In the twisted tapestry of faith and sin, the hands of believers often clasp tightly onto their own works and efforts, clutching them as if they were life rafts in the stormy seas of salvation. But lo and behold, it’s the divine intervention of God himself that pries open these dead hands, allowing his gifts to be received through the work of the Holy Spirit through the gospel and the sacraments. For in the words of the psalmist, "You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing" (Ps. 145:16).
Take, for example, the apostles, those bumbling yet beloved followers of Christ, who were prone to wrapping their hands around their own feeble attempts at righteousness. They sought to appease the law with their works, believing that through their efforts alone they could be saved. But like a heavenly surgeon, Jesus wielded his words like a scalpel, slicing through their self-righteousness and exposing their desperate need for a divine cure. So, after Jesus’ resurrection, he gave them the Holy Spirit, and through his unveiling of the truth, they came to understand that salvation was not a product of their hands, but a gift from the hand of God himself.
Or, as Martin Luther once declared, "The law says, 'do this,' and it is never done. Grace says, 'believe in this,' and everything is already done." These profound words resonate with the truth that we, too, must embrace. Our faith, though less recognizable than a mustard seed, is not the currency that buys our salvation. It’s the mechanism through which the Holy Spirit pours out onto us the boundless riches of God's grace. We must let go of our self-reliance and grasp the truth that it’s God who works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
This word is accomplished through the gospel, that scandalous proclamation of God's unconditional love and forgiveness. It’s the key that unlocks the clenched fists of our faith. Or, in the words of the apostle Paul:
"The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16).
In the baptismal font, our dead hands are washed clean, and we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
It’s not our eloquence or persuasive rhetoric that changes hearts, but the Word of God that pierces through the hardened shells of unbelief and breathes life into the dead bones of sinners. Like a cosmic game of poker, God lays his cards on the table, revealing the hand that He has dealt us—a hand full of mercy, grace, and eternal life.
And as if the Gospel were not enough already, God gives us the Sacraments—the tangible, graspable means through which the Holy Spirit imparts his grace. The waters of baptism, the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, they are not mere symbols or empty rituals. No, they are the divine conduits through which God's gifts flow into our lives.
In the baptismal font, our dead hands are washed clean, and we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. In the bread and wine, our mouths are filled with the body and blood of our Savior, nourishing our souls and reminding us of his sacrificial love. These Sacraments are not the works of our hands, but the loving acts of God, who stoops down to meet us in our sin and death, and bestows upon us his unmerited favor.
In this grand symphony of faith, the Holy Spirit works through the gospel and the sacraments to create a melody of grace that reverberates through the ages. It’s a melody that drowns out the cacophony of human striving and self-righteousness, drawing us closer to the heart of God. And yet, amidst this symphony, there are those who stubbornly cling to their own works, refusing to release their grip on their own merits.
It’s like a courtroom drama where the accuser, armed with the law, presents a mountain of evidence against the defendant—the sinner. The gavel is about to strike, condemning the accused to eternal damnation. But in a surprising twist, the judge rises from his seat, removes his robe, and steps down to the stand. He takes upon himself the guilt and shame of the sinner, bearing the punishment that is rightfully theirs. This is the scandal of the Gospel. It’s not a story of our own righteousness, but of Christ's righteousness imputed to us.
And, as Luther once declared, "When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: 'I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.'"
It is only through the open hands of faith, hands pried open by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, that we receive the gift of salvation.
In these words, we find the truth that our salvation is not found in our own efforts, but in the completed work of Christ on the cross. Our hands, stained with sin, cannot save us. It is only through the open hands of faith, hands pried open by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, that we receive the gift of salvation.
He moves and guides us, opening our eyes to the truth, and strengthening us in faith to receive the gifts that God so freely offers. As the apostle Paul wrote, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3). It’s the Holy Spirit who breathes life into our dead hands, infusing them with faith and strengthening us to grasp the wondrous gifts that God lavishes upon us.
So to return to those who cling desperately to their own works (which is all of us), fearful of the scandalous freedom that the Gospel brings; they try to earn their salvation, as if it were a prize to be won through their own efforts. But, here’s the open secret God reveals to every sinner: our hands are too small, too weak to grasp the fullness of God's grace. We must be forced by God to release our grip on self-righteousness and open our hands to receive the gifts that God so abundantly pours out upon us.
Therefore, we trust that God will open our hands—those hands that are all too often clenched tightly around our own righteousness. Through the gospel, he will cause us to release our grasp on our feeble efforts and be opened to the boundless grace that he offers, because it is in this act of surrender, this humbling of ourselves before our Savior, Jesus Christ, that we find true freedom and joy.