For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written,“The righteous shall live by faith.”
Tuesday, October 31, 2017, marked the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Reformed churches around the globe are celebrating, including New Covenant. But what exactly is the “Reformation”? Why is it important for you and me? Should we be interested at all, since there are so many who are not in our culture today? If someone were to ask you what the Reformation was, and they only allowed you ten seconds to answer, here’s what you could say: “The Reformation was a reclaiming of the centrality of truth found in the gospel of grace and justification in Jesus Christ.” A man in the 1500s realized that the church had severely strayed from these truths, and something needed to be done. Standing on the foundation of John Huss and John Wycliff (forerunners to the Reformation), Martin Luther declared that “the church stands on justification and if this article collapses, the church collapses.” What does justification mean for you and me? Justification is an act of God’s free grace, by which He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness that Christ has imputed to us, which we have received by faith in Christ alone.
Read Romans 3 sometime today and try to convince me, yourself, your family—whoever it may be—that we can save ourselves due to our sinful, fallen hearts. Yes, the gospel is offensive because we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking we either don’t need it, or that we can personally do something to save our souls. The churches of Europe in Martin Luther’s day had convinced the common people that they could “buy their way out of damnation” with the practice of indulgences. An indulgence was a monetary pass on the eternal consequences of sin. Pay a price, receive redemption. This has never been the case for the gospel. The case for Christ is much greater: His atoning and redeeming work on the cross and His resurrection.
Let’s talk about Martin Luther for a moment, remembering that he was a sinner, just like you and me. Luther was born on November 10, 1483, to a peasant family in Saxony, Germany. His father was Hans Luther and his mother, Gretha Luther. He lived a normal life under strict parents and at age 18, he entered the University of Erfurt. It was at university where he first came across a copy of the Bible, allowing him to read scripture for the first time. There were many stories that captivated Luther, but above all, the calling of Samuel into ministry spoke to him. By age 22, he had completed his course of study and sought out admission to an Augustinian monastery. Luther was accepted and became an exemplary monk. Luther struggled to do everything he could to be perfect, stating that “to gain salvation, I sacrificed everything.” But even with his lifestyle, he couldn’t find peace. He wrestled with numerous passages in the Bible regarding the salvation of his soul from sin. Through much Biblical study, he realized that it was only by faith alone that one could be saved, and not by his own good works: “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17, Habakkuk 2:4).
With this revelation, Luther longed to preach on justification by faith in an ever-darkening and convoluted theological world. By the early 1500s, St. Peter’s Cathedral of Rome had begun to seriously err in its practice of selling indulgences, led by a monk named John Tetzel of Leipzig. Tetzel would do anything necessary to make a “sale’ for the day, notoriously saying that if a sinner bought an indulgence, it would make them “cleaner than Adam before the Fall.” Luther was outraged at how much influence Tetzel had through his false teaching. Luther was adamant about the sale of indulgences to save one’s soul was nowhere in Scripture, so in response, he wrote 95 theses, commenting on the evil practices of the church. On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed them to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. This single event was the spark that started the Reformation! The following day, multitudes of people were drawn to see the 95 theses. The theses were read, copied, printed, and distributed all over Germany and Europe. The Pope, Leo X, demanded that Luther recant his words and sent Cardinal Cajetan to Germany so that Luther would deny his writings. The Cardinal demanded that Luther correct his “errors” by saying one word: “recant.” Luther could not and would not do this. As months passed by, Luther was declared a “stubborn and dangerous heretic” by Rome, and ultimately, the Pope excommunicated him from the Roman Catholic Church. An order was decreed to burn all his writings in the entirety of Europe. On April 17, 1521, Luther was summoned to recant all his beliefs at the Diet of Worms. Here’s what Luther said in response: “Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scriptures; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. So help me God.”
After the Diet of Worms, Luther was allowed to go back home. He was officially banned from the “Empire of Rome” and declared an outlaw. Anyone who hosted Luther from this point on could turn him in for treason if they so desired. With the help of his friends, Luther went into hiding during which time he translated the entire New Testament into German – the only translations at the time being the Latin Gutenberg Bible and the German Mentel Bible, which wasn’t translated from the original languages and some of it, incomprehensible. He wrote his first German translation of the New Testament in only 11 weeks – a remarkable pace, even today. In 1525, he married a former nun, Catherin von Bora. They faithfully loved one another and the Lord, Luther even nicknaming her “dear rib”, an allusion to Genesis 2:21. They enjoyed a blissful marriage together and had six children.
During his lifetime, Luther wrote over 30 hymns, and over 70 theological works and Biblical commentaries before his death on February 18, 1546. He was buried at Wittenberg Chapel, the same church that he nailed his 95 theses just 29 years before. After Luther’s death, the Reformation continued to spread across Germany and Europe, eventually finding its way to America through Francis Mackamie in 1706. So why does the work of Martin Luther and the Reformation matter to us today?
Sometime this week, open your Bible and read 2 Timothy, Chapter 4. In 1 and 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul is writing to his apprentice, Timothy, who was the first pastor of the church in Ephesus. He was extremely young for a pastor, most likely in his early 20’s (some scholars even say 19), and useful for ministry in many ways. His task was to be a solo pastor in a world quickly losing sight of Jesus - and this was less than 30 years after Jesus had ascended into heaven! Now, almost 2,000 years later from the times of 2 Timothy, listen to these words from Chapter 4 to see if they relate to us today (and yes, they do relate): “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, he was addressing the same issues that Paul addressed to Timothy. These same issues have come full circle today in 2017: certain denominations denying the existence and validity of the Trinity, praying to foreign gods and calling them “one in the same”, teaching that mankind can obtain perfection while in this lifetime, unrepentant sinners practicing ungodly lifestyles allowed to be teachers of the Word – the list goes on and on, and not for the better. In honor of celebrating 500 years of being reformed and staying true to the teachings of the Bible and the gospel of grace found in Jesus, we pay homage to Martin Luther and many other Reformers this month by remembering two key verses of the Reformation: Romans 1:16-17 and Ephesians 2:8-10.
Let’s talk about Romans 1:16-17 first. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”” Luther understood what it meant to “Stand up, stand up for Jesus” as the familiar hymn tune goes. He wasn’t afraid of man. Isaiah the prophet tells us in Isaiah 2 that man is only “wind going through nostrils, of what account is he?” We live in a world that has strayed away from the gospel, chasing after its own desires as 2 Timothy 4 teaches us. Luther knew that the church was chasing after myths, legend, relics, and idols – he knew that the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our Rock and Savior was gone. Because Luther spoke up and wasn’t ashamed of the gospel 500 years ago, over 200 million people TODAY claim to be “Reformed.” Are you ashamed of the gospel? The gospel is not just the good news found in Jesus Christ for the purchasing and salvation of our souls, but it’s also Jesus’ announcement of victory over the evil one, Satan, and the biggest villain of all that He had to die for: SIN.
The second verse is Ephesians 2:8-10. “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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Luther reprimanded the church for doing everything it could to trick the common man into thinking they had to buy their salvation through indulgences. The hope of the gospel is that Jesus justifies us, making us worthy through FAITH alone in Him alone. If we truly believe, we respond to the gospel and do everything we can to “die to sin and live to righteousness.” We’re only WORTHY because of the atoning work on the Cross of Jesus. The Holy Spirit calls out to us from the darkness and gives us the ability to say, “I believe,” while in return, Jesus says, “follow me” for “we have been crucified with him, it is no longer us who live, but Christ who lives in us, who loved us and gave himself up for us,” Galatians 2:20. We become a new creation – our identity is in Him and we are labeled “children of God” as 1 John in the New Testament tells us, which is the best title you could ever ask for, without ever deserving it.
The Reformation and its continuing work matters to us because the Bible is our ultimate authority. Praise the Lord that our church is built on the firm foundation of the holy, inerrant, infallible, and unchanging Word of God!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.