What is most important?

Grace to  you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:3

 

How important is the doctrine that your sins are forgiven in Christ—all of them—apart from any merit or work on your part (Ephesians 2:8-9)?

To some, this teaching is important, no doubt, but not the most important.  What’s more important, some say, is how you live your life, to God’s glory.  Others say that “the full authority of the Bible” is the teaching by which, fundamentally, you can identify the genuine Christian faith.  “Back to the Bible” becomes the beck call.

Of course, there are other emphases given by others as the centrality of the Christian faith (i.e. Pope, tradition, church polity, etc.).  But essentially, if the doctrine of justification by grace through faith, that which is “the doctrine by which the church stands or falls” is only one of many doctrines of Christ’s church and not the fundamental one, the Gospel becomes second place to others.  That is, Christ becomes something else than what Scripture reveals of Him.  He becomes Savior so that I can live to God…In such an event, Christ loses His place as “the one thing necessary.”

Two examples with relation to the above will suffice.  If how you life your life is most important, Christ is not.  If doing the commandments, becoming better, and doing the right things is what Christianity is all about, then why is Jesus called Savior?  What is Jesus a Savior from (Mathew 1:21)?  And what does such teaching teach about the fall of Adam and Eve and the extent of our sin before God?

If how you live (or better) your life is the central theme of Christianity, the clear words of Scripture become (already are) minimized, as is sin, eternal wrath, and God’s grace in Christ.  Christianity is only then “another way” to “get right” with God (or at least an attempt to be at peace with yourself).  Christianity is then like any other false religion, by which one tries to better one’s life and ease one’s own conscience.  It is then a religion of law, not of Gospel—not of Christ.

The above is not to suggest that how you live your life is unimportant.  It is, quite so!  But how you live your life won’t get you into heaven.  This is the great weakness of many in today’s Christendom.  Many have, for the most part, “lost their first love” (Revelation 2:4).  In place of Christ, so many teach and preach a “do-it-yourself-homemade” kind of religion, a “do it yourself and keep trying” kind of thing, as if you could.  Christ is seen as helper, but not as Savior.  Or, He is seen as Savior, but once you’ve “accepted Him,” now the burden is on your shoulders.  Christ does a little (or more), but you do the rest.  Such is not consistent with Christianity.

Another example of Christ taking “second place” to something else is when the call to return to the Bible as authoritative becomes the centrality of preaching.  This may be a reaction against those who either decry the Bible’s authority or use the Bible to their own ends, but believing the Bible to be God’s book also does not save anyone, just as trying to keep the commandments doesn’t save anyone.  Only Christ, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), does.

The Bible certainly is authoritative.  But the Bible itself is not the goal of preaching.  Again, Christ is.  The Bible doesn’t forgive your sins, nor do good works.  Only Christ does.  And how?  By means of His shed blood (1 John 1:7).

If anything is put before Christ or in His place, as pious as it might sound, one is stepping outside of Christianity.  Doing what God says is indeed what God demands.  Holding to Scripture as God’s infallible Word is right and true.  But how do you know that you have a gracious God?  How do you know that you have peace with God?  How do you know that you are a child of God?  It’s not because of what you do, nor is it because you believe the Bible to be true.  It’s because of Jesus.

The doctrine of justification by grace through faith is the central article of the Christian faith, for if it is not, something else takes its place.  And that something else then replaces Christ as “the one thing needful.”  Yet apart from Christ, there is no salvation (Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5).  Amen.

 

Luther

 

If we lose the doctrine of justification, we lose simply everything. Hence the most necessary and important thing is that we teach and repeat this doctrine daily, as Moses says about his Law (Deut. 6:7). For it cannot be grasped or held enough or too much.  In fact, though we may urge and inculcate it vigorously, no one grasps it perfectly or believes it with all his heart. So frail is our flesh and so disobedient to the Spirit! (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p26).

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for taking your Holy Word for granted and for even neglecting the doctrine of our salvation in Christ Jesus.  Direct our eyes ever to you, that we turn from our waywardness and believe the Good News of salvation, diligently attend to the hearing of Your Word and not despise it, and frequently partake of Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  Amen.

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