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In this brief clip from his teaching series Reformation Truths, Michael Reeves examines how works righteousness affected Luther's perception of God.
Now in Luther's day, it was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who summed it up, and whose message was so widespread. Aristotle said, "We become righteous by doing righteous deeds." We become righteous by doing righteous deeds, or we become just by doing just acts. It was a self-help "fake it till you make it" message. So, if you work at outward righteous acts and keep doing them, it claimed, you will actually become a righteous person. And for years Luther lived by the maxim "We become righteous by doing righteous deeds." As a monk, he desperately did all the righteous deeds he could imagine -- fasting, praying, pilgriming, monkery, and what he slowly came to realize was the dream of becoming truly righteous by some simple change of behavior was just that, an elusive dream holding its reward ever just out of reach. It consistently promised righteousness without delivering it, all the time exacting a heavier and heavier behavioral demand. In other words, by dangling the hope of becoming righteous before him, while repeatedly giving more deeds to do, that idea gradually enslaved him. Worse, while doing all those outward acts of righteousness he found it wasn't making him upright in heart, full of love for the Lord. Quite the opposite, as he's doing all these apparently he thinks righteous acts, he found resentment snowballing inside him for the God who demands so many deeds. Trying to sort himself out and become righteous by his own efforts was driving him deep into slavery, despair, and hatred of God.