This was the question Martin Luther was asking 500 years ago. What works does God want us to do? How can we please him? Can we ever do enough? It was a question that nearly drove Luther mad.
The question wasn’t new to Luther. A Jewish crowd once asked it of Jesus shortly after they had seen five barley loaves and two fish become a feast for a multitude. The next day, they wanted more, and so they chased down the Miracle Worker. He knew what they were after—full bellies, when He wanted to give them full lives. So He told them, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). That word—“work”—was all it took to prompt the question; “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28). We want eternal life. Who doesn’t? Tell us what to do, so we can get busy doing it.
I’m pretty sure they weren’t expecting the answer Jesus gave them: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). What work does God require? “Trust Me,” Jesus says. Not doing. But trusting. Faith. That’s the work God desires from us. That’s the truth that set Luther free and allowed him to finally love a gracious God. It’s been setting people free ever since.
Tell me to do anything but that!
I don’t know how to do that.
Luther later wrote, “The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.” We’re good at taking matters into our own hands. But trusting the love and grace of Christ? That’s hard. How can we with all our sins and weaknesses and failures?
People have been telling me my whole life: “You need to stop trying so hard. Rest in Christ. Trust him.” Tell me to do anything but that! I don’t know how to do that. I know how to work hard. To try hard. And of course to fail. But to rest? To trust? That’s not in my DNA.
I’m learning slowly (very slowly!) to stop fixating on myself. To instead look to the Savior. He is the bread of life, the living water (John 6:35), the One who is sufficient for all our insufficiencies. Luther challenges me to dare to trust Christ. Dare is a good word for it, because it takes courage—incredible courage—to believe that He might really love me. That I really share in His death, and in His life. That His grace is deeper than my sin, His love greater than my failure. That He will complete the work He’s begun in me.
“Faith,” Luther says, “is a daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it one thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures.”
Do we dare? Could we?
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “You’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
I think that’s what it looks like to trust Jesus. That’s what it looks like to grow. We find Him bigger all the time. He becomes bigger in our eyes. It’s not that He’s changed. He has always been big. Really big. And powerful, and kind, and gracious, and trustworthy. But we see Him a little more clearly. We rest our weight upon Him a little more often. And maybe we even dare to believe.