July 6: Matthew 16
July 6, 2010
The early sixteenth century witnessed a reformation regarding the role of Jesus' righteousness in redemption. But moments such as these--moments of clarity--rarely last that long. Within a generation, the righteousness of Christ was forced once again to share the stage with human effort.
Such decline in doctrine is by no means remarkable, and it should serve to remind us of an unfortunate truism in this fallen world (see especially a portion of today's passage, Matt. 16:5-12, for a good depiction of this). John Calvin knew it all too well. Hinting at his anxiety over the future of his home church in Geneva, he wrote, "It is not strange that today the authority of God's servants, whom he has furnished with excellent and wonderful gifts, protects and preserves the church. But once they are dead, a sad deterioration will promptly begin, and impiety now hidden will erupt without restraint" (Comm. on Josh. 24:29).
Sad words, indeed. Today, we face this same dilemma, as there are those who place the proper emphasis on Christ's righteousness, while at the same time many sneak a works-based righteousness through the back door. Beware of such leaven (Matt. 16:6).
For this reason, now is as good a time as any to contemplate afresh this foundational and profoundly practical doctrine. To hear regularly preaching of Christ's humble service, including his redeeming faithfulness, directs us toward our only sure hope in redemption: the righteousness of the living Savior. Without his work alone on our behalf, we could not even cast a shadow upon the threshold of God's kingdom, let alone cross it.
Underlying this work of Christ in our stead is the inexhaustible grace of God. Redemption is not to be viewed as a single, specific instance of religious conversion. It is the whole Christian journey, and it is accomplished and applied by nothing less than the grace of our covenant Lord.
Those who challenge this idea that God irresistibly draws believers to himself contend that he would not demand repentance from us if we were not already able to do it without special grace. Surely, they say, God would not hold us responsible for something we cannot do. The Reformers, however, taught differently. They, like Jan Hus a generation before (whose martyrdom is commemorated today in the Protestant church's calendar), entreated God to command whatsoever he will and grant whatsoever he commands. They recognized that their reliance, their sole foundation, rested upon sovereign grace. May we rest this very day upon the same rock of our salvation.