HOW DO I FIND A GRACIOUS GOD?
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ (Romans 1:17 NIV quoting Habakkuk 2:4)
Yesterday, October 31, 2019, was Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Electorate of Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire. Why did Martin Luther nail his 95 theses on the door? What are the 95 theses?
To understand the answer, we must understand a practice in the Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s day and his quest in life. Rome practised the selling of “indulgences”, which apparently pardoned people from their sins. They wanted to build the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. Money had to be raised for it. Around 1515, Pope Leo X approved the selling of indulgences for this purpose. However, not all the people could afford to buy these indulgences. As a priest, many families would come to Luther and express their fear of the judgment of God as they could not afford to buy these indulgences. Even more so, what troubled Luther was burying children who died from illnesses when they belonged to families who could not afford to buy the indulgences.
This brings us to the quest in Martin Luther’s life. Martin Luther was also a university professor in the Biblical languages. He knew his Bible well. Yet the question that plagued him for most of his life before 1517 was this question; “how do I find a gracious God?” As he read the Bible and as he saw the practices of Rome, especially the practice of indulgences, he saw very little of the God of grace and forgiveness. He felt the very thing that tormented the people who came to him; the fear that they were under God’s judgment and condemnation.
Being a Bible scholar, he read the Bible in its original languages. As he read the Greek of Romans 1:17, these words jumped out at him: The righteous shall live by faith. Before he read this verse, the righteousness of God meant only the judgment of God to him. As these words jumped out at him, it dawned on him; the righteous shall live by faith not by works. In other words, paying for indulgences which constitutes “works”, does not guarantee any forgiveness of sins. We cannot do anything to secure our forgiveness of sins. We can only come to God by faith. This faith is not just an intellectual assent to an understanding of God’s grace. It is entrusting our lives in faith to a holy God who makes us righteous before his eyes. We live by faith and not by the payment of indulgences. We cannot earn our right to stand before God. It is by God’s grace and God’s grace alone that we can stand accepted as righteous before a holy God. When God sees our hearts of faith, not our payment for indulgences, God sends his Son who gives his life for us, to bring us into God’s presence. It is by our faith in the saving Son of God that we are accepted in God’s presence.
Being a theologian, Luther found 95 reasons to state that the practice of indulgences was wrong and could not be Biblically substantiated. He nailed his 95 theses to a church door at Wittenberg, the university town he lived in. The rest is history. Luther’s 95 theses sparked the Protestant Reformation which gave birth to a few denominational movements of which the Presbyterian Church in Canada is part of.
In 2017 we celebrated the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 theses on the church door. We did a Sunday series which focussed on the meaning of the 5 Latin slogans of the Protestant Reformation; Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus and Soli Deo Gloria.
I like to call myself a “Reformational Christian” who practises the values of Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Sola Scriptura (Scriptures alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone). It takes some time to explain my faith but it is worth it!