Welcome to worship today at Christ Lutheran and welcome if you’re listening on the radio!
Oct 31 of this month is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses---or points for debate---on the castle church door in Wittenberg Germany. That may sound like mere historical trivia, one of those things that could only matter to a Lutheran historian, but it set off a chain reaction that changed religious and political boundaries even to this day---what became known as the Protestant Reformation.
Luther posted those 95 Theses because the Church in that day taught that a person earned their way to heaven by the things they did to deserve God’s forgiveness. Saying so many prayers, attending so many worship services, fasting and other acts of repentance, even buying certificates, called indulgences, guaranteeing the forgiveness of so many sins. That was the one that forced Luther to speak up.
The indulgences were Luther’s initial concern, but as things progressed and he studied and read more, especially the Bible, he realized that that was only the tip of the iceberg. And he began to see the many places where the church had gotten far away from the teaching of the Bible and Christ.
Last January on Wednesday nights we learned some about Luther’s life and the catechisms he wrote for families to learn the Christian faith. But we need to go deeper into the consequences of what began as Luther trying to teach his people the Good News of Jesus.
Starting this Wednesday October 18 for 5 weeks we will use a DVD series to explore the many ways that Luther’s work and the work of other reformers, changed the course of history---Changes like those in the relationship of church and secular government. The recognition of the importance of education for all people, not only the rich. The right of all people to search for the truth, even when it challenges the powers that be.---(That encouraged all kinds of intellectual pursuits---science, philosophy, economics.) And the right of every person to be able to read the Bible in their own language, to know God’s word for themselves.
Which is what led to Luther’s greatest gift to the world---his rediscovery of the Gospel, the Biblical truth that had been lost by the church---that God is a loving God who wants to have a close and personal relationship with all people through his grace, and made possible by faith in Jesus.
You can sign up at the Welcome Center to be part of this 5 week series.
In his early life, Luther was tormented by the burden of his sin. Some people are better at making believe that their sin is just a minor problem. Luther was NOT one of those. He recognized that there was much about his actions, attitudes and thoughts that went against God’s will. And since the church of his day taught that he had to make up for those sins himself, he knew he was lost.
But then through his study of the Bible, he rediscovered God’s plan.
Passages like John 8---
John 8:34-36 “Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
And Romans 3---
Romans 3:22-24 “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
And Ephesians 2, which we will look at in just a minute.
Luther was holed up in a tower in Wittenberg, pouring over the Bible. Until---(Luther wrote)---“The Holy Spirit unveiled the Scriptures for me in this tower.” (LW vol. 54 p193.)
“Night and day I pondered until … I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love.” (Stott, J. (2001). The Incomparable Christ (p. 99). Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press.)
After that, everything changed. And what developed, has been called the “Pillars of the Reformation”---That we are forgiven, justified, made right with God---
By God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, known in God’s Word alone.
Over the next three weeks we will look at each of those pillars.
Today we focus on Grace Alone.
What is grace? God’s unmerited favor toward people, given freely as a gift, through Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:8 is one of the clearest expressions of our relationship with God found anywhere in the Bible.
But let’s look at what comes just before.
Ephesians 2:1-3 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
Not a pretty picture. Dead in our sins---following the ways of the world and the devil---gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature---objects of God’s wrath.
Without God, we are in desperate straits. We need to be rescued, we need a savior.
This is the desperate need Luther saw so clearly in himself---and he also knew the impossibility of saving himself or working his way to forgiveness---despite what the church taught. You can imagine Luther reading these verses and feeling hopeless. Until he learned about grace---
Ephesians 2:4-5 “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
Amazing grace! Somebody should write a song by that name!
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Forgiveness---being just and right with God---the promise of heaven---“this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God!”
Remember what Luther said---“Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”
Forgiveness didn’t rest on Luther. Being right with God wasn’t his doing. It was by grace alone in Christ.
That was a revolutionary idea in Luther’s day. He was taught it was his deeds alone that mattered. And going back 1500 years, it was Paul who had been taught the same thing. As a Jewish Pharisee, Paul made himself right in God’s eyes by keeping every tiny point of the Jewish law. Paul believed in a do-it-yourself salvation. Until he met Jesus on that road to Damascus.
Later Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write those words we just heard in Ephesians 2.
Early in their lives, both Paul and Luther, along with countless people throughout history and today, veered off the true path by believing that their standing with God was up to them.
Non-Christian religions all have some requirements that the person needs to achieve to work their way up the ladder, to be acceptable to God. Even good Christians fall into the belief that grace in Christ is good, but God’s love for me really depends on how good I am.
And that path always leads to despair---because it demands perfection to reach God. Yet---“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”---And so you are out of luck if you follow that view.
That’s the blunder of legalism that many people fall into.
But you can veer off the other side of the road too.
Throughout history and definitely today, there have been those who hear this word of grace alone and stretch it to the breaking point by saying, if it’s all by God’s grace, then what I do doesn’t matter. It’s party time!! And that leads to chaos and destruction. That’s the blunder of antinomianism---being anti-law.
But you have to ignore a lot of the Bible to come to that conclusion. Jesus said---“
Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Luther and the Lutheran reformers taught that God’s law is essential---not as a way to make God love us---but because it creates order in the world---it shows us our sin and how much we need Christ---and it shows God’s way to live.
None of that makes God love us. But he gives us his law because he already loves us. And he gives us his Gospel, the good news of Grace Alone so that we can live out of love---God’s love for us and our love for him in response.
So---Ephesians 2:8-9 ”…..it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
But we can’t forget what comes next in verse 10---
Ephesians 2:10 “ For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The good we do is not what earns our forgiveness, it doesn’t help us up the ladder to God. Instead, the good things we do should come naturally out of our knowledge of God’s love in Christ, and our experience of his grace alone.
We are God’s workmanship. We are made to follow him and that’s why we and all people are discontent when we turn away from him. We are created in Christ to do God’s work and we can’t know fulfillment until we do. Each of has been gifted in ways that enable us to do the good things God has created for us to do. That is our primary purpose.
Our good works are essential, but not as a prelim to our relationship with God, but as the result of that relationship with Christ.
How do we become right in God’s eyes, how are our sins forgiven? Not by buying indulgences. Not by counting the hours we spend praying. Not by how many days a week we come to CLC
We are forgiven, made just and right in God’s eyes by his grace alone, received through faith in Christ alone, known through God’s Word alone in the Bible.
Lewis Smedes writes---“Grace is amazing because it goes counter to everything we expect. Grace ignores common sense. Common sense says there is no way we can be good enough for God to love us. Grace says – no problem – He already loves us.
Common sense says we are too weak, too human to be anything more than we already are. God’s grace gives us the power to grow into who God created us to be.
Common sense says you’re stuck with the way things are. God’s grace in Christ promises that you can trust God to provide a better tomorrow for you than you could for yourself.”
Many years ago a group of British theologians got together and were debating whether there was any one teaching of the Christian faith that was unique. The debate went on for some time until CS Lewis happened to wander through the room.
“What’s the discussion?” he asked. The others explained they were talking about what was unique to Christianity. “That’s easy”, said Lewis, “It’s grace!”
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!