Faith is the Highest Commandment

Pentecost 17 Thursday

1 Timothy 1:5

“The chief sum of the commandment is this: Love from a pure heart and from a good conscience and from sincere faith.”

Although I have a good conscience before the people and practice love from a pure heart, the old Adam, the sinful flesh, is and remains in me so that I am not completely holy and pure, and as St. Paul says in Galatians 5:17: “The flesh lusts against the spirit,” etc. And he says about himself in Romans 7:23 that he must constantly wage war against himself, that he cannot do the good, as he would like to. The spirit would gladly live purely and perfectly according to God’s Word, but the flesh is there and resists and tempts us that we seek after our honor, greed, good times, and grow lazy, sated, or weary in our station in life or office. There remains, then, a perennial struggle and resistance in us so that much impurity always happens because of this half part of our person; there can be no complete purity or good conscience or full love except before the people; however, before God, there is still much that is deficient and worthy of punishment in us, even if all things were perfect before the people…This is why the third part must now be added, namely, faith. Faith is the true chief part and highest commandment that comprehends all the others in it, so that we might know that when love is not perfect, the heart not pure enough, and the conscience not at peace, where God finds what is punishable where the world cannot punish–then faith must come, faith that is not hypocrisy, mingled with confidence in one’s own holiness. For where such sincere faith is not, the heart does not become pure before God; conscience cannot endure when the exacting judgment and accounting will start…For there is no one on earth who could say: “I know that I have done everything and do not owe anything to God.” Even the holiest people must say: “To be sure, I have done what I could, but have failed more often than I know myself.” Thus, our own conscience stands against us all, accusing us and making us impure, even though we might look perfect in the world. For the conscience must take its cues from the Word that says: This you should have done or left undone. This Word it cannot avoid or answer; it must at least have doubts. Yet as soon as it doubts, it is already impure; for it does not stand firm before God, but wiggles and flinches. Therefore, we must here be helped by the chief part of our doctrine, namely, that our Lord Jesus Christ, sent by the Father into the world, suffered and died for us, thereby reconciling the Father to us and making him propitious. He now sits at the right hand of the Father and receives us as our Savior and intercedes for us as our constant Mediator and Intercessor.

St. Louis ed., 9:899-901.

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