Reformation Sunday: Part 3 — Clothed by Faith
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. Click on the following link for a 200-page presentation of Martin Luther’s Pastoral Counseling.
Recap: When we last heard from Martin Luther, he was telling us: “I came to realize that the religious answers of my day would never quiet my soul. I came to realize that all human beings and all human institutions were spiritually impoverished. I was a spiritual pauper.”
II. Here I Stand: Clothed by Faith in My Holy Savior
Ah! But this realization was the beginning of the Reformation. My awareness of my spiritual poverty motivated me to cry out to God for grace in spiritual humility.
As I turned away from the world and turned to God’s Word, I began to understand that no matter what coverings I attempted to wear to hide my sins, the piercing eyes of my holy God saw only filthy rags. God’s Word opened the eyes of my heart to another truth—the Reformation truth that I could stand before my holy God clothed by faith in my holy Savior.
Before any of us can stand before God, we must discover and admit that there is something drastically wrong with us. I came to understand that my very nature was corrupt and that my whole nature needed to be changed. I came to perceive that it wasn’t just individual sins that needed forgiveness; I needed to be forgiven.
A. Standing before God Clothed and Accepted
But how? How could I find forgiveness? How could I stand before God clothed and accepted? My questions were answered as I studied Paul’s letter to the Romans. My study of Romans was my Damascus Road though which God’s light radiated and peace with God became real. As I once wrote:
Romans is the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel. It is worthy not only that all Christians should know it word for word, but that they should occupy themselves with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. In Romans, I found the answer for which I had been endlessly searching. I discovered that the route to God leads through the path of faith in Christ.
1. Faith in My Forgiving Father
Through my studies, I began to see God in a drastically different light. My image of God radically altered. Where God had been an angry Enemy, He was now a forgiving Father. The All Terrible was now the All Merciful. The All Holy was now also the All Compassionate. I gained my new awareness through an ardent thirst to know what God meant by the phrase in Romans 1:17, “The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel.”
I had hated the phrase, “the righteousness of God,” for I had been taught that it meant only that God is righteous and that He punishes unrighteous sinners. In fact, I was angry with God. I was born in sin, I lived in sin, and the only sure fact that I could count on was that I would be damned in sin by a righteous God.
At last, God being merciful, as I meditated day and night on the connection of the words, “the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, as it is written: ‘the righteous shall live by faith,’” I began to understand that the gospel was a gift of God received by faith. And that our loving Father forgives us when we place our faith in Christ’s righteousness. As I wrote at the time:
This immediately made me feel as though I had been born again, and as though I had entered through open gates into paradise itself! And now where I had once hated the phrase, “the righteousness of God,” so much I began to love and extol it as the sweetest of words, so that this passage in Paul became the very gate of Eden for me. Now I had found God’s portal of salvation. Through the door of faith in Christ, I could enter God’s heavenly home. In Christ, God accepted me.
I now viewed God as a loving Father instead of a wrathful Enemy. Now I perceived myself as loved by God and free to love instead of being hated by God and consumed with hate.
2. Faith in My Gracious Savior
Placing faith in my forgiving Father, I also placed faith in my gracious Savior. I read in God’s Word that, “He who was without sin, for our sake became sin for us.” Christ took to Himself the iniquity of us all! He identified Himself with us to participate in our alienation. Wrath and love mingled on the cross of Christ. In the utter desolation of the forsaken Christ, God the Father reconciled the world to Himself.
I could not believe this. Christ suffered for me. He took my sin. He died for me. I had known Christ only as a stern Judge, now I knew Him as my gracious Savior. I began to see Christ as One who comforts, not as One who alarms. I now saw that Christ was my bridge to God. I am not good and righteous, but Christ is. Listen to what I wrote one day about my experience in Romans:
In Romans my anxious conscience found relief through the unconditional forgiveness of sin granted as a gift of grace from God through His Son, Jesus Christ. If you have a true faith that Christ is your Savior, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. When you behold God in faith, you look upon His fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness.
All my life, I wondered how I could ever find peace with God. I longed to know what I could do to be accepted by God. Now I knew. I could do nothing. What had to be done; Christ had already done. Christ died and rose again to pay for my sin. In paying for my sin, Christ opened the arms of God. God’s arms were now open to me, welcoming me, and all I had to do was believe. By faith alone in Christ alone God declared me righteous and acceptable. Now I had peace with God.
The Rest of the Story
I invite you to return tomorrow as we learn how Martin Luther dedicated the rest of his life to telling others that they could stand before God with Christ’s righteousness.
Join the Conversation
When and how did God’s Word opened the eyes of your heart to the truth that you could stand before your holy God clothed by faith in your holy Savior?