First, How can we gain forgiveness for our sins? Paul answers “Christ gave Himself for our sins.” These words are a thunderclap of protest against any idea that we can gain God’s love by doing good works. If our sins could be removed by our own efforts, why did Christ need to die? Since He did die, it stands to reason that our sins cannot be put away by our own efforts.
Second, just how terrible are our sins? They are so terrible, that the whole world could not make amends for a single sin. If Christ had to “give Himself for our sins” then our sins are so vicious that it took the torture, death, and alienation of the Son of God to deal with them! So much for making light of sin. . .
Third, how much comfort can be found in the words “Christ gave Himself for our sins”? Sin cannot harm believers in Christ, because He has overcome sin by His death. Forget works salvation, which robs God and Christ of the glory that belongs to them alone! Take comfort in the word “our.” Christ gave Himself for our sins. Don’t refuse to a have anything to do with God until you have made yourself worthy by good deeds, as though your sins were a small matter, easily taken care of by good works! Christ gave Himself for our sins. This means your sins are no mere trifles. But also, you are not to despair over them. Learn to rely on the truth that Christ did not die for small sins or imaginary sins but mountainous sins, not for a few sins but for all sins, not for sins that are easily discarded but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.
Fortify yourself against despair. Say with confidence: “Christ the Son of God was given not for the righteous but sinners. If I had no sin I wouldn’t need Christ. No, Satan, you can’t trick me into thinking I am holy. I am all sin! My sins are not imaginary but they are sins against the First Table of the Law: unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, and they are sins against the second table: dishonor of parents, disobedience to government, coveting of others’ possessions. Granted I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, but I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of the Law of God. Because my sins are multiplied and my own works are a hindrance, therefore Christ the Son of God “gave Himself for my sins.” To believe this is to have eternal life.
I recently read these thoughts in Martin Luther’s “Commentary on Galatians,” and they are only slightly condensed and edited for this blog. It was refreshing to see Him standing so firmly in the truth of the Gospel. He has taken his stand on the fortress of Grace and is triumphing in it (Rom. 5:2). Even for Christians it is easy to allow a works mentality to slip into their lives, as though they gained grace by faith but must maintain it by works (Gal. 3:3).
Let Luther’s thoughts on Paul’s wonderful Gospel reorient you and keep you from trying to clean yourself up before you’ll come to God. Doing so is like saying you want to wash up before going to the washtub. Christ is the fountain for cleansing, and there is no cleansing apart from Him. Anytime you are grieved for your sin, turn away from it and come to Christ, confessing it, and trusting His blood to do what He says it does: cleanse you from all unrighteousness. And then take your place at Luther’s (and Paul’s) side there on that fortress of grace and start trumpeting the triumph of the cross with them.
More to come . . .