We know that a person is not justified by the works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ .... Galatians 2:16a
I was watching TV the other day and the story came on about the life of one of the great running backs in American football: Walter Payton. Do you remember him? He was number 34 for the Chicago Bears, and when he hung up his cleats, he was the all-time leader in yardage gained, a Super Bowl champion, and a hero to many. They called him "Sweetness" because he was such a pleasure to watch, but truth be told, he was one of the toughest running backs to ever play the game. He never ran out of bounds, though diminutive in stature. He always seemed to try to run you over rather than take the easy route. He hit like a linebacker; he ran like a deer. He was illusive. He was fast. He was reliable. He was the best. But the program unfortunately didn't end with accolades. It ended with many difficulties for Payton, in his personal life and then in a final battle with a rare liver disease that he ultimately lost. In more than one way, he had the same struggles as so many of us. One of the strongest running backs in NFL history then died tragically at the young age of 45.
When I think about someone who is truly "great" in their field, at least from our standards, and then see that such greatness is not enough, in fact, not even close, I'm drawn back to this simple, yet powerful passage in the Bible. No one is justified, forgiven or saved by the works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Such a powerful statement reminds us that we need salvation not just from our sins. We need forgiveness and grace even for our best efforts because as sinful people even they are not enough.
Christianity, then, is not a religion, a way to get right with God, with yourself, or with others by your best efforts. Rather, it is a proclamation that God has done all things well for you and me in the person and work of His Son, that we are "redeemed from the bondage to/the control of our weaknesses and sins and struggles" that overwhelm each one of us -- even the best among us -- so that you can now live joyfully each day, by the abundant and certain mercies of God, and that's whether it's a day of victory and success or struggle and challenge.
It's a tough truth to hear that even the best among us need a Savior, or that even our good works need God's forgiveness and grace. But take that to heart and you will hear an even greater word that the life, the joy, the forgiveness, and the peace that you cannot obtain by your works -- all of that -- is offered to you as a gift of grace by God through faith in Christ. When you realize that even your heroes need a Savior, but like all of us, they too have one in Jesus Christ, well, that's a sweetness that never ends.
THE PRAYER: Dear Jesus, when we truly grasp the life, death and resurrection that You accomplished for us as our Savior, we're awed by it. Please give us faith to trust You in all that You have done for us. And strengthen us to put that trust to work for You in all that we face this day. Amen!
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz
Speaker of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries
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