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Reformation Vignettes


“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith'” (Romans 1:16-17).

1996 is the 450th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther. We have gathered here to praise our gracious God and to remember His gift to the church in the person and work of Martin Luther. In this first devotion we consider God’s gift of Luther As Reformer.

While many reformers arose within the Christian church in the centuries leading up to the birth and life of Luther, there is an important difference to be noted between them and Luther. That difference is not that Luther ultimately proved successful in his reform efforts whereas they did not. Many historians focus on Luther’s success and the reason for it. They speak of the great changes taking place at Luther’s time in terms of politics, economics, social development, and technology, all of which certainly impacted the Lutheran Reformation. But this is not the difference of which I speak. I am speaking of this that Luther’s reform focused on the corruption of doctrine as opposed to the corruption of morals within the Christian church.

The Lutheran Reformation ultimately proved to be successful because the Lord used Martin Luther to restore to the church the truth that human beings are saved by God’s grace alone by faith alone in Christ Jesus. He used Martin Luther to restore the Bible as the foundation and basis for all Christian teaching and life.

God did this by reforming, first of all, the theology of Luther himself. Luther grew up a faithful member of the Roman Catholic Church. He understood that he had to believe in the one true God, but he was led to believe as well that his eternal salvation was dependent not upon that faith alone, but upon his ability to please and appease a righteous, holy God who hated sin and demanded perfection. The Holy Spirit led Luther through a study of the Bible to understand the “gospel”–the precious news that Jesus as our Savior has won our salvation for us and bestows upon us His righteousness, while removing our sins through His sacrificial death.

This gospel became for Luther what Paul says it is: “The power of God to salvation to everyone who believes.” Luther discovered the joy and freedom of realizing and embracing the righteousness of God as a free gift which justifies and bestows everlasting life.

From a doctrinal system which taught “faith plus works,” which leads to uncertainty and fear of judgment, Luther was led to–and was enabled by the Spirit to lead–the church back to a doctrinal system which teaches “faith alone through grace alone.” This teaching brings joy and certainty to our hearts and then leads us to a joyous life of moral living. We do not “love Him because if we don’t we will go to hell!” Rather, as John tells us: “We love Him because He first loved us!” (1 Jn. 4:19)

We remember God’s gift to the church and thank Him for Luther as reformer–the one who by grace restored the doctrinal truths of our salvation, and so leaves us certain of our eternal future and happy to serve our Lord and Savior here in this life, for the Spirit has led us to believe as did Luther, that “the just shall live by faith.”

“Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” — Eph. 4:3