My paternal great-grandmother, Emilie Auguste Graf. was born in Eisleben, Germany, the birthplace of Martin Luther. Eisleben was among the first towns to embrace Luther’s teachings. Luther preached his last sermon there on February 15, 1541, three days before his death.
My paternal great-grandfather, Emilie Auguste’s husband, Karl Louis Wackes, was born and raised in Suhl, Germany. Most of the important locations where Luther lived and ministered are all within a one hour drive from Suhl. The Protestant Reformation was embraced by the town of Suhl in 1544 and my ancestors were there when it happened! They all were baptized, confirmed, married, and were laid to rest from the Lutheran Hauptkirche , St. Marien in Suhl.
Luther is one of my heroes. He was a commoner, the son of a coal miner. He was earthy, fearless, strong, transparent. He made a great discovery in scripture that revolutionized his life and through him, mine as well.
The frustration of every human culture has been the struggle for personal approval of both the gods and society. The frustration is further aggravated in American culture by Madison Avenue, Wall Street, American classrooms and hallways—it is everywhere! “Lose weight!,” “Remove wrinkles!,” “Exercise!,” “Wear our fashions!,” “Strive for the top!,” “Be the best!,” “Don’t fail!”
The quest for acceptance produces anxiety, fatigue, bulimia, aggression, restlessness, ruthless competition, even cancer. It offers no rest from its insatiable expectations.
“I often buy into the lie that there’s something I can do,” admits Lisa-Jo Baker, “that I can manufacture, that I can claw my nails and self-image into so I can drown out my fear that plays out the ‘you’re not good enough’ track on repeat in my head. It’s flat out exhausting.” (Lisa-Jo Baker, in “Foreword” to Love Idol: Letting go with your need for approval—and seeing yourself through God’s eyes, Jennifer Dukes Lee, Tyndale Momentum, 2014, Kindle Edition.)
The quest for acceptance was also present in 16th century Germany and drove Martin Luther crazy.
That same old pressure “to measure up” to the expectations of his father, leaders of his religious order, and especially God, was keenly felt by Luther and It drove him to despair. The tradition in which he was raised emphasized the requirements in the law of God and man’s accountability to obey that law—or suffer God’s wrath. His zeal to assuage his sense of guilt drove him to the confessional where he agonizingly sought to confess every wrong doing. And yet, no relief came. He began to hate a God who required the impossible. It was as if there were two different Gods in the Bible—the God who condemns and the God who loves.
Then one day in his study of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans, a passage he had read many times before leaped from the page and struck him between the eyes. Of that occasion he wrote:
“My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand – A Life Of Martin Luther. Read Books Ltd. Kindle Edition, Location 811-812).
What did Luther discover 500 years ago?
The law of God tells us what we must do. The gospel of God tells us what God has done. The law of God confirms that we are sinners. The Gospel of God tells us that we are forgiven.
I have more time now, since being diagnosed with ALS, to read, memorize, and meditate on Scripture. Romans 8 does for me daily what Romans 1 did for Luther.
I grew up in the church. I heard over and over again of God’s love. Yet, I often was in despair. I struggled between two discordant messages. I believed that God loves me. But I was also often haunted with a sense of falling short and displeasing God. It often overshadowed the confidence I had of God’s love.
As with Luther, the Apostle Paul said something in Romans that finally set me free. It first grabbed my attention while living with the Ekari tribe in New Guinea and revolutionized my understanding of God’s grace. Currently I meditate on it almost daily. It speaks truth to my otherwise doubting heart.
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man [Christ] 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (Romans 8).
(1) “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, GOD DID–
(2) “by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful man—
(3) ” to be a sin offering.
(4) “And so he [God] condemned sin in sinful man [Jesus]–
(5) “IN ORDER THAT THE RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULLY MET IN US, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
In God’s eyes I have perfectly kept every requirement in his law.
The wrath I deserve was poured out upon Jesus at his death.
In place of the law of sin and death I now have life with God for eternity.
Because he loves me I am also set free from the need to have the constant approval of others and from the need to meet the expectation of others. His love for me enables me to serve and please others from that same love which he has placed in me, not so that they will approve of me, but so that God’s love will flow from me to them.
Photo above used under license from Shutterstock.