Properly Humble before the Means of Grace
The Gospel Lesson this upcoming Sunday for the Historic Lectionary (Trinity 17) ends with these words from our Lord:
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11).
Among the applications of this text is to instruct Christians in the humble way they are to approach the means of grace. This humility is part and parcel of what we mean by reverence. Francis Pieper speaks to this point in his Christian Dogmatics. His words will continue to ring true until our Lord’s return:
To remain properly humble while firmly rejecting all erroneous teachings regarding the means of grace, we should remind ourselves how even Christians who teach and, as a rule, also believe, the correct doctrine of the means of grace, in their personal practice very often lose sight of the means of grace. This is done whenever they base the certainty of grace, or of the forgiveness of sin, on their feeling of grace or the gratia infusa, instead of on God’s promise in the objective means of grace. All of us are by nature '“enthusiasts.” Instead of listening to and believing God’s declarations of love in the Gospel, in the means of grace given by Him, or, in other words, instead of fixing our gaze on God’s reconciled heart which—thanks be to God!—is a present reality through Christ and is revealed and offered to us by God in the Gospel and Sacraments, we look into our own heart and seek to gauge God’s feeling toward us by the thoughts and moods we find in our heart. But that amounts to a practical denial of the fact that God has reconciled us to Him through Jesus Christ, and hence to a practical denial of the means of grace, in which God acquaints us with this completed reconciliation.
This feature of our Christian life must occupy us as long as we live. Christianity is an absolutely unique religion. It completely transcends human horizon and our inborn conception of religion. Native to us is the opinio legis, the religion of the Law. When we observe virtue in ourselves, we regard God as gracious. When we discover sin in us and our conscience condemns us because of it, we fear that God is minded to reject us. But the Christian religion teaches that God is gracious for Christ’s sake “without the deeds of the Law,” hence without regard to our keeping or transgressing of His Law. The righteousness that avails before God lies outside ourselves (Trigl. 935, F.C., Sol. Decl., III, 55). It is the acquired righteousness of Christ; in other words, the forgiveness of sins, which God pledges to us for Christ’s sake in the means of grace. Therefore our spiritual life is lived on the right basis and in agreement with the unique character of the Christian religion only when we—to express it in the words of Luther—“soar above ourselves” and base our faith in God’s grace on the means of grace lying outside us, the Word of the Gospel and its seals, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Pieper, Christian Dogmatics III:131-132).