Oct 312012

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.

Galatians 2:16 (ESV)

This is a very important day for Redeemer Baptist Church. As Protestants, we have been affected by what happened on this day almost 500 years ago more than we often realize. While our culture spends millions on costumes, decorations, and candy for Halloween, at RBC we celebrate an event that has literally changed the course of history and brought a true recovery of the Gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ. Yes, it is Reformation Day! On this day in 1517, a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church.

The theses were ninety-five points of debate. Luther wrote them in Latin, not his native German, to promote discussion in the academic community over the insufficiency of the sacerdotal system of the Roman Church. The belief in sacerdotalism[1] (sacraments as means of salvation) led to the use and abuse of indulgences. Though indulgences first appeared in the 11th century, a popular monk who worked for Albert of Mainz by the name of Johann Tetzel devised a means by which Pope Leo X (Albert wanted Leo’s favor) could pay for the elaborate decorations he desired for St. Peter’s Basilica. Tetzel claimed that buying indulgences would absolve a person of his sins, granting him and his dead loved-ones escape from purgatory.

Tetzel even developed a marketing jingle for his shady practice:

Sobald das geld in Kasten klingt

Die Seel’ aus dem Fegfeuer springt.

As soon as the money in the chest rings,

A soul from purgatory springs.

People came from all over into Albert of Mainz’s district to buy Tetzel’s indulgences. It began to affect Luther’s congregation. Tradition has it that one evening Martin Luther, while walking the streets of Wittenberg, happened upon a parishioner lying drunk in the gutter. As Luther rebuked him for public drunkenness, his parishioner fumbled around in his coat. Finally his hand emerged holding a piece of paper. He waved it before the priest, proclaiming that brother Tetzel had issued him an indulgence that offered, “Complete forgiveness of all sins – past, present and future.” This scene illustrates the dilemma facing the young monk and priest.

Luther spent the years of 1515-1516 lecturing on the book of Romans. Obviously, this would have a profound influence on his thinking. One could not be made right with God through the sacerdotal system. One could only have peace with God through Jesus Christ. The righteousness of a sinner comes not from within him, but from without him. It comes from another. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life. He, in his life, achieved our righteousness. Then he died in the place of sinners. The righteousness a sinner receives is reckoned to him by grace alone, through faith alone, on the ground of Christ’s death alone, for the glory of God alone.

The five solas of the Reformation recovered the Biblical Gospel missing in the Roman Church: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria. Scripture alone, Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone, for the Glory of God alone!

Although Luther’s 95 Theses never use the words “justification by faith”, and even though they contain holdover elements of his Roman Catholicism which he would eventually reject, the main argument that Luther wants to debate is that salvation does not come through adhering to the Sacerdotal traditions of the church, but rather in Christ alone. Listen to some of Luther’s statements:

52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the indulgence commissary or the pope himself were to stake his soul upon it.

62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy Gospel and the grace of God.

68. {Indulgences} are the absolute smallest graces compared with grace of God and the piety of the cross.

79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up by preachers of indulgences (once again referring to Tetzel), is of equal worth with the cross of Christ, is blasphemy.

86. Why does not the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the riches of the richest, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?

89. Or finally: since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted prior to now, since these have equal efficacy?

92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!

94. Christians are to be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death, and hell;

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations, rather than through the false assurance of peace.

Assurance of salvation, to Luther, only comes through faith in Jesus Christ! This was the main point he wanted to make in the 95 theses. His theology would develop more fully in the years following this. In 1519 he began to lecture on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Luther said regarding Galatians, “The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine.” Luther loved Galatians so much because all over the letter is written the doctrine of justification by faith.

I love it too, and so do the believers at RBC! The Gospel is our very life. We need it at the beginning, in the present and in the future. The Gospel is so precious. Oh how we need to remember, as Luther said, “Simul iustus et peccator,” which means, “At the same time righteous and sinner.” In justification, a sinner is declared righteous. Even though he is full of guilt and condemnation, when he trusts in Jesus alone for salvation, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him, and he is then treated as though he had kept the whole law. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Through faith in Jesus we now have peace with God (Romans 5:1). We are no longer enemies of God, but we are now His children, adopted into his family, called Beloved, vessels of mercy!

So friends, this is a special day. I long for a true recovery of Gospel to take place in the mountains of Georgia. It is desperately needed here. At RBC, we will declare the doctrines of the Reformation that brought forward again the glorious truths of sovereign grace. “Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God” (Jonathan Edwards). He has elected a people by sovereign grace! He is to be the center, not man!

Soli Deo Gloria!

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[1] The Roman Church developed seven sacraments: baptism (they baptized their infants), confirmation, priesthood or ordination, the Eucharist, marriage, extreme unction or last rites, penance. Luther reduced the list to the Biblical two: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This developed through his realization that the Scriptures alone are the authority, not the pope and not tradition, and baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only Scriptural, visual means of representing the Gospel and the doctrine of justification by faith.