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Keeping the Commandments
Reflections on the Reformers

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Original painting by Carl von Weinberg

John 14:8-17

From the Reformer

…a true Christian says: “I believe in Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour,” who gave himself for my sins, and is at God’s right hand, and intercedes for me; fall I into sin, as, alas! oftentimes I do, I am sorry for it; I rise again, and am an enemy unto sin. … But human strength and nature are not able to accomplish this true Christian faith without the Holy Spirit. It can do no more than take refuge in its own deserts.

But he that can say: “I am a child of God through Christ, who is my righteousness,” and despairs not, though he be deficient in good works, which always fail us, he believes rightly. But grace is so great that it amazes a human creature, and is very difficult to be believed. Insomuch that faith gives the honor to God, that he can and will perform what he promised, namely, to make sinners righteous (Rom 4), though `tis an exceeding hard matter to believe that God is merciful unto us for the sake of Christ.

—Martin Luther, Table Talk

Pulling It Together

Jesus laid a heavy burden upon his followers when he said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). How can they do this? They fail and fail and fail to keep his commandments; this is the curse of the law. At the end of the day therefore, if you really love him, staying true to God means coming home to him, regardless of one’s performance. Like the Prodigal who has been willful, believers must embrace their new nature, having faith that God in Christ forgives “the old man” (Col 3:9 KJV) and empowers them to try again. Continuing faith is the truest indication of the changed heart—the heart that tries again because it believes in a loving Father, a faithful Son, an empowering Spirit.

The sum of the commandments is to love God with one’s whole heart. Luther said this was impossible—that no one does this—and that is true, up to a point. Yet, when one fails to keep all the rest of the commandments, and then, returns to God, brokenhearted for his sin, he has kept the commandments. He has declared the love of a whole heart. “Here I am, Lord, a poor sinner. I have sinned but I dare to love you anyway. I can do no other because of your grace at work in my sick heart. I believe and will continue to believe and love you, despite my failings.” If you return to God in faith, you have kept the commandments.

More Reflections

The Sacraments is one of four books in the Sola Confirmation Series and serves as a simple and practical resource for teaching the biblical Word of God according to the traditional pattern of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Each book in the series may be used as the basis for a “come as you are” small group Bible study, as a student book for home school or independent study programs, or as a classroom tool and homework resource as part of an existing confirmation program. 

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