Tag Archives: Reformation
On the eve of All Saints’ Day, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. His purpose behind this wasn’t to start a new church named after him. The whole purpose behind the 95 Theses was to reform the Church and restore it to the teachings of the Scriptures. His sole purpose was to have the Church teach from the Scriptures and from the Scriptures alone.
As Paul begins this portion of his letter to the Romans, he addresses it to all of the Church. He is writing it to himself, the teachers of Christ and all of Christendom. As Paul speaks of the Law, he speaks of the purpose of it: to bring us to the full realization of our sin and the saving work of Jesus Christ. The Law speaks for everyone, not just the Jew but also the Gentile, the slave and the free. The Law makes us accountable to God. It points out our sin and our utter dependence upon the work of Christ and not that of ourselves.
Paul moves on to a very important point regarding the Law when he continues, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight….” For Luther, this was one of the striking teachings of the Church that was contrary to the Scriptures. The Church taught on account of the work of Jesus plus the good works that a person does, they will inherit eternal life, following time in purgatory, of course. Most people think that good people go to heaven or that being good will get you into heaven. If there is such a place called heaven, then we’ll all be there because we’re pretty good people. We’re not perfect, but we’re not horrible either. God doesn’t require us to be pretty good people. God requires us to be perfect people. This is what Luther was trying to attain in one way or another. He sought to confess all of his sins. He tried to do all that was required by the Law in order to be saved. In the end, Luther couldn’t be perfect. He couldn’t be pretty good. He realized exactly who he was: a sinner in need of Christ’s forgiveness. It would be on account of Christ and His work that would save Luther, nothing that Luther could do himself. The same holds true for you and me as well. Nothing that we can do will make us any holier in the eyes of God. Nothing that we can do will earn us one ounce of salvation.
Paul reveals a truth that many do not want to hear and most certainly do not want to acknowledge: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” We have missed the mark. God shows no favoritism in dealing with sinners. Those who are disobedient, that is, all of mankind, are under His wrath. Everyone receives the same punishment for their sins: death. No matter how you try to get around the issue, you are a sinner and you deserve nothing but death for your sins.
Praise be to God that Paul doesn’t leave us with the heavy-handedness of God’s wrath. What a miserable existence we would have if we were left solely to God’s wrath and judgment. Paul goes on to tell us that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….” You have your salvation by God’s gift to you that comes in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ.
As we celebrate the festival of the Reformation today, we are reminded of what was at stake during this time. What was at stake was God’s Word. What was at stake was the salvation of the people. The Church at the time of Luther taught God’s Word plus the teaching of man. It was the teaching of man that worked against the Word. Man’s teaching tainted God’s Word. Man’s teaching confused God’s Word. Man’s teaching changed God’s Word. Man’s teaching contradicted God’s Word. If there is anyone who should be adhering to God’s Word, it should be the Church. Unfortunately, this was the one place where it was not.
As Paul teaches here in Romans, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” the Church taught that your salvation was found in the works of Christ and the good works that you do as well. Your salvation was found in the indulgences that you bought that would earn you time out of purgatory.
Only one could be right: God’s Word or the word man. That’s what the Reformation was about – a return to God’s Word as the authority for our faith. Everything that we have has been given to us. We have been granted salvation because of Christ. We have been declared righteous because of Christ. We have been ransomed and the ransom price was Christ’s blood shed for us. This is how God declares us to be not guilty, by the blood of Jesus and not by our works.
When Luther wanted to know what the true means of salvation was, he kept going back to the Scriptures, namely Ephesians 2:8-9 which said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is God who declares a sinner not guilty of sin. Free of sin, guilt, and punishment, the acquitted can enter the joys of heaven. This is a result of Christ and Christ alone. It is not the result of any works that we do, good, bad, or otherwise. Luther went back to the Scriptures and found that the answer to our salvation was singular and not plural. The answer was Christ. The answer is Christ. The answer will always be Christ. It is the righteousness of God through faith in Christ Jesus that saves and not the works that a person does or does not do.
There is nothing that any of us can do to gain heaven. Salvation is entirely a gift of God. A gift is something freely given, which the giver expects no payment in return. The Roman Catholic Church wanted to put a price tag on that salvation by indulgences and works. As we read the Scriptures, there is only one price tag for our salvation and that is the blood of Christ. It is the price that was to be paid for a gift that was to be freely given.
When one hears the teaching of the Church at Luther’s time, how could one accept it? How could you accept that God sent His very Son to take on human form, to live a sinless life, to die for your sinful life so that you may receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, BUT in order to receive all of this, YOU have to do something to earn it! That is not a gift! That is something that which you earn yourself. That’s not what the Scriptures teach. Unfortunately, that thinking is still well and live within Christendom today.
Salvation, by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as found in Scripture alone, is the basis of our daily Christian life because that is what the Word of God teaches. The Reformation and the work of Luther was nothing more than opening the eyes of God’s people to His holy Word so we may see that this wonderful gift of faith is ours, not because of what you and I do, but it is ours solely because of what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has done for us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon today comes from the Epistle, which was read earlier.
“Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word.” These are words which we will sing at the end of the service. In 1541 Martin Luther wrote this hymn. In his day the true light of the Gospel had been hidden by the shroud of false teaching. The Bible had become a bit of a relic. Only one copy of the Bible existed in the town: chained to the altar of the church. Few people could read it. Even if you were capable of reading it, you were too simple-minded to understand what it really said. You needed someone to interpret the Scriptures for you. That’s where the Roman Catholic Church came in. They were the “only” ones capable of understanding the Scriptures. Their priests were trained on how to interpret the Scriptures, according to the word of the Pope. Ultimately, it was the Pope’s interpretation of Scripture that determined how Scripture would be taught.
That changed on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” or what we know as the “Ninety-Five Theses,” on the church door at Wittenburg. The background to Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses centers on agreements within the Roman Catholic Church regarding baptism and absolution. They also offer a view on the validity of indulgences, remissions of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. They also view with great cynicism the practice of indulgences being sold, and thus the penance for sin representing a financial transaction rather than genuine contrition. Luther’s theses argued that the sale of indulgences was a gross violation of the original intention of confession and penance, and that Christians were being falsely told that they could find absolution through the purchase of indulgences.
Luther took a stance on something which had come under debate, something which should have never come under debate: Holy Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church had taken Scripture and misinterpreted what Scripture said or did not say. One of the largest issues which Luther took head on was the doctrine of justification, or how a person is saved. According to the Roman Catholic Church, a person was saved by Christ and their works. Luther, in searching throughout the Scriptures, could not find the basis of that teaching. The teaching which Luther could find came from Ephesians 2 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Luther could not find that teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and for Luther, he was convinced of one thing and one thing only – Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide; saved by Scripture alone, saved by grace alone, and saved by faith alone. Luther and the other reformers turned solely to God’s own Word. Their answers were not made up to make everyone feel good, nor were they guided by what most people believed, even if those beliefs were false. Instead, the Reformation answers were to stand on Scripture alone.
In looking at our text for today, we see something that is clear as day if you take the Word of God as truth: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….” Here we have another sola of the Reformation presented so clearly: Sola Gratia or grace alone.
Paul is clear in the book of Romans how all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. But that’s not the last word. Scripture adds that righteousness comes from God, that we are justified freely by God’s grace through Jesus Christ, gifted with a new status: righteousness, free of all guilt before God because of Jesus Christ. Being right with God is His doing. Grace alone saves us. God reaches down with His amazing, unmerited grace and makes our relationship with Him right and good. Nothing of our own do we bring; only His unmerited love for us in Jesus, and Him alone, gives us the righteousness that we need for eternal life. We see the outstretched hands of Jesus that have nail marks in them. He hung on a cross to restore a right relationship between God and us. Eternal life comes from His death, and certainty comes from His resurrection. Jesus welcomes people with His loving, open arms because the grave could not hold Him. Death had no lasting power over Him. Only Christ our Savior can guarantee that life after death will bring heaven instead of hell, a loving Father instead of Satan.
Christ alone is the Reformation’s answer, the Bible’s answer, and God’s answer to those questions of righteousness and certainty. And faith alone holds onto Jesus, onto God’s grace in Him. Our faith stands on Scripture alone, grace alone, Christ alone. And this Reformation certainty about God’s righteousness in Jesus still matters.
When we look at the Reformation, we need to understand that it was not about starting a new denomination. It wasn’t about a new church that would bear his name. It was about Christ. It was about the Scriptures. It was about faith. It was about grace. Luther tried and tried to “do enough” in his life and the more he tried, the more he failed. Luther saw in the book of Romans how off the mark he really was: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Far from earning God’s declaration of righteousness, the law only produced for Luther a clear knowledge of how far he had missed the mark of the holiness God really demanded. What was the answer to Luther’s problem of not being able to do enough to find favor in God’s sight? Again, looking at the book of Romans, looking at the Scriptures, Luther found his answer: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” This is why Luther could never do enough. It’s because he couldn’t. It’s because we can’t do it. It’s because Jesus has done it for us. Jesus lived the sinless life for us because we couldn’t. This was the answer Luther needed. This is the answer that we all need: God’s righteousness is ours, not by works, but by faith.
Here is the Sola Fide – faith alone. It is faith alone in Jesus Christ that saves. It’s not our faith plus something else. Whenever you have grace and or grace but, faith and or faith but, then you no longer have grace alone and faith alone. It is by what God has done for us through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ that gives to us salvation and nothing else. We as Christians perform good works, but it is not our works that save. Our good works are our response to what God has done for us. They are for the benefit of our neighbor. What Luther was arguing against the Roman Catholic Church was the teaching that faith plus works could save. God declares a sinner not guilty of sin. This is the result of Christ and Christ alone. It is not the result of good works which we do. If our salvation hinged on the good works we do, when would enough be enough? Luther repeatedly went back to Scripture and the answer was singular, not plural. The answer was Christ and Christ alone, just as Paul says: “righteousness from God come through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Here is another sola that we need to keep at the forefront of Christianity: Sola Christus, Christ alone, for it is Christ alone who has atoned for the sins of the world, for you and for me, and it is Christ alone which brings everlasting life.
Salvation, by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, as found in Scripture alone, is the sole source of our forgiveness and the privilege of being called children of God. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.
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Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation. For why was it necessary for him to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions? Accordingly you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works. Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours.
Luther’s Works(AE) v. 48:12-13
Since today is the day celebrating the Reformation, I thought that I would include Luther’s famous words from the Diet at Worms.