How many fingers…?

The law says, “do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.
— Martin Luther

There aren’t many movies from my childhood that hold up. I’ve tried watching several late 80s/early 90s films with my kids, only to have them quickly lose interest… or to be totally ashamed of what I once thought was cool. 

(Ahem… Space Jam.)

But I was pleasantly surprised when the family gathered round recently to watch The Mighty Ducks. Yes, it’s campy, complete with feel-good roller blade sequences and token representatives of minority communities. But it was genuinely fun, and it did my soul some good to watch my kids leap up and cheer when Charlie scored the winning goal in the final scene. 

In one scene, a player is hit in the head with a hockey puck. While lying on the ice, Coach Gordon Bombay rushes over and asks, “How many fingers am I holding up?” (To which Goldberg the goalie replies, “He wouldn’t know that anyway.”)

  "How many fingers am I holding up?"

"How many fingers am I holding up?"

Grace Alone and Seeing Straight

When it comes to the truth about God and ourselves, it seems like our culture has been hit in the head with a hockey puck. We’re dazed, bewildered, unable to see straight. We’re trying to figure out who God is, who we are, what the truth is, but we can’t quite make it out. It may be true that we “wouldn’t know that anyway,” but it’d be a lot easier if the picture weren’t moving around. 

In the teaching of the Reformation, grace alone goes hand in hand with faith alone. In order to understand faith alone, we have to understand that we cannot earn God’s favor by our works. In order to understand grace alone, we have to see ourselves clearly. We have to focus in on what Scripture teaches about our sinfulness and our need before a holy God. 

In order to understand grace alone, we have to see ourselves clearly.

Who better than our friend Martin Luther to play Emilio Estevez and ask, “how many fingers am I holding up?” 

  Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther as Emilio Estevez?

Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther as Emilio Estevez?

Beating the Gospel into Our Heads

Luther was a firm believer in our inability to please God. Our sinfulness makes us wholly incapable of earning His love. 

The law says, “do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.

Law is about doing. Grace is about receiving the righteousness of Christ for us. We can’t do what the law requires. 

No man can make any advance towards righteousness by his works.

This last quote is from his landmark book, The Bondage of the Will, in which he argued against one of the leading thinkers of the day, Erasmus of Rotterdam, who said we could please God by doing what lies within us. To this, Luther gave a resounding, “No!” Using the example of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he wrote, 

But look at the endeavor whereby he found grace! Not only did he not seek grace, but he received it through his own mad fury against it!

Later he writes,

[G]race is given freely to the undeserving and utterly unworthy, and is not attained by any of the efforts, endeavors, or works, small or great, of even the best and most upright men who seek and follow after righteousness with flaming zeal.

We can’t see straight because we're broken by sin. Grace alone can set us right and heal us. And to set our vision right, we need God to hit us over the head with His grace: 

Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.