The girls and I were studying the reformation in history.
I could hardly believe it when I went to my local library to check out some books on Martin Luther and was not able to find even one book on Martin Luther or the reformation in the junior section of our library. Not one. Then I went to my local christian bookstore and asked if they had any books on Martin Luther.
The worker said quizzically to me, ”No, I don’t think we have any books on Martin Luther King?”
I reply, ”Ummm, no, I mean Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer who is at least partially responsible for all the churches in this town save one. Yeah, that guy.”
I didn’t really say that but I wanted to. And no, they didn’t have any books on or by Martin Luther either. Not one single solitary book.
But they had shelves and shelves and shelves of books on every possible topic and fad that has ever passed through modern christianity: how to be a better wife, how to get your best life now, how to be more purpose driven, how to be financially successful and even books on how to improve your *intimacies*.
The whole ordeal made me think of the famous Rick Warren quote:
The first reformation of the church 500 years ago was about beliefs. This one is gonna be about behavior. The first one was about creeds. This one is going to be about deeds. It is not going to be about what does the church believes but about what the church is doing.
The problem I have with that quote and with the whole movement in general is that christianity is not about behavior. It is about faith.
Christ did not come to make us more civil or successful or more socially responsible or even to make us better husbands and wives.
He came to give us life.
Our problem is not that we do bad things.
Our problem is that we are dead in our trespasses and sin.
And when we center our religion around ‘deeds not creeds’, then we center our religion around ourselves—-what we do , how we act, how we live. And that is no different than any other modern religion that tries to appease God by its’ good behavior. Jesus gave us the simple way to evangelize and it has never been about our deeds. He said, ”If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me.”
Creeds are crucial. What the church believes is everything.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost of sinners, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” I Tim. 1: 15,16.
St. Paul was an apostle with a creed. “I have received mercy so that Christ might display to the world His perfect patience, that He could work faith even in someone like me.” Christ shows the world His love by saving us—right where we are—in our dreadful condition—-as an example to those who would believe. He saves us and uses us in spite of our deeds, not because of them. The good works that flow from our life in Christ are those things we do in service to our neighbor but they should never be the focus of our attention nor the subject of our reform.
I lived for many years in a belief system that seemed to value behavior above all else. It drove me to despair. Christ has come to rescue us from ourselves. And if we’re brutally honest, we must throw in the white flag of surrender. We are nothing but poor miserable sinners in desperate need of the life-giving words of forgiveness. All our deeds (even our righteousnesses) are like filthy rags.
We need deeds, to be sure—but only those of Christ. His perfect life, His perfect death, His perfect atonement on our behalf.
Lord save us from our unbelief. Guard our hearts against trusting in ourselves. And reform us with Your perfect deed of redemption.