By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
These words of St. Paul are a great comfort. In essence, they say that man does nothing—man gives nothing—man works not one bit—for his salvation. Salvation is a gift—the gift of God—which is given through faith. He cannot earn it. He can do nothing for it. This is what Paul is saying.
But how contrary this is to our way of thinking! In the world, this would never work. ‘You get what you’ve paid for.’ ‘You get what you deserve.’ ‘The harder you work, the greater reward you should get.’ ‘The more hours you put in (if receiving hourly wage), the greater return.’ Etc., etc. This is how the world works.
But God works differently than the world. He doesn’t say, ‘The more you put in, the greater you get out.’ You can never do ‘enough.’ Another must be our sufficiency. God doesn’t say, ‘You get what you deserve.’ If He did, He not only would be just, but all would be in jeopardy, for all deserve God’s wrath and punishment because of our sin—not only that which we’ve inherited, but also that which we actually do, and that which we should do but don’t. God also doesn’t say, ‘The longer that you’re a Christian, the greater your reward,’ as if you get a greater ‘retirement’ if you’re ‘in’ longer. It’s through faith alone—in Christ alone—by God’s grace alone, that any have salvation.
Whether a young Christian or a mature Christian, God’s salvation is the same for both. It is through faith in Christ. And this is good news, indeed! God has already pronounced judgment on your sin. That judgment was on Christ. All the responsibility for your eternal life is on Him. And if it’s on Him, it is no longer on you. That means—it is certain and sure!
The afflicted conscience has no remedy against despair and eternal death except to take hold of the promise of grace offered in Christ, that is, this righteousness of faith, this passive or Christian righteousness, which says with confidence: “I do not seek active righteousness. I ought to have and perform it; but I declare that even if I did have it and perform it, I cannot trust in it or stand up before the judgment of God on the basis of it. Thus I put myself beyond all active righteousness, all righteousness of my own or of the divine Law, and I embrace only that passive righteousness which is the righteousness of grace, mercy, and the forgiveness of sins.” In other words, this is the righteousness of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, which we do not perform but receive, which we do not have but accept, when God the Father grants it to us through Jesus Christ.
As the earth itself does not produce rain and is unable to acquire it by its own strength, worship, and power but receives it only by a heavenly gift from above, so this heavenly righteousness is given to us by God without our work or merit. As much as the dry earth of itself is able to accomplish in obtaining the right and blessed rain, that much can we men accomplish by our own strength and works to obtain that divine, heavenly, and eternal righteousness. Thus we can obtain it only through the free imputation and indescribable gift of God. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p5-6)
Prayer: Gracious God, keep me forever in Your favor. Judge me only according to Your Son, for I deserve only Your righteous wrath. But Jesus is my righteousness before You. Therefore, you must see me as without sin. And you do, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
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