The Reformers (e.g. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Zwingli, etc) rediscovered through careful Biblical study a life-changing truth. They were part of a church which was filled with works of various sorts. If you just DID this and that, then you might be assured of a proper relationship with God. The nagging issue (at least for Luther) was “How good is good enough?” How many acts of righteousness do I have to complete before I am considered righteous?
In Habakkuk 2:4, God contrasts for Habakkuk the arrogant desires of the leader of the Babylonians who were instruments in the LORD’s hands to bring about His judgment of His people with the simplicity of one who trusts the LORD alone, who “lives” by faith.
“See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright–
BUT (emphasis mine) the righteous will live by his faith.”
This is truly the heart of the matter, isn’t it? Justification by FAITH alone in CHRIST alone. One hymnwriter ‘got it right’ with the claim, “I need no other argument, I need no other plea; It is enough that Jesus died and that He died for me.”
Even within our evangelical churches, we may succumb to a “works” based righteousness. If I do this and this and this…. If I keep dreadfully busy then I shall have God’s favour…. He’ll love me more, I’ll ‘feel’ closer to Him. The truth is our standing before God rests on the merits of Jesus Christ. My trust is in Him. My hope is in Him. I cannot save myself. He alone can save me.
As we come to another celebration of Christ’s birth, let’s rejoice that the Babe born in Bethlehem was born to die, born to save. Wesley nailed it when he wrote, “Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth; Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born King!”