It was the custom of scholars in Luther's day to post their dissertations on the church door. Luther was posting the "Ninety-Five Theses" he had written accusing the Roman church of abuses of power and wrongful teaching. Within this document also was a revelation of sorts. Luther had been studying St. Paul's epistles in the New Testament, and he had come to a powerful conclusion. While the Roman church taught that good works paved the way to salvation, Luther had discovered that the Word of God proclaimed a person is saved only by faith in Jesus Christ.
"God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ," the apostle wrote in Romans 3:22-24 (TEV). "God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence. But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with Him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free."
It is five centuries later, and we remain indebted to Martin Luther for his courage in publicly revealing the truth of the Word of God. Yes, it took courage. Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther. When Luther was ordered to recant what he had said and written, he refused. "I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted," he said, "and my conscience is captive to the Word of God." Four years later, the emperor signed an edict stating that Luther was an outlaw whom anyone could kill without punishment.
But the "damage" had already been done. Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses" had sparked the Reformation, the religious movement of the 1500s that gave birth to Protestantism. His paper, written in Latin, was copied and translated into German. John Calvin helped establish Protestantism in Switzerland and then France. Two hundred years later, John and Charles Wesley took the message of grace from England to the American colonies.
Today, my faith hinges on being justified, or put right with God, by an act of His grace -- His unmerited favor. I don't deserve it; I can never earn it; I cannot borrow, bribe, or barter for it. It is a gift, a free gift. So God gets all the glory; He gets all the praise.
When my children were born, each came home to a comfortable house, a furnished nursery, and a ready supply of nourishment. Not one of them had earned it. What a ridiculous notion to think of a baby earning his keep! There is absolutely no way. A baby has neither the ability nor the tools to do anything for himself. It's not possible. In the same way, it is just not possible for a person to earn her way into right standing with God. But what is impossible for us is possible with God. He knew that we couldn't make things right on our own, so He sent His Son Jesus to make things right. And He did.
Thump. Thump. Thump. It might not sound like it, but those are the bells of freedom ringing, as a soldier pounds the nails into the innocent hands of the sinless Savior. Hallelujah! FREEDOM! I am celebrating freedom this weekend. I am celebrating the saints who paid the price. I'm celebrating the Risen Lord of the harvest! How about you?*
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*This article first published in Baptist Press, 2003. All rights reserved by Rebecca Ingram Powell.