Special? You? Me? We hope that we might be special to someone: our spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, friends, even those we work with. Perhaps we dread the performance reviews because they might challenge our self-image.
In all such thinking we often conclude that being special is tied to something we did or will do. We all complete the sentence differently: “I am special because . . .” Our answers often identify something we have done. We even think we are special to God because we are such good people. We can all make a list of what makes us good, but we keep it hidden most of the time so we don’t appear conceited. Sometimes we even make ourselves special by comparing ourselves with “those others” who are lower on our importance scale.
That thinking is natural. It’s part of us by birth. Our efforts do set us apart from others, and sweat and labor contribute to our health and welfare. Our efforts and accomplishments might prop us up among others here, but God’s performance review is different. His standard is not what we or others accomplish to achieve special notice here.
Before God’s standard, we are anything but special. Our faults, failures, and sins cannot be overcome by the good we might do. It’s a harsh reality, but a reality none-theless. Sadly, many deny or ignore it, building their hopes on their good résumé. Luther built his hope on his diligent religious efforts. He became a monk, yet he was honest about his confrontation with the reality of God’s standard. He realized he would never be special to God by what he did.
Even though we deserve nothing, God loves us.
Welcome to the Lutheran view of human effort. As Lutherans, we agree that we cannot become special before God because of what we do. We agree with Luther not because he is Luther but because the Bible teaches that lesson: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Whether we deny or ignore it, we are still only dust and will return to dust. After a few short years, all those who think we are special will be gone, and only the gravestones will identify them and us.
What a brutal and discomforting thought! No wonder so many in our world don’t want to face it. Yet God does not leave us there. He, indeed, thinks we are special. Even though we deserve nothing, God loves us. He sent Jesus to cleanse us of all that violates his standards. Then Jesus left death behind and rose victorious. Because of Jesus, we have forgiveness and life. By grace through faith, we are special. We are “chosen . . . royal . . . holy . . . special” (1 Peter 2:9). Yes, we fall short of God’s expectations, but we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Luther grasped the truth of God’s grace. When he stood before the Diet at Worms in 1521, facing condemnation and death, he would not give up grace. “Here I stand!” he said. He would not deny that he had fallen short, but neither would he deny he was chosen, royal, holy, and special because of the grace of God he found in the Scriptures.
Here we stand! We are no less chosen, royal, holy, and special by God’s grace. It is what we are—what we treasure. It is what we want to share with a world that opposes God’s truth. It is what the pages in this little magazine always seek to proclaim. Here we stand!
Author: John A. Braun
Volume 108, Number 10
Issue: October 2021