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Today we look at thesis five of the Heidelberg Disputation, it states:
The works of God (we speak of those which he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.
It is here we delve deeper into how God works through man, and, more especially how these works of God relate to the so-called “righteous-capabilities” of man.
For the sake of illustration, let’s pretend a pro-angler was given a rod made of the weakest, rotted-through, worm-eaten balsa wood one could find. Also, instead of high-test string, he was given a spool of over-cooked spaghetti in its place. And, just to make the example a little more absurd, let's just forget about any kind of bait altogether. Yet, in spite of these impossible disadvantages this experienced fisherman miraculously catches a glorious 15 pound Bass! How he manages to do such a thing is beyond us, but, nevertheless he does it. Now, would we marvel at the fisherman and his ability to pull off such an amazing feet, or would we give all praise to the rod?
Given the knowledge of all the particulars it's kind of a stupid question right? Well not so fast, for what's truly amazing is how many people would actually give praise to the rod. Let me explain.
While many would give lip-service praise to God for the ability to do any kind of good thing, they would still be understood as a “good” person, and perhaps accept praise for as much. It's as if the goodness of the work derives itself from, and is attributed to the person, instead of the source of all goodness, which is none other than God himself.
The perfect example of this is seen at any kind of awards gala. The person receiving recognition, perhaps may give thanks to God, but in the end, the event is not about our Lord, it is about the people receiving the award. So, in many cases, after giving lip service to God, they then recite a seemingly endless list of people they thank, people they could’ve never accomplished such and such an act without, all the while never thanking God for putting these very same people into their lives to help in the first place. While it may be true that a person could never do a certain thing without help of another, nevertheless, the help they receive, whether it is from natural circumstances or helping hand from without, ultimately comes from God, does it not? And, as for the people who are attending, to them this is not a worship service for God, but for the people of honor, the people whom this benefit is for.
Unfortunately, it's not much different in the church either. In a PC-USA Presbyterian church, a church I was once a member of, it was, and probably still is common practice for the congregation to clap wildly in appreciation for any kind of soloist (instrumental or vocal), for the choir, or for the children’s skit (regrettably during worship), what have you, as if the congregation was at some kind of concert hooting and hollering for their favorite pop-star! One time, during a “Wide-Open-Worship” service I was regrettably attending (notice the clever acronym W.O.W.), the “worship-leader” felt a little embarrassed (perhaps a guilt-pang of conscience maybe) by all the praise she was receiving, and to alleviate some of this “embarrassment” she praised and encouraged the audience to continue giving “claps for Jesus”.
So, it's easy to see that from the secular world all the way into the pews of our local congregation that it's quite common to obey our natural urges and praise the works of men, but not the God who gives us the ability to do any of these works in the first place. However, that's not really all that this thesis is trying to get at, as a matter of fact, it is but a small part, for the focus of this thesis is on what man observes as a good and “sinless” work.
The thesis presumes the bondage of man to sin (Rom. 3:10-18) as the only thing he's capable of doing in any active sense, even when the outcome is good, or the observation of the act appears right to human eyes. Yet, it is really by God working through us in a passive sense that any good is procured or made manifest through the work itself, and subsequently the work we actively do still remains sinful because of our bound nature. Here is Luther describing it beautifully in his own words regarding the proof for this thesis, and he states:
“In Eccles. 7[:20], we read, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” In this connection, however, some people say that the righteous man indeed sins, but not when he does good. They may be refuted in the following manner: “If that is what this verse wants to say, why waste so many words?” or does the Holy Spirit like to indulge in loquacious and foolish babble? For this meaning would then be adequately expressed by the following: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does not sin.” Why does he add “who does good,” as if another person were righteous who did evil? For no one except a righteous man does good. Where, however, he speaks of sins outside the realm of good works he speaks thus [Prov. 24:16], “The righteous man falls seven times a day.” Here he does not say, “A righteous man falls seven times a day when he does good.” This is a comparison. If someone cuts with a rusty and rough hatchet, even though the worker is a good craftsman, the hatchet leaves bad, jagged, and ugly gashes. So it is when God works through us.”
So, what does this all point back to? Well, what it points back to is that man, in his natural state, cannot see things as they really are. God is hidden to him, and is hidden to him by an act of mans evil will. When He, that is God, works in the world it's as if He wears masks, scary, ugly masks that effectively work in making God look like a devil, or a fool (not that this is or isn't necessarily his intention). Man's erring reason assumes that because Gods works appear evil or foolish is that it's because He is an evil fool. However, this is only man averting his eyes from the truth, for the evilness that seems to come about by God's work is really better likened to a master working with a poor instrument, which is nothing but Him working through us or fallen nature, both of which are a consequence of original sin.
Conversely, when we see a ray of light in the ordinarily ugly actions of man we are quick to attribute it to the “indwelling goodness” of that individual. Yet, once again this is simply man unwilling to look at his own evil nature, and willfully denying that he's incapable of doing anything other than actively sinning.
So, here we are once again, looking at the nature of God and the nature of man confusing ultimately what is plainly visible with what is hidden, and what is plainly good with what is evil. Why? Well, it basically boils down to this, we can't bare to look at ourselves as we really are. The only way we can possibly do that is by looking at our reflection in the mirror of God's Law, and even doing that causes us to retract in horror, so much so, that we pray to never do it again. You see, in this reflection we will see someone who so richly deserves the full wrath of God that the only punishment to suffice would be public humiliation, flogging, permanent alienation from God, and hanging cursed on a tree until death, nevertheless before our family, friends, and fellow countrymen.
If you ask me how I know this, then I must answer that this is the very death my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died in my stead. I know this because, according to the Scripture, my sin is now His, and His righteousness is now mine. This cruel death and punishment He took in my place. The humiliation I deserve He endured. The flogging He received was on account of my sins. And the curse of hanging on a tree, which Christ received was truly the curse that was solely unto me alone.
God did to His own Son what He vowed to never do to us.(Heb. 13:5) The forsaken nature of Christ on the cross at calvary was always meant for me, but because Christ took it upon Himself, I never have to question God's favor towards me. Whenever I feel forsaken of God I can always look back to Christ on the cross and know, confidently, that Christ was forsaken of God once and for all, and especially for me from all eternity. Yet, not only me, but for the whole world as well. Christ has made all things new, and in Him we are no longer made in the likeness of our first father Adam, but in the likeness of the Son of God, restored unto the very likeness of God himself.
Yet, do I not still look into the mirror of God's Law and see this wretched man? Of course I do, we all do! However, in spite of what we see, always know that God's Law is a two-way mirror, while, yes, you cannot help but see your hideous reflection, God, when looking through the other side at us, also can't help but see the resplendent beauty of Christ's righteousness in our place. He no longer sees us as our true selves; He sees us nothing other than His very own Son. So, let us then rest in the peace of our Lord, perceiving nothing but Christ and Him crucified for our sins just like our Father in heaven perceives our image through nothing but His blessed holiness. Once this right perception of things unseen is restored, then, and only then can we apprehend correctly the divine mysteries of our God in heaven.