On this day in 1555, two men were executed in the centre of Oxford. Their crime: believing that our salvation rests on the finished work of Christ, not on anything we do ourselves. Their punishment: to be burnt at the stake.
Amongst their dying words, these ones of Latimer’s are the most famous:
Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as (I trust) shall never be put out.
Latimer was vindicated: to this day, their Protestant faith has survived in the UK, lasting through persecution, civil war, opposition from outside, and false teaching from within. The faith that gave them courage to face an excruciating death is still alive today.
How often do we fall into believing those old, old lies: that our good works are what save us, not Christ?
When we sin, do we run to Jesus for forgiveness, or do we feel the need to earn it first? It’s so easy to think that we need to do something good to outweigh the bad before he’ll listen to us again. Easy, but deadly.
When we see someone else mess up, do we respond with grace, or do we feel good about ourselves because we didn’t fail? You know the kind of thoughts: “God must be more pleased with me; after all, I’m not as bad as that.”
No! The Protestant martyrs died defending the truth that nothing we do can make us acceptable to God. Whether we’ve had a fantastic day of walking in Christian freedom, or a shocking day feeling enslaved to sin, we would still be as far away from God as ever, if he had not come close to us. Jesus, King of the universe, stepped down, down even to death, in order to bring us up with him to his Father. He takes our sin, and gives us his perfect obedience. In him, we are as loved by the Father as he has been since eternity past.
How can we still think a quiet time is going to earn us extra credit? That it’ll make up for our daily rejection of Jesus? That we can somehow add to the perfect obedience of Christ?
The old, old lies are still around, too. But be of good comfort; God’s grace is the same as it ever was. Are you burdened with guilt? Run to Jesus, and he will forgive you. Are you proud of your holiness? Look to Jesus, and let him humble you. Do you feel distant from God? Come to Jesus, and let him bring you near.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Keep the candle burning.