Dear Fellow Beloved,
500 years ago, Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, challenging the medieval Roman Catholic system of indulgences and the authority of the Pope to control Christ’s treasury of merit. Over the next several years, Luther’s think and writing would reflect a deeper realization of the extensive corruption of the Christian Church in the west.
The recent PBS documentary on Martin Luther put it that Luther was concerned with what makes someone a “good person.” While perhaps this is an over-simplification for the sake of the average TV viewer’s understanding of the issue, it’s a pretty good place to start. The problem every single one of us has is that we are conceived in sin. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5) Luther would later write about our problem in this way:
Here we must confess, as Paul says in Romans 5:12, that sin originated from one man, Adam. By his disobedience, all people were made sinners and became subject to death and the devil. This is called original or the chief sin. The fruit of this sin are the evil deeds that are forbidden in the Ten Commandments [Galatians 5:19–21]. These include unbelief, false faith, idolatry, being without the fear of God, pride, despair, utter blindness, and, in short, not knowing or regarding God. Also lying, abusing God’s name, not praying, not calling on God, not regarding God’s Word, being disobedient to parents, murdering, being unchaste, stealing, deceiving, and such. This hereditary sin is such a deep corruption of nature that no reason can understand it. Rather, it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture. (See Psalm 51:5; Romans 6:12–13; Exodus 33:3; Genesis 3:7–19.) (Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article I)
Luther, for the rest of his life, was entirely consumed with teaching, writing, and proclaiming the true solution to this problem. He pursued this through booklets, tracts, sermons, hymns, revisions of the Mass, letters, and countless trips throughout Saxony.
The solution Luther discovered, that which I strive to constantly teach you as your pastor, and that which we pray will always be heard in our congregation and in the Christian congregations throughout the world, is that Jesus Christ, our Lord, died for our sins, redeeming us from death, sin, and God’s wrath, and defeating death so that we would have eternal life as a free gift from God, received through faith alone.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
I love the way in which Luther humbly describes how it was in fact God who brought about the freedom of the Gospel in the Church. Truly God is the one who does all good things! Read how Luther described it, in his lovely, earthy way:
In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. (Luther’s Works, Volume 51, p. 78)
I hope that this same confidence can be ours. Lord grant it for the sake of Jesus Christ! Amen.
God bless you all this month. Please plan to attend the special greater-Springfield area Reformation 500 Service at Good Shepherd on Sunday, October 22nd, at 4:30 p.m. Rev. Daniel Preus will be our guest preacher that afternoon. There’s much else going on, as usual. You are in my prayers, and I certainly ask that I be in yours.