On October 31, 1517, a little over 500 years ago, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther invited church authorities to debate some church practices which he believed were in violation of scripture. He nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, where he was a university professor. These proposals were translated from Latin into German, printed, and quickly circulated throughout Germany.
Luther was objecting to the sale of indulgences by representatives of the church. These were certificates guaranteeing deliverance from Purgatory, and offering the false promise that salvation could be obtained by the payment of money. Having discovered the happy assurance that “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17), Luther protested that salvation is only through faith in Christ, apart from good works. “The true treasure of the church,” Luther wrote, “is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”
This event is seen as sparking the Protestant Reformation which is being remembered this weekend in many churches around the world. The main themes of the Reformation have been summarized in five distinctive declarations about salvation: it is based upon scripture alone, through Christ alone, it is by faith alone, by grace alone, and thus all glory goes to God alone.
The beliefs we find in these five statements set Luther and his fellow reformers apart from the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. Scripture alone (sola scriptura), taught that the Bible as the inspired Word of God is the final authority, not papal edicts and decrees. Christ alone (solus Christus) is the belief that it is only through Jesus that sinners may be justified and reconciled to God. Faith alone (sola fide) asserts that salvation is through faith in Christ, apart from works or human effort. Grace alone (sola gratia), means that salvation is a free gift from God. Because of this, God alone receives all praise and glory (soli Deo gloria).
One of the key texts on which the reformers’ doctrine of justification by faith rests is Romans 3:24, “… and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” “Justified” means to be declared righteous. This involves the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer’s account. This is the basis for the believer’s acceptance before God. “Freely” means that justification is a gift of God’s grace, completely apart from human works or merit. It is possible only because of the “redemption” of sinners by Christ when he died on the cross. His sacrifice was the ransom price to God to satisfy the justice required by his holy law.
When Luther studied the book of Romans and discovered the meaning of justification by faith, it set his spirit free. He learned that salvation comes not through vigils, fasts, pilgrimages, or monastic discipline, but by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. That same freedom of grace is available to you if your faith is in Jesus Christ, and in him alone.
Pastor Randy Faulkner