Have you ever heard the saying, “Rust never sleeps”? It’s a maxim used by bosses to help motivate employees, or quoted by entrepreneurs to characterize the work ethic required to start a business. It speaks to the amount of effort required to work effectively against the steady forces of chaos and entropy in the world around us. But strangely, this saying also reminds me of Martin Luther. How?
At the beginning of his career as a professor of biblical studies at Wittenberg University, Luther saw the Christian life as a fight against spiritual “rust.” He had been taught that human effort was required to place God under an obligation to reward the sinner with grace. So if his spiritual life was a shining silver dish, it was up to him to keep it from rusting, in order to earn God’s grace.
However, as you might imagine, this left him exhausted and deeply aware of his own unworthiness. In the same way that you can never actually stop rust for good, Luther began to realize that he could never out-work the depth of his own sin. This realization led him to the all-important question at the end of any works-based religious approach: what happens if nothing I do can possibly get me any closer to my eternal salvation?
The answer to this question radically changed Luther’s views, and led to his nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, an act that started the Reformation. That answer is beautifully worded by Paul in this verse: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).
The simple, beautiful truth of grace is that when God looks at us, he doesn’t see our “rust.” He sees only Christ, the righteousness of God. That righteousness, the same that becomes ours in relationship with the Triune God, never rusts. It is unaffected by time or decay, and unaffected by our own moral and personal failures. While rust might never sleep, it also doesn’t last forever. In Christ, we are promised an eternal future in heaven, “where neither moth nor rust destroys” (Matthew 6:19, ESV). That is the future Christ invites us freely into, and just like Luther, it’s one that I can’t wait to see!
I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of LIFE.