Reformation Sunday: Part 4–Clothed by Christ

Note: Four posts this week share a dramatic reading of Martin Luther telling his story of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. To read Part 1, click on Unable to Satisfy God. To read Part 2, click on A Spiritual Pauper. To read Part 3, click Clothed by Faith. Click on the following link for a 200-page presentation of Martin Luther’s Pastoral Counseling.To download a free copy of the entire manuscript click on Martin Luther: Here I Stand!

Recap: When we last heard from Martin Luther, he was proclaiming: “By faith alone in Christ alone God declared me righteous and acceptable. Now I had peace with God.” 

B.  Standing before God with Christ’s Righteousness and Courage

With the zeal of a missionary, I dedicated the rest of my life to telling others the good news of salvation by grace through faith. For now I knew that I stood before God with Christ’s righteousness and with Christ’s courage. It was such courage and zeal that led me to post my theological convictions, my 95 Theses, on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany on October 31, 1517. 

1.   Courageous Faith to Proclaim Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Scripture Alone, in Christ             Alone

It’s vital that you understand my motivation. I was responsible for the spiritual welfare of my flock. Message after message, sermon after sermon, lesson after lesson, I taught God’s sheep that salvation was by faith alone in Christ alone through grace alone based upon Scripture alone. 

However, my sheep were procuring indulgences as I once had. They believed in purgatory—a place of temporary punishment where sinners paid for their sins. They also believed that indulgences shortened their time in purgatory. 

The Church granted them indulgences for religious works such as participation in a Crusade, visiting certain shrines, praying in sanctuaries where relics of saints were kept, paying for the celebration of the Mass, or simply for the payment of money to the Church. In fact, in my day indulgences became nothing more than the Church bingo of the sixteenth century! Conned by the Church, foolish people gave all they had to purchase God’s forgiveness. Imagine that! They believed, as I had, that they could buy their way out of punishment into God’s favor. 

Many of my flock journeyed to the Dominican Friar, John Tetzel, to purchase their freedom from guilt. I despised Tetzel as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Instead of preaching the gospel, he pranced about singing his little ditty: “As soon as the money clinks in the chest, a soul flees up to heavenly rest.” 

He was teaching people to trust in works alone, in self alone, based upon superstition alone for their salvation. Their very souls were at stake. Indulgences were nothing but knavery and fraud. Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone, based upon Scripture alone had to be preached.  

Believing this, I prepared my 95 Theses, or theological facts. For example, in Thesis 62, I declared: “The true treasure of the Church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.” On the Eve of All Saints Day, I nailed my 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg thereby proclaiming that I was prepared to debate anyone, monk, priest, Pope, or Emperor, who dared to proclaim that salvation came by works. 

Barely two weeks after being posted, these theses had circulated all over Germany. A Reformation had begun. 

2.   Courageous Faith to Stand Alone

The next four years of my life both tested and confirmed my faith. Christ empowered me to display a courageous faith to stand alone. When the Pope threatened to excommunicate me and the Emperor threatened to execute me, even my friends and supporters urged me to back down. Once my best friend, Spalantin, warned me harshly. I responded to him: 

Find someone else to scare! Spalantin, I have no better friend, but even you have no right to ask me, even out of regard for my safety, to stop preaching God’s truth from God’s Word. 

After four years, I was called to stand trial for my faith. On the 16th of April, 1521, I entered the city of Worms, Germany in a two-wheeled cart accompanied by a few companions. Here at the Diet, or Church council, of Worms, I was called to give an account of my faith. 

I came to debate. They insisted that I recant. 

With the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire presiding, with representatives of the Pope present, I was asked, “Martin Luther, do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?” To which I replied: 

Since your Majesty, and your Lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scriptures and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of Popes and Councils, for they have contradicted each other. I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scriptures, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen. 

In response, the Emperor declared, “I mobilize everything against you, Luther. My kingdoms and dominions, my friends, my body, my blood, and my soul.” 

My life in jeopardy, many inquired how I could stand. All I could say then, all I say now is: “Here I stand because of Christ.” That’s what faith is. As I once described: 

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace. 

Conclusion: Luther’s Lasting Legacy—Trust in Christ/Stand for Christ

Four-hundred-ninety-three years after I nailed my 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, I challenge you to live the legacy of the Reformation. You live that legacy when you tire of your own righteousness and trust in Christ’s righteousness alone. 

In one of my earliest letters, I wrote to my dear friend George Spenlein who was an Augustinian friar in the monastery at Wittenburg. My challenge to him then is my challenge to you now. 

Now, I should like to know whether your soul, tired of its own righteousness, is learning to be revived by and to trust in the righteousness of Christ. For in our age the temptation to presumption besets many, especially those who try with all their might to be just and good without knowing the righteousness of God, which is most bountiful and freely given in Christ. They try to do good of themselves in order that they might stand before God clothed in their own virtues and merits. But this is impossible. 

Tire of your own righteousness and trust in Christ’s righteousness. 

You also live my legacy, Christ’s legacy, the Reformation legacy, when you stand firm, your conscience held captive to the Word of God. Live according to faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, based upon Scripture alone. Believe no one, no leader, no preacher, no teacher who teaches any gospel other than the one proclaimed in this Word—salvation by grace through faith in Christ. 

Stand for all that this Word teaches. Stand alone if need be. For when you have faith in Christ, you are never alone. You always stand in the welcoming, accepting, loving, holy, strong, and all-powerful arms of God. Stand firm in Christ. Stand firm for Christ. 

Here I stand! 

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