We believe the gospel in our head, we can nod in affirmation with a sermon, and we can affirm the right books about it. Yet Martin Luther has been reminding me that to believe the gospel is the most difficult thing there is. We may believe it in our heads, but we don’t believe it fully, and we don’t believe it in our gut.
“I often say that so far as the words are concerned, this doctrine of faith is very easy… but so far as practice, life, and application are concerned, it is the most difficult thing there is” (Gal, 144).
Why is it so hard to believe? Because it’s counter-intuitive:
“It is difficult for reason to believe such inestimable blessings… It is impossible to understand and to believe fully, because all this is so contradictory to human reason” (Gal, 285, 290).
And it is especially hard to believe when we’re struggling with sin:
“For the words are easy; but in temptation it is the hardest thing possible to be surely persuaded in our hearts that we have the forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone” (Gal, 27)
We’re really hardly even in kindergarten with regard to our true understanding of it:
“I have studied, certainly with all diligence, and nevertheless have not completely grasped one single word of the entire Scripture. Therefore, I have still never developed beyond the level of children’s instruction. Who of all people understands these words of God completely and clearly, the way they must be understood: “Our Father, who art in heaven?” (OTR, 329).
Therefore, it is extremely dangerous to think that we’ve finally and fully ‘got it’:
“nothing is more detrimental than when one becomes confused and goes so far as to dream that he believes and understands the Gospel completely” (OTR, 384).
On the other hand, there are apparently two reasons why we should be thankful that we don’t yet fully believe the gospel, both of which point in one direction: We can’t handle the joy!:
“Someone asked: ‘Why doesn’t God reveal Himself completely to us?’ I answered: If one could believe it all, he would be so overcome with joy that he could not eat nor do anything. God wants to save mankind from that, so that the church will not collapse (OTR, 313).
“If one could only believe just as it is written, then one’s heart would explode for joy” (OTR, 436).
A short interview here.