By Scott Keith –
Look at me! It’s cliché. In our age full of social media, selfies, and self-aggrandizement, we all want people to look at us. We want to be noticed. We want to be famous, if even for 15 seconds. We want the world to love us. It starts when we are young and just learning to do this or that, and we yell out to mom and dad, “look at me,” and it only gets worse from there.
It is the way of our fallen hearts. As sinners, we are, as the reformers described, incurvitus in se, or turned in on ourselves. We truly are perpetually navel-gazing. This realization, that is, a reclaimed and definite doctrine of sin was one of the major rediscoveries of the Reformation. Drawing on insights from Augustine, in his earlier commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Luther tells us that man is, “so curved in upon himself that he uses not only physical but even spiritual goods for his own purposes and in all things, seeks only himself.” (Luther’s Works, vol. 25, p. 345)
Asking people to “look at us,” is only one way that being turned in on ourselves shows itself. We continually sin against others. We regularly put our own will before God’s. But most of all, we think that the good things we do either earn God’s favor in some way or, perhaps more frequently, show God how much we appreciate Him. We think that we can either: 1) earn God’s favor so that He will save us, or 2) earn His favor after He has saved us. Thus, like a broken record we proclaim, “look at me!”
We tend to focus, even once saved, on fulfilling God’s Law. We know that we could not earn God’s favor before our salvation, yet we think that we surely can get him to notice that we are a little better at fulfilling the Law now that we are saved. We fail to remember the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” (Isaiah 54:6)
Here is the bad news, we cannot, we will not, even as Christians, fulfill the Law of God. As Paul says: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) In other words, no matter how often we say to God, “look at me,” when He does, He will only see the truth. God will see that we are not fulfilling His will, His Law. Telling God to look at us only provides God one more opportunity to see how dirty we really are.
We need to stop asking the Law to make things better. We need to stop believing that it will turn bad people into good. We need to stop relying on the Law to change behavior, either our own or our children’s. The Law, even if it does change some behavior, will only do so in the short term. If we want real change, real love, we need to realize that only the Gospel––the Word of Christ’s death and resurrection for you and all people––can accomplish real, long-term, and lasting change. By the power of the Holy Spirit and for the sake of Christ, only the Gospel saves and changes the heart.
So, does this mean that the Law is bad? Again, here we listen to the words of the Apostle Paul: “Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” (Romans 7:7) So then, the Law is not bad, but neither does it produce good works––the fruits of the spirit––in us or obedience to God or His Law. (FC, SD, 5&6) To say this another way, the Law does not help us when we say to God, “look at me.”
Nor are Christians exempt from hearing the proclamation of the Law. We Christians constantly struggle against our sinful nature which stubbornly clings to us. The Old-Adam in us needs to hear the Law of God in order that he may be reminded of God’s will, and so that will of the Old-Adam in us be subdued. (FC, SD, 3) The Old-Adam needs to be killed in us by the proclamation of the Law so that the new man can be constantly brought to life by the power of the Gospel so that we surrender ourselves captive to the Spirit. (Romans 6:12) This is what it means to be simul iustus et peccator, at the same time saved saint and sinner.
What we need, what we pray for, what we trust in, is that when God looks at us, He sees Christ standing in our place. He sees His Only Son who loved us, lived the perfect life in our stead, died the death on the cross paying the price for us, gave us His righteousness and took on our unrighteousness.
Christ set us free from sin, death, and the power of the Devil. Christ set us free from the curse of the Law and our own attempts to save ourselves through it. Christ is the end of the Law for us. (Romans 10:4) This does not mean that as Christians we no longer need to hear the Law. It means that the Law has no power to save, and it never has. For if Christ alone saves, then nothing else does. It says that the Law was given to show us our sin. It means that Christ is sufficient and we are insufficient. It means the intent of the Law was never to supplant Christ. It means that Christ did not come as the second Moses. It says the Law shows us God’s will, thus revealing the depth of our sin. That same Law, because we stand in Christ, has no power to coerce or curse us. (FC, SD, 2)
You, dear Christian friend, stand in Christ alone. You need not cry out for God to look at you in all the glory of your works, your filthy rags. Rather, you cry out to God, “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” (Psalm 51:9) We pray, “Lord God heavenly Father, please when you cast your gaze in my direction see Christ standing in my place.” Just as we look to Christ as our only hope for salvation, we pray that God looks at Christ rather than at our feeble attempts to save ourselves through the Law. In other words, don’t look at me, look at Christ!
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen!