Do you ever open your Bible hoping for some good news, but close it burdened by bad? That’s the direction good news/bad news jokes always go. Sometimes Scripture seems like one more version of the same lousy joke.
- The good news is…Jesus Christ paid for all your sins. The bad news is…how are you doing at paying him back?
- The good news is…you have been saved by faith, not by works. The bad new is…how’s your faith today? Strong enough?
- The good news is…God gave his one and only Son for you. The bad news is…what have you done for him today?
Studying the Bible doesn’t guarantee hearing good news.
How Martin heard it
I could use my experience here, but Brother Martin (Luther, that is) has a more dramatic story. No one knew the Scriptures like he did. He was brilliant, studious, and determined. After five years of studying theology, he began to teach, first the Psalms, then Romans. But all this time the Bible didn’t bring comfort, only condemnation, even those parts that shouted “gospel!”
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17
Martin Luther took “God’s righteousness” very seriously. It made him tremble, because he knew he didn’t measure up. The fact that the gospel revealed God’s righteousness wasn’t good news to him. If he had to make himself righteous by faith (which included lots of work), then all was lost. He could never live that way.
The day the lights went on
One day in his study the Holy Spirit opened his mind to understand what he had studied. The lights came on because he understood what Paul meant. It was a paradigm buster:
“You mean, here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”
“Whoa, you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine?” Luther in the words of R.C. Sproul. Emphasis added.
That day Luther heard the gospel for the first time, the greatest good news that turns every piece of bad news in this sad, fallen world on its head. It’s the news flash of what God has done for us, not what we need to do for him. Here’s the new joke:
- The bad news is…God is very very holy and you aren’t. The good news is…now God’s holiness is not a threat but a gift, paid for by Jesus on the cross.
- The bad news is…your sins and weakness will always keep you from measuring up. The good news is…now your sins and weakness keep you from trusting yourself, but help you trust Jesus instead.
- The bad news is…you could never drum up enough faith to please the living God. The good news is…now even faith is a gift from God, so you can keep your eyes on Christ instead of on your faith.
Sisters, we don’t have to be priests or doctors of theology to understand the Scriptures. But we do have to fight to understand that we’re not the good news. He is.
More posts on Hear Good News here.