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Trying to Turn God’s Grace into Our Work

This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father. (John 6:65)

You must believe. Well, when you hear that this is imperative, you are quick to say: “I will initiate this faith myself.” But no, I assure you that you will not get very far with that. This is our custom too. When the necessity of satisfaction for sin is proclaimed, we quickly fall to with our own works. Christ forbids this. He does not want you to undertake this yourself. He wants to do it Himself; He wants to expiate sin. Would you presume to be the man who can claim mastery over your heart? Yes, first you must learn that faith is a gift of God and a divine power. You cannot believe by your own strength. Would you venture to resist the devil? You fool, what are you aspiring to do? This is too big for you. Beware lest you fall prey to such arrogance and suppose that it lies in your power to believe as soon as you hear the words. This is the common opinion of the schismatic spirits and the false Christians today. But when it comes to the point where they must give proof of their faith, to judge a false doctrine, or to console themselves in days of trouble, then their song is silence, and there is no one at home.

All right then! Go and say: I thank my God that I have learned not to try to expiate my sin with my own penance, to begin faith with my works, or to atone for my own sin. To be sure, I might do so before man; that is the procedure before the world and before a judge. But Thou, O God, dost entertain an eternal wrath which I cannot appease. I would have to despair. In view of this I am grateful to Thee that Another has borne my sin, paid and atoned for it. And I would so gladly believe this; it seems good, pleasing, and comforting. But I find it impossible to accept it. I do not find it in my power to believe it as I should. I cannot lay hold on it, much as I want to.

Therefore, Lord, draw me, help me, and give me the strength and the gift to believe this. Thus the prophet sighs in Ps. 51:10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and steadfast spirit within me. I lack the power to fashion a new and clean heart; this is Thy creation and handiwork. Just as I cannot bid the sun and the moon rise and shine brightly in the heavens, so I cannot produce a clean heart and a steadfast spirit, that is, a strong and firm mind which remains steadfast and does not flinch, waver, or doubt Thy Word.” A new, clean, and tender heart can say: I have a right spirit, a new mind, a disposition and heart which stands steadfast and does not doubt but believes so firmly that it is willing to stake life and limb on the fact that Christ died for it.

Therefore it is necessary to mark the words well. For with the words “No one can come to Me” Christ intends to say that faith is God’s gift. And He is willing to give it, if only we request it of Him. To come to Him means to believe in Christ. But he who does not believe is far from Him. You assume that faith is your doing, your power, your work; and thereby you interfere with God’s work. It is the gift of God, so that He alone may be accorded the honor and no man may boast of his strength. It is the Father who draws us and gives us the Word, and the Holy Spirit and faith by the Word. It is His gift, not our work or power. St. Paul also tells us that in Eph. 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved; and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, lest any man should boast.”

This is the essence of true Christianity, against which the world has always contended madly and foolishly and against which it still rages. Here there is no boasting of any work but only of the Father’s drawing. Furthermore, my flesh, blood, spirit, and all that pertains thereto is His, not ours, if I am to have life. Consequently, all other works we do are entirely excluded.

Luther’s Works, vol. 23, 180-181

For faith apprehends the Lord Christ’s body and blood, His suffering and death … What is man compared with God or a human work compare with divine works? Christ’s works are divine works, but our works are human works.

Luther’s Works, vol. 23, 182

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