Exalt Faith Most Highly

Lent 2 Sunday

John 3:1-2

“There was once a man among the Pharisees called Nicodemus, a leader among the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him: “Teacher, we know that you are a teacher who came from God. For no one can do the signs you do unless God is with him.””

The chapter is chiefly about the lofty article concerning faith in Christ, that we are justified before God by this faith alone. For you have often heard me say that the Christian life consists in these two parts, namely, in faith and then in good works, meaning that after faith we should be good and lead an outwardly good life. But the most important part is the first one, faith, and the second part is not as important, although the world thinks of it more highly and deems it to be more important than faith and prefers it to faith. The pope fell from faith and now promotes only good works, many of whom he has made up based on his own choice. This is also what Jews and Muslims did, drowning in good works. This is how the second part, good works, came to preeminence and greater appreciation in the world. Now, it is true that we should do good works, and good works are to be regarded highly. But see that you do not extol works at the expense of faith and Christ. For if the works are extolled too highly, they are turned into the greatest idolatry. In fact, they turn into the devil himself, as has happened in the papacy and Islam. For they exalt good works too highly and completely forget about faith in Christ. Accordingly, they do not boast or preach about God’s works, but their own good works. But we should exalt faith most highly and then teach good works. Faith must bring us to heaven without and before good
works. For we come to God by faith. The gospel of John teaches us all these things by the example of Nicodemus. Nicodemus is commended by the second part in that he is praised on account of his good works: He has lived a life of holiness and honesty in the world and observed the part concerning good works. But look how he goes about talking to Christ: He comes to Christ at night, being afraid of the other Jews, that is, the elders and high priests…Nicodemus brings with him a blameless life, discipline, honor, and obedience according to the law of Moses. He was a fine, disciplined, and honest councilor, as honest people should be in the civil government. Now, when he heard about the preaching and miracles, he is moved, comes to Christ, and wants to talk to him. He cannot tell his fellow councilors, lest he be severely
punished or at least be kicked out of the council or the city or be deprived of his possessions. For the elders in the people clung to the high priests…Considering himself blameless and a good man, he expects Christ to tell him: “Well, you are good; go forth and keep doing what you have been doing.” But something strange, a much different sermon is preached to him than what he expected–a sermon that makes his head spin, so that he does not know where to turn.

St. Louis ed., 7:1849-1851.

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