In the aftermath of the Reformation celebration, we append to this “Cross Purposes” feature a brief but timely commentary by Pastor Fleischer. — Editor
“Pope John Paul II whipped himself with a belt, even on vacation, and slept on the floor as acts of penitence and to bring him closer to Christian perfection, according to a new book by the Polish prelate spearheading his sainthood case.”
Is this Luther all over again? As a young monk Luther was troubled by his sins and concerned about his relationship to God. We are told that in his room he cried out, “Oh, my sins, my sins, my sins.” Seeking relief from the conscience pangs and desiring to make himself right with God, he engaged in self-flagellation. Frequently he went without food. He slept on the floor. Even as a priest Luther engaged in such activity, torturing himself to the point of fainting—all in a vain attempt to find peace with God.
Luther came to the knowledge of the truth. Unlike the pope, Luther learned that self-inflicted wounds of penitence did not give him peace or a favorable standing with God. He learned and believed that his comfort and hope lay in the truth that Christ Jesus was wounded for his transgressions.
In his quest to find peace with God, Luther was helped by an old monk, John Staupitz, who urged him to read his Bible and put his trust in Jesus. In the Bible Luther found that the sins which gave him such unrest were washed away in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was led by the Spirit of God to believe and trust that he was saved by grace through faith without works. He also knew that he could not come to greater perfection—he still had his sinful flesh about him, as do we all—through personal merit or punishment. The demands or commands of the law of God, administered by self or another, hardly give peace or perfection. A penitent sinner simply comes before the offended Lord, honestly and contritely laying before the Lord the daily knapsack of sins. He finds forgiveness in Christ; he believes that perfection and righteousness are found in Christ, and that these are assimilated through faith alone.
Further to the point, sainthood is not earned but bestowed. Sainthood is not a result of a church edict after death—supposedly validated by the good recommendation of men–but it is a reality for the Christ-believer in this life. In his epistles the Apostle Paul was not speaking of the dead but the living when he addressed the “saints who are in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1) or those in Rome “called to be saints” (Romans 1:7).
A saint is one who by faith in Christ is recognized as holy in the sight of God the Father. The gospel is the power of God unto sainthood, sanctification, and eternal salvation. Part of the deception of the Roman Catholic Church is the suggestion that sinners can or must contribute something to attain that which our Lord God has already given us by faith in His Son.
After coming to knowledge of the truth, hardly did Luther sleep on the floor again to attain Christian perfection or peace with God!