Summary: Are you good enough? Good enough parent? spouse? student? friend? How about in your relationship with God? Are you good enough? Discover the freeing truth of the gospel that proclaims that in Christ Jesus you are not just good enough, you're perfect!
Let’s see if you can finish this saying, “If at first you don’t succeed… try, try, try again.” Maybe you had a parent, a coach or a teacher that said something like to you, trying to encourage you not to give up on something that they thought you could or needed to learn to do – write your name, tie your shoes, shoot free throws, play an instrument. Those words can be encouraging, but they can also be devastating if you being told to do something that you just don’t have the ability to do. In many ways, that was a thought that dominated nearly the first half of Martin Luther’s life. But it didn’t have anything to do with Luther learning to tie his shoes, or play an instrument or study for school. No it was a thought that defined his religion and more specifically his relationship with God. And it was devastating.
Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Germany, the son of a very devout Catholic family. Luther was baptized as an infant and attended mass each week with his family. As a young boy he received instruction in the teachings of the Catholic church. However, the more Luther learned, the more afraid he became. He was afraid of God. When he went to church and listened to the priest he repeatedly heard what God and the Catholic church said Luther needed to do in order to gain God’s approval. Yes, Luther heard about Jesus, how Jesus had lived a perfect life and suffered and died at the cross. However, Luther looked at Jesus as a standard that he knew he could never live up to. Luther was convinced that he was never going to be good enough to get into heaven.
Now please don’t misunderstand me, it wasn’t as if Luther wasn’t trying to do the right things. In fact, that was one of the reasons that he gave up a potentially successful career as a lawyer and became a Catholic monk. He hoped that maybe devoting his life to the work of the church would in some way win God’s approval and ease his guilt. But as hard as Luther tried, he realized how often he failed to do the right things. He went to his priest to confess his sins, hoping to find some peace. Sadly, what he heard was something like, “If at first you don’t succeed, Luther, try, try, try again.” Luther was told to try harder, to be better and try not think so much about his sin. Well that’s like telling someone not to think about food. What’s the only thing that you think about while trying not to think about food? Food! Well, trying not to think about his sin didn’t ease Luther’s conscience. It just made him more aware of his sin! What scared Luther the most was that he knew from the Bible that God punishes sin, and Luther knew he was a sinner. Therefore, Luther was certain that one day God was going to punish him for his sin. Luther did not see Jesus as his Savior, but as a standard that he could never live up to. Luther had a choice: He could give up and hope that he had done enough OR he could keep on trying. Luther kept on trying, trying and trying again, continually enslaved by fear and guilt.
While Luther’s story is certainly interesting, it’s not all that unique. It is in many ways the story of all humanity. By nature we feel that something is wrong in our relationship with God, that we have not lived up to God’s expectations. We feel guilt, that God is going to hold us accountable for what we’ve done wrong. It might be the result of realizing that you haven’t spent as much time with your children as you should have. Or maybe it’s the result of the damaging words that were spoken or posted after having one too many drinks. Or maybe it’s the unethical choices that were made to get ahead in a career. Our conscience barks at us, “Try harder! If you just did the right things you wouldn’t feel so guilty! Try harder!” And to some degree our conscience is right.
The Bible confirms our guilt before God in those words you heard at the beginning of this service, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even as hard as we might try, we have repeatedly failed to meet the expectations that God has set for us. And the Bible clearly tells us what our failure deserves, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Like Luther, our sin enslaves us with guilt and fear. And we too face the choice: Give up and hope for the best OR try, try and try again to live up to those expectations of God.