blessings of the recovery of the Gospel and its freedom then and now; Luther would agree that we should also beware of the purpose driven Devil!