The Law self-improvement program
People are using the opportunity of the new year to start a new program. It might be to lose weight, learn more, become more positive, or even get a better job. Television is inundated with infomercials for exercise, diet and other programs all aimed at helping you “reach your goals”.
Within the Christian community, many people are already feeling a little overwhelmed with their goal to read the Bible in a year. It’s a resolution that requires much discipline, effort and time.
Other Christians are thinking more about their “sanctification”. They are re-doubling their effort to overcome “sins of the flesh”, and other moral failings. In some cases, this means that they are turning to the objective words of Scripture, especially, the Law.The law I am referring to is not merely those set forth in the Old Testament, but even and especially those commands found in the New. Many modern evangelicals are directed there by their pastors to find a “Jacob’s Ladder” of rules which will help them in their efforts towards religious self-improvement.
Inevitably, like other resolutions, the one to “work out your sanctification” becomes burdensome. But the burden is not external failure, it’s internal judgment. The Law cuts through joints and marrow as mentioned in Hebrews 4:12:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
A steady diet of rules to follow will lead to starvation of the soul. In fact, it will lead to bitterness, resentment and hatred toward God. It is much like the judgment Martin Luther experienced at the hands of Medieval Roman Catholic rules for living the Christian life.
What Luther found (as other Christians have also found who have read his works) was that their is no “self-improving” through Law. There is only death to be found there. And the God who has given these laws and commandments has also resolved to fulfill them. He did this only one time. He did this by sending His own Son to fulfill them. It was a resolution that was kept, fulfilled and finished by Jesus alone. Any other antidote to the problems of ongoing sin rests in our own anthropocentric self-idolatry.
We think we need a “fix”; a repair job for those parts of us which are less becoming. As Christians, this is actually walking away from the Sanctifier. It is the rejection of Jesus in favor of self-made religion. Following the Law for personal sanctification feeds the Old , sinful Adam. The Adam that Jesus came to drown.
Jesus has drowned him. And, He continues to drown him as we read Scripture, hear Scripture, are baptized, receive communion and listen as the pastor rightly divides Law from Gospel.
Here, then is the resolution I hope for all Christians this year: Allow the Good News of Christ’s utter fulfillment of the Law and bestowing His total holiness upon us poor, miserable sinners renew us in the faith once delivered to the saints. He alone completely fulfilled the resolution to rescue us from our sin. We cannot and should not attempt to replace Him with our own efforts.