Reformation Sunday always startles me into awe. As a staunch rule-follower, I am constantly shocked by the reminder of God’s grace in Christ. Of course, while I recognize the futility of my own attempts at righteousness, I must resist the urge to let the pendulum swing the other way—from legalism to liberalism.
Recognizing that my inclination as a highly-principled person is more toward lifeless legalism than liberal license (please note that both are equally damaging) has been the start of great growth as a Christian. As a perfectionist, I am so constantly aware of my own failures that I can easily understand that I could never earn my own salvation. And yet, I want to. I want to make up the debt that I owe, for that would be justice. Human effort, though, cannot achieve true justice; we can never balance those scales apart from the reparation of the Gospel, by which the justice of divine punishment is poured upon Christ and we, in turn, partake of healing mercy.
Despite this beautiful hope, a stubborn part of me demands to experience justice over mercy. I remember when I was little, I would stubbornly endure punishment rather than apologize. I knew that if I confessed, I might escape punishment and instead find comfort and correction in my parents’ arms, but the iron of justice had entered my stubborn soul. Even as a young child, I felt a certain self-righteous stoicism in suffering my deserved punishment rather than, humbly, accepting the mercy that was also available.
Years later and more mature in my faith (that is, more humble), my stubborn adherence to such justice is, in part, a remarkable good. After all, “faith” constitutes not only humble belief and trust, but active obedience and determined loyalty. I must, though, be continually careful that faithful obedience does not turn to prideful attempts at my own recompense. And so, poetry:
My stubborn sense demands right recompense,
Though, strong-willed, I know I never could begin
To outweigh the tipped scales of my own sin
And so I tremble before You, Unsought Defence.
In pride, I’d rather be refined by fire
Than bathed so gently by baptism’s touch.
Again, it seems, this freedom is too much
And, against myself, purgation, so desire.
My aching lungs long to attempt that Mount
(Though all that they are asked to do is praise);
My legs, as well, wish they themselves could raise
The crushing cost I could not carry nor count.
Who would have ever that it would be
Your mercy that would break and remake me.