Last week most of America celebrated Halloween. Our house did, too. Our kids spent weeks making their own costumes – most of which I didn’t even see until that snowy Halloween night.
But October 31st has another significance in history.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Thus began the Protestant Reformation.
When I was growing up I heard a little about the Reformation – mostly about how Martin Luther was persecuted for going against the Catholic church. At best I received a shallow description of the events leading up to and following the historic event of the 95 Theses (you can read these here).
I don’t really want to give you a history lesson on Luther – though I think learning about the climate leading up to his theses and understanding the conversation he was trying to start is a great thing to explore.
What I want to think about is the essence of his 95 Theses – that what he called for was a return to grace. His historic document was an invitation to grace – the grace clearly offered in the gospel – the grace he’d never been taught in his home church.
Luther spent a large part of his adult life struggling with fear over his eternal destiny, constantly striving to earn his way into heaven, he searched the scriptures for some hope and assurance. As he did so, God opened his heart to really hear Romans 1:17,
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.” Romans 1:16-17
The thought that righteousness came by faith (and not works or purchasing indulgences) was revolutionary in his day.
I think it is still revolutionary in ours.
It is easy to cast stones at the Catholic church for defining salvation and value based on works and indulgences, but I think we can get caught up in defining our worth by our works, too. Not only that, we often seek restitution rather than restoration. Perhaps that is our form of indulgences.
I think we need to be careful about how we handle the truth of history – especially as we seek to condemn those who promoted legalism and a false gospel, given that we are prone to the same offenses called by a different name.
But I also think we need to be careful about how we handle the truth of the gospel. The gospel says we are invited to grace.
The truth is we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9, Acts 15:11, Romans 3:24, Romans 9:16) through faith (John 3:16, Romans 3:28-30, Romans 4:3, Romans 5:1, Romans 9:30, Romans 10:9-10, Romans 11:6, Galatians 2:16, Galatians 2L21, Ephesians 1:13, Philippians 3:9). And any time we try to add works to the salvation equation, we strip God of his glory.
There is absolutely nothing we can add to grace to be saved. The only work we have for salvation is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way to solve our sin problem (John 6:28-29). And the beauty of even that work, is that it is a work of the Spirit, too (John 1:12-13, Phil 1:29, 2 Tim 2:25, Acts 13:48, Rom 9:15-18).
The grace found in knowing our faith and salvation are completely the work of God is that there is NO WAY we can mess it up. Talk about assurance!
There is freedom in that grace. There is freedom in knowing we don’t have to (and indeed, can’t) earn our way, because it means we cannot lose it.
I can’t tell you how many times growing up I “went down front” to make a decision or to renew a decision or to recommit to a decision for Christ. Like Luther, I longed for assurance of salvation. I was no more confident of my faith or the power of God to save me than Martin Luther was before his heart was really opened to the scripture – “the righteous shall live by faith.” I feared I hadn’t been sincere enough. Maybe my faith was smaller than a mustard seed. As long as that mustering of faith depended (in my mind) on me, I had no confidence that grace and salvation were mine.
The thing is, in the gospel we are not only invited to grace, but the One who extends the invitation gives us the faith to RSVP “yes.” We simply cannot mess it up.
As we leave Reformation Day 2014 behind us, let us walk away with full confidence that God can found an perfect our faith. Let us trust that he will continue to found and perfect our faith. And let’s live like he already has founded and perfected our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
And let our response to that grace, that gift of faith, that life breathed into us by God while we were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13) be one that lives out of that faith (James 2:14-26, 2 Peter 1:1-11).