One of the facets of Lutheran theology that I greatly appreciate is the belief that a Christian’s imperfection in the realm of sanctification and new obedience does not negate his saintly standing with God by faith. It is true that where there is genuine faith in the Lord, a holy life full of good works is bound to follow. We call these the “fruits of faith” or “fruit in keeping with repentance.” However, this fruit will always, in this life, be an imperfect fruit. The Christian will not perfectly fulfill the whole Law of God, even though he is regenerate. The Christian who sees this imperfection in himself should not despair or think that God will reject him on account of it, but rather he should take hold of those passages of Scripture that speak of God’s patience and kindness towards human weakness. My father confessor has often spoken the words to me from Psalm 103:13-14: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. He knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust.” I have always found great comfort in these words. I am weak. What can I say? Even as a baptized Christian my thoughts and desires are still soiled with sin. Where I have managed, by God’s grace, to take control over some of my vices and sins, I have done so only with much weakness.
I think that the biggest fault of the Pharisees was that they lacked compassion and pity. They did not understand or make any allowances for human weakness. This is also why they so despised and rejected Jesus. He was not, in their eyes, zealous for God’s Law like they were. I have found this same thing to be true of members of the church who have never really struggled with a particular vice or sin, but have generally led (at least outwardly) moral lives from childhood on up to adulthood. They are always much more horrified by everyone else’s sin than their own. They simply do not understand human weakness. They think that if a person is a believer, they ought to show this in their lives. Period. They feel no pity or compassion for people who struggle with vices or sins. They would not have cared for Jesus.
Christ’s words about removing the plank from our own eyes tell me that I should be more horrified about my own sins than those of everyone else, that I should see myself as a much worse sinner than my neighbor. He does not tell us to remain silent about other peoples’ sins, but cautions us against speaking to them without a strong sense of our own inadequacy. They are a reminder that when we correct others, we should do so with a sense of pity and compassion towards them, as our heavenly Father has shown towards us in Christ.
I do not think that we ought to use this as an excuse to sin. No doubt some do try to excuse their sins by saying things like, “Well, God will forgive me,” or, “God understands human weakness.” Clearly this is not what is meant. However, the Christian who struggles to live a life that is God-pleasing but continually comes up short of the mark, it is a source of comfort to know that our acceptance by God is not based on the strength or the fruits of our repentance. It is always and forever based solely on the merits of Christ, on account of which God is gracious towards sinners. In short, it is not to our sanctification that we turn when we are troubled by our sins, but to the doctrine of Justification, to the forgiveness of sins, to the cross, to our baptism. This is where we find comfort in the midst of our weakness.
To any soul who wishes he or she could be more faithful, more obedient, more patient in bearing crosses, more kind and selfless towards others, but constantly comes up short, I urge you to meditate on the pity and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ, who can certainly sympathize with our weaknesses, since he was in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin. God be merciful to you, and strengthen your faith.