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Reformation Roots


“Your past is waiting to inspire you.”

That is the intriguing tagline for a popular service which analyzes a person’s DNA in order to determine his ancestry. Have you tried it? Has a friend excitedly told you the results of her test? Does it really matter? Could the long-ago, dusty past really inspire you?

It might. You might discover that your ancestors include hardy Viking warriors or that you inherited your red hair from Irish royalty. It might help explain your love of adventure, determination, or drive. Your DNA is a connection to past generations and their accomplishments. It’s as though they laid the foundation on which you can continue building. So, yes, in that way the past can inspire the present.

Whether our DNA roots go back to Europe, Africa, or Asia, we trace our Lutheran roots back to Martin Luther and the Reformation. In many ways it has inspired our present. We have the Gospel treasure of justification in our churches today because of what Martin Luther did five centuries ago. Led by the Spirit, he put aside all the rituals, rules, and errors of the church which obscured the Gospel of Christ. He wasn’t deterred by the many threats made against him. He was determined to simply listen to the Lord in the Word.

That Word assured him that “a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:16 NIV84) Sinners cannot possibly make themselves pleasing to God, no matter how sincere they may be or how hard they may try. But by faith, Jesus’ perfect obedience is credited to our account. He gives us His righteousness, while taking the world’s sin and condemnation upon Himself. Through Luther and other faithful servants, the good news has been passed down through the generations all the way to us.

Luther faced formidable enemies. Humanly speaking, there was no way he or those who followed him could expect to succeed. But they trusted God’s promise to be their “refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 NIV84) They took Jesus at His word when He said, “Do not worry about your life . . . Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:25, 33 NIV84)

May the past inspire us. By outward appearance, things today do not look good for believers in Christ. Membership in Christian churches in America has been on a steady downward track for decades. The world is getting bolder in its attacks on those who dare to preach Jesus alone as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is very possible that things will only get worse for our children and grandchildren.

But then remember our spiritual heritage. By God’s grace we come from a long line of believers stretching back not only to Martin Luther but to the apostles and the prophets and patriarchs before them. They, too, faced great obstacles and fierce enemies. Yet they, too, had the Lord beside them as their Savior and certain Hope for the future.

“Your past is waiting to inspire you” is actually not a new thought. The writer to the Hebrews, after recounting one example after another of believers, who by God’s grace courageously lived by faith, says to us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV84). May His redeeming sacrifice be our inspiration!

Michael Eichstadt is pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, and president of the Church of the Lutheran Confession.