Martin Luther’s Favorite Text

“The righteous will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

Writer Frank Boreham invites us to visit two European libraries. The first, in Erfurt, Germany, displays a famous painting of  Martin Luther as a young Augustinian monk. In the painting it is early morning and the sunlight beams through a window lattice. The young scholar is poring over the scriptures from which a broken chain is hanging. The light rests on the words, “The just shall live by faith.”

In the second library, under a glass case, lies the manuscript of a letter by Dr. Paul Luther, the youngest son of Martin Luther. It reads: “In the year 1544 my late dearest father, in the presence of us all, narrated the whole story of his journey to Rome. He acknowledged with great joy that in that city, through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, he had come to the knowledge of the truth of the everlasting gospel. It happened in this way. As he repeated his prayers on the Lateran staircase, the words of the prophet Habakkuk came suddenly to his mind: ‘The just shall live by faith!’ Thereupon he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg and took this as the chief foundation for all his doctrine.”

Frank Boreham wrote: “This text made Martin Luther and the text that made Luther made history with a vengeance.” He was converted and given assurance that he was saved by faith in Christ alone. When that happened God changed the humble priest working in a small German city, into the mighty reformer who changed the course of world history. “It was as though all the windows of Europe had been suddenly thrown open, and the sunshine came streaming in everywhere,” wrote Boreham.

“The text that made Martin Luther” is repeated three times in the New Testament as the underpinning for the doctrine of justification by faith. It is quoted in Romans 1:17 to support Paul’s teaching on the righteousness of God as a free gift of faith. It is quoted in Galatians 3:11 to emphasize how believers are to live under grace and not under legalism. Hebrews 10:38 quotes the Habakkuk text to introduce the priority of faith, “But my righteous one will live by his faith.

This text, echoed three times in the New Testament was echoed three times in the experience of Martin Luther. At Wittenberg, as a young priest he was heartbroken over his sins. In his cell, he would rise early in the morning to study. He encountered Romans 1:17 with fascination. Later he wrote, “This means that eternal life is the gift of faith.”

Years passed. He traveled to the Benedictine Convent at Bologna, across the Alps. He was very sick. fever left him deranged, depressed, and in fear of death. Visions of hell and judgment terrified him. At the very moment his terrors reached their highest pitch, the Holy Spirit brought to his mind the phrase, “The just shall live by faith.” Boreham wrote that Luther was comforted, restored and was able to resume his journey.

At Rome he was seeking to do penance for his sins. The Pope had issued a decree that all who would ascend the Lateran Staircase on their knees would be issued an indulgence (a certificate of release from Purgatory). Luther thought that he could perform this meritorious act to appease God’s wrath. So  this good Saxon monk crept painfully up the stairs thinking that his pain and blood would satisfy God’s justice. He had been taught that by torturing himself in this way that he could turn away God’s judgment.

While he was doing this, the words of Habakkuk 2:4 came to mind again, “The just shall live by faith.” According to the stories, Luther got up off his knees believing that he was not saved by religious merit or acts of devotion, no matter how well-intended. He was saved completely and entirely by faith in the merit and worth of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross.

Boreham quoted Luther: “When by the Spirit of God I understood these words — ‘The just shall live by faith! The just shall live by faith!’ — then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God!. . . In very truth this text was to me the true gate of Paradise!”

(From the book, A Frank Boreham Treasury, edited by Peter F. Gunther)

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Responding to Unpleasant Realities

I have been experiencing some health-related complications. I’m having to adjust to some new and unpleasant realities and the adjustments are not easy. As one who has been blessed with good health for most of my 77 years, I admit I am spoiled. I am strongly “tempted to complain, to murmur, and despair,” as the old song says.

But then, I read about the sufferings of the apostle Paul, as I did the other day. My momentary, light afflictions are minuscule compared to his. He described  being repeatedly threatened, beaten, starved, shipwrecked, and imprisoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). In these verses you can read about the multiplied dangers to which he was subjected in his missionary labors. By comparison, my troubles are but minor inconveniences.

Yet they are my troubles and I must learn how to cope with them. I want to do that in a way that pleases God and does not diminish my testimony as a Christian. I have been learning to do a few things to help me respond Christianly to life’s difficulties.

I have found myself reviewing and reciting promises God has given his people for times such as I am facing. One such promise is 1 Peter 5:7 — “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” It is a comfort to remember that God cares for me, he really does. In praying this promise back to the Lord I remember his faithful provision  and guidance in the past. He has cared for me in the past. He will be faithful to do so in the future.

Another response is to recall the attributes of God. Naming the characteristics of God in prayers of praise and thanksgiving deflects my attention away from my problems. This trains my mind to concentrate on God’s goodness, whether or not I understand his ultimate purposes. Often the scripture I am reading on a given day will show me some aspect of God’s nature. As I am reading, I pray that scripture back to him in praise. Sometimes I write those verses in my journal and refer to them again and again in my praying.

One example is Isaiah 57:15 — “For this is what the high and lofty One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” I love that verse because it magnifies God’s transcendent majesty, coupled with his willingness to be near to humble people who seek him. He is holy, he is eternal, yet he is also open to a relationship with folks like us.

Another thing, I want to resist the temptation to complain. If it is true (and it is) “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28), then complaining is an insult to God. If he has a purpose in my suffering, then I must accept that and “do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). The context of that verse says that “God works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). It may be hard to see God’s good purpose in my circumstances, but I am given this promise so that I will know that he is at work in my life, even when life is hard.

These practices, remembering God’s promises, meditating on his character, and avoiding complaining, do not make our problems disappear. But they represent attitudes that contribute to our peace of mind and that meet God’s approval.

The Lord willing, I will undergo an operation in a few weeks. I fervently hope that it will provide some relief and improve my health. Whatever the outcome, I want to respond to life in a way that glorifies God and honors Jesus Christ.

If you have read this far, I assume that means you care enough to pray. Please pray for Connie and me, that we may “enjoy good health and that all may go well with” us (3 John 2). We appreciate your prayers.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Safe in the Storm

The reason I did not post a blog entry last week is because we were without power for several days due to Hurricane Idalia. The nation was watching as the storm made landfall Wednesday, August 30, in Florida’s Big Bend area as a category 3 hurricane packing winds of 125 mph.

The Weather Channel had meteorologists and camera crews here in Valdosta, Georgia, because we were in the path of the storm. We were warned of high winds, serious damage, and loss of power, perhaps for several days. Sure enough, the storm crossed into South Georgia about 10:00 am with winds exceeding 100 mph.

The wind was howling outside as Connie and I were watching the Weather Channel when suddenly the screen went black and the house went dark. We hunkered down for several hours with no air conditioning, no lights, and no refrigeration, praying that our own and our neighbors’ houses would be spared serious damage.

The violent storm blew all Wednesday afternoon. Connie and I are grateful that our house withstood the fury, except for a few shingles on the roof and a section of back fence which was blown over. My rain gauge measured seven inches of rainfall in our back yard.

Late in the day I went for a walk around the neighborhood. I heard the humming of gasoline generators powering several of my neighbors’ houses. Debris was everywhere but in our area it appeared that the houses remained in good shape.

Later I learned that 90% of Lowndes county was without power. Over a thousand power poles snapped. Hundreds of large trees were uprooted. Some of them fell on houses in Valdosta. Roads and streets were blocked by fallen trees and downed power lines. Needless to say, many retail businesses were unable to open until power was restored.

Connie and I left town to stay in a motel Thursday night to escape the heat and darkness. On Friday the Lord provided another place with air conditioning for us to stay overnight. Power was restored to our neighborhood late on Saturday, September 2, a blessing we appreciate now more than ever.

The experience has been a sobering reminder of what dependent creatures we are. We are dependent on God for life and health and the provision of our daily needs. We are dependent on other people for their help and expertise. Psalm 148:8 refers to the “stormy winds that do his (God’s) bidding.” Maybe one reason the Lord allows storms is to remind us of how much we need him.

As I was throwing out spoiled food from the refrigerator, I was reminded of how blessed we are to have an abundance of food in this nation of plenty. As I saw neighbors helping neighbors with cleanup, I thought of how much we need other people, perhaps more than we realize.

Last Sunday Connie and I went to church to worship the Lord. Along with hundreds of other folks we gave thanks to God for his protection and provision. We prayed for those whose homes were damaged. We thanked God for the electrical crews who came to Valdosta from other states to help our local power companies. We gave thanks for the volunteers from all over Georgia who came as part of the Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief ministry.

We gave thanks to God that we were kept safe in the storm.

Pastor Randy Faulkner