Last Monday was the 505th anniversary of Reformation Day, the historic moment when Martin Luther nailed the famous 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg where he served as priest and lecturer at the university.
Luther thought the Theses were a reasonable protest to the Pope over the sale of indulgences in Germany. Nailing academic arguments on the door was a common practice in those days – the equivalent of writing a blog post! But instead it catalysed a movement that swept across Europe. Luther wasn’t the first to protest in this way, but it was this event that sparked the flame that was a long-time coming.
What caused Luther and others to turn against the Roman Catholic Church? Simply put, they began reading their Bibles! As Luther read the Scriptures in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek he discovered that the “gospel” that Rome was proclaiming was not the true Biblical gospel of free and full forgiveness in the death of Jesus on the cross which anyone can receive by faith; ie by simply trusting Jesus. Luther, as professor of theology, had begun teaching his students what the Bible actually said. The more he read in order to teach, the more he himself was gripped by the glorious gospel of grace.
One of those books that Luther gave lectures on was Galatians, which we have recently studied together at church. Galatians, as you will remember, emphasises that there is only one gospel that can save – not a gospel of works (things that we need to do) but one of faith in Jesus and his death and resurrection. I can think of no better way to show you just how transformed Luther was by Galatians than to let him use his own words (Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, chapter 3).
“The heart of man finds it difficult to believe that so great a treasure as the Holy Ghost is gotten by the mere hearing of faith. The hearer likes to reason like this: Forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death, the gift of the Holy Ghost, everlasting life are grand things. If you want to obtain these priceless benefits, you must engage in correspondingly great efforts. And the devil says, “Amen.”
We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ, and the Holy Ghost, are freely granted unto us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God freely to give us His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness? Why not accept gifts with joy and thanksgiving?
Right away foolish reason is once more offended. It scolds us. “When you say that a person can do nothing to obtain the grace of God, you foster carnal security. People become shiftless and will do no good at all. Better not preach this doctrine of faith. Rather urge the people to exert and to exercise themselves in good works, so that the Holy Ghost will feel like coming to them.” What did Jesus say to Martha when she was very “careful and troubled about many things” and could hardly stand to see her sister Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, just listening? “Martha, Martha,” Jesus said, “thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” A person becomes a Christian not by working, but by hearing.
The first step to being a Christian is to hear the Gospel. When a person has accepted the Gospel, let him first give thanks unto God with a glad heart, and then let him get busy on the good works to strive for, works that really please God, and not man-made and self-chosen works.”
David Ould / Senior Associate Minister
St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Parramatta
PRAY: Lord God, heavenly Father, you did not spare your only Son, but gave him up for us all to be our Saviour, and along with him you have graciously given us all things. We thank you for your precious, saving gospel, and we pray that you would help us to believe in the name of our Saviour faithfully and steadfastly, for he alone is our righteousness and wisdom, our comfort and peace, so that we may stand on the day of his appearing; through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, our Lord. Amena prayer by Martin Luther
Join us this Sunday for our Sunday services. We meet at 8am, 9:30am, 11am and 5pm at the Cathedral – and online at 11am. Check out out Sunday services page for more information on our face-to-face services.