A System of Threat & Reward

For the last three years, I have been wearing an Apple Watch. One of the critical features of the watch is fitness tracking. Using a very accurate heart rate monitor and a set of motion tracking sensors, the watch can determine if and when I exercise, as well as how many calories I have burned. I rarely took full advantage of these features until the last couple of weeks since I have determined that I want to shed a few pounds.

One thing I have learned is that the watch is relentless. Every aspect of the activity tracking is meant to push me to get off my butt and do something. The watch dings and buzzes if I sit for too long, it sends me updates from family members and friends to show me how much better than me they are doing, and lastly, it tries to reward good behavior with videogame-style completion rings and pho fireworks display on my wrist as a reward for goals met.

This system of threat and reward is great for losing weight but what happens when threat and reward invade the church and our faith?

The power and the purpose of the Reformation was to bring the full force of the Law and the Gospel to the ears of sinners.

In the time of Reformation, the Church was facing a crisis of Apple Watch faith. The Roman system had neglected the Word and captured believers in fear while promising peace in exchange for goals met. This method of threat and reward was devastating, as one could never know if they had done enough to earn peace with God. This drove Luther to despair as he steadily attempted to work his way to God while the goal of salvation seemed to get farther and farther away. In this struggle, Luther was lead into the Scriptures where he discovered that God does not work via threat and reward, but rather Law and Gospel. God’s true Law, he discovered, was not a simple threat of condemnation.

The Law imparts a deadly knowledge to its hearers; by its instruction, utter failure is revealed. When the Law comes, trespass increases and humanity’s sinful condition is shown to be much worse than ever imagined. The Law is despair and death to sinners, yet God does not leave us hopeless under the Law. In the perfect sacrifice of Christ and His victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil, there is grace given to the same sinners who are proclaimed guilty under the Law. Luther found that God’s Word has power. His word of Law the power to kill, His word of Gospel the power to bring back to life.

The power and the purpose of the Reformation was to bring the full force of the Law and the Gospel to the ears of sinners. Today, we stand steadfast in these words of Law and Gospel. There is no room for Apple Watch faith. Christ has completed every goal; there is no reward for sinners to earn. Any law that presents itself meritorious is not the Law of God. Any gospel that offers itself as a reward of righteous living is not the Gospel of Christ. As Paul states in Romans 6:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The hope of Luther and the Reformation, which is the hope for all sinners, is that salvation comes extra nos, (that is, outside of ourselves) and instead comes inside of the blood of Christ, Who in His death and resurrection forgives sinners freely, giving them peace and everlasting life.