“Martin Luther: 500 Years Later” – Romans 1:16-17


October 29th, 2017

Romans 1:16-17

“Martin Luther: 500 Years Later”

Aux Text: Galatians 3:10-14

Call to Worship: Psalm 15

 

Service Orientation:  Martin Luther changed the world when he discovered alien righteousness.  Has it changed you?

 

Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  “The righteous will live by faith.”  — Romans 1:17

 

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street,75 where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. (The Works of John Wesley: Journal and Diaries (1735-1738) Journal 2 – from February 1, 1738 to September 16, 1738 Journal).

 

The question to be answered is . . . Why is Pastor Keith suspending his Deuteronomy series on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis?

 

Answer:  Because the world was changed when Luther discovered the Bible’s teaching on an alien righteousness by which we are saved.

 

If you don’t see the absolute holiness of God, the magnitude of your debt, the categorical necessity of God’s just punishment of your sin, and therefore the utter hopelessness of your condition, then the knowledge of your pardon and deliverance will not be amazing and electrifying!  — Tim Keller

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Saved

 

Martin Luther said of himself, “I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether war-like, fighting against innumerable monsters and devils.  I am born for the removing of stumps and stone, cutting way thistles and thorns, and clearing wild forests. (R. Kent Hughes; Acts: The Church Afire, 203)

 

If ever there was a moment where it can be said the modern world was born, and where the future itself was born, surely it was in that room on April 18 at Worms.  There can be no question that what happened that day unequivocally led to all manner of things in the future, among them the events 254 years and one day later, on April 19, 1775, when the troops at Lexington and Concord took a stand for liberty against tyranny.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 218)

 

I-  Martin Luther’s quest for salvation.  (Gal 3:24)

 

Once, Luther actually continued confessing for six consecutive hours, probing every nook and cranny of every conceivable sin and then every nook and cranny within each nook and cranny, until Staupitz must have been cross-eyed and perspiring just listening.  When would it end?  But Luther didn’t care.  He was simply determined to keep digging until he got to the bottom of it all.  But he never did.  He did not yet understand that there really was no bottom, that we were sinful all the way down.  All Luther knew was that as soon as he left confession, there likely lurked sins he had not ferreted out, despite his digging like a terrier after a rat.  He knew that according to all he understood of church doctrine, a sin must be recalled and confessed before it could be repented of and forgiven.  But hadn’t he tried as hard as possible to find and confess every one?  How did the others do it?  Was he more sinful than they?  He concluded that he must be and must therefore try harder yet.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 47)

 

Another time he (Luther’s confessor) said, “Look here.  If you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive–parricide, blasphemy, adultery–instead of all these peccadilloes.”  Luther would confess negative thoughts about one of his brethren, or his impatience with something that morning, or his poor attitude toward prayer.  And if he had not had any such sins to confess, he would confess his pride at not having had any such sins.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 47)

 

When a man is humbled by the law, and brought to the knowledge of himself, then follows true repentance (for true repentance begins at the fear and judgement of God), and he sees himself to be so great a sinner that he can find no means how he may be delivered from his sin by his own strength, endeavor and works. (Martin Luther; Commentary on Galatians, 94)

 

Martin Luther said, “If we look at mankind in all its conditions, it is nothing but a vast, wide stable full of great thieves.”  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 226)

 

Luther’s illustration of the futility of human efforts to solve the world’s problems is often quoted:  “The world is like a drunken peasant.  If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off on the other side.  One can’t help him, no matter how one tries.  He wants to be the devil’s.  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 68)

 

When Martin Luther was asked about the contribution of the human will in relation to his position of God’s grace in salvation, the questioner asked Luther, “Do you mean to say that man contributes nothing to his salvation?”

Luther responded, “Oh no, I did not mean to imply that.  Man contributes his own resistance to the Gospel.”

 

II-  Martin Luther’s authority crisis.

 

Cardinal Cajetan found himself buffaloed by Luther’s confidence.  But Luther’s confidence was no act.  He had little doubt there really was a God who should be feared and to whose authority he and everyone should submit.  To that God–and to truth and plain reason–Luther would listen.  But unless Cajetan and the rest of them pointed to that God through his Scriptures and plainly showed Luther his error, he was quite immovable.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 155)

 

I assert that a council has sometimes erred and may sometimes err.  Nor has a council authority to establish new articles of faith.  A council cannot make divine right out of that which by nature is not divine right.  Councils have contradicted each other, for the recent Lateran Council has reversed the claim of the councils of Constance and Basel that a council is above a pope.  A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it.  As for the pope’s decretal on indulgences I say that neither the Church nor the pope can establish articles of faith.  These must come from Scripture.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 176)

 

The Donation of Constantine was a document purported to have been written by Emperor Constantine early in the fourth century, giving all authority over Western Europe to the pope, and the church had used it for centuries to underscore the inviolability of the pope’s authority.  When Luther saw that it was now proven to be a forgery, his fury increased the more.  That the church had used a lie to silence its critics for centuries was horrifying and infuriating.  To a faithful son of the church it felt like a stinging betrayal, and it made him wonder:  What else was a lie?  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 182)

 

So Luther had bested Cajetan and somehow could not resist a witty nationalistic dig for good measure.  But he was more interested in showing how the papal bull itself did not comport with Scripture.  And yet in all of this, Luther’s greatest fears were realized.  He saw that the cardinal cared not a fig for the Holy Scriptures, and quite seriously maintained that church decrees superseded them.  The theological foolishness of this, and the disturbing evidence of it, were horrifying to Luther.  He saw now what he had deep down feared but had desperately hoped could not be true:  that the greatest minds of the church were genuinely unaware of having become unmoored from the rock of the Scriptures and were even indifferent to this.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 150)

 

Part of Luther’s appeal came from his escalating outspokenness.  Just when he said one thing that everyone insisted no one must ever say, he said another and then another.  It was as if the zeitgeist itself could barely keep up with him.  The reason for this was that as Luther’s sense of his own danger increased, so did his boldness.  He thought, what do I have to lose?  I am speaking the truth and therefore my life is in danger, so I might as well say what I can while I have breath in me.  His willingness to go further and further, wherever he felt the truth led him, became breathtaking.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 180)

 

His concept of the word “conscience” was not our modern view, in which conscience takes its cue from the autonomous self.  On the contrary, his concept of truth did not vary one iota from the accepted Roman Catholic view.  The only difference between his view and the church’s view was in the idea that one’s conscience must obey God himself.  The Catholic church reserved the right to say that it and it alone spoke for God, whereas Luther, in pointing out that the pope had erred and church councils had erred, was saying that the church could not reserve the right to speak for God.  Therefore, if the church–via pope and councils–was able to err and to sometimes not speak for God and God’s truth, Luther asserted the idea that only the Scriptures could be that inerrant standard to which everyone–including the church–must repair.  Thus, if the Scriptures plainly said something different from what councils and popes said, it must be the councils and the popes who were in error and were obliged to change their views.  There was no other recourse.  And Luther, in saying that he could not go against conscience, was simply saying that if his own understanding, his own knowledge, as guided by plain logic and clear arguments, showed him that Scripture said one thing and anyone else–even the church–said another, he had no choice but to go with what the Scriptures said.  The Word of God trumped all else.  So it was not Luther’s conscience that trumped anything.  It was the Word of God that trumped everything.  One’s conscience was only one’s ability to understand these things, and because he understood the Word of God clearly, he had no choice but to follow it.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 219-20)

 

Tetzel’s traveling indulgence show had the markings of a circus and drew thousands of people.  Flush with commissions and bonuses, Tetzel claimed that he had saved more souls through indulgences than St. Peter had through the gospel.  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 280)

 

It was, in some way, blasphemous to read God’s Word in this superficial way.  One must bring one’s heart and one’s whole person into it.  Even Satan in the wilderness flawlessly quoted the words of God to Jesus, which of course had been blasphemy of the highest order.  So without entering into God’s presence and asking for God’s understanding of the words, one was doing no better than the devil himself had done.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 77)

 

Listen to the voices of your dear dead relatives and friends, beseeching you and saying, “Pity us, pity us.  We are in dire torment from which you can redeem us for a pittance.”  Do you not wish to?  Open your ears.  Hear the father saying to his son, the mother to her daughter, “We bore you, nourished you, brought you up, left you our fortunes, and you are so cruel and hard that now you are not willing for so little to set us free.  Will you let us lie here in flames?  Will you delay our promised glory?”

Remember that you are able to release them, for As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, The soul from purgatory springs.

     Will you not then for a quarter of a florin receive these letters of indulgence through which you are able to lead a divine and immortal soul into the fatherland of praise?  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 103-4)

 

Luther had argued that the church had never dealt definitively with indulgences, and as proof of this, he pointed out that there was no definitive papal document on the subject.  Writing such a document would of course require the church to deal with the theology first, and in dealing with the theology, it would see the problems at hand.  Again, this was the principal impetus for his Ninety-five Theses, to bring about a disputation and a reckoning with the theological problems.  Furthermore, because no such document existed, how could the church accuse Luther of heresy?  What papal document was there to point to what differed from what Luther had said?  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 154)

 

After Tetzel had received a substantial amount of money at Leipzig, a nobleman asked him if it were possible to receive a letter of indulgence for a future sin.  Tetzel quickly answered in the affirmative, insisting, however, that the payment had to be made at once.  This the nobleman did, receiving thereupon letter and seal from Tetzel.  When Tetzel left Leipzig the nobleman attacked him along the way, gave him a thorough beating, and sent him back empty-handed to Leipzig with the comment that this was the future sin which he had in mind.  Duke George at first was quite furious about this incident, but when he heard the whole story he let it go without punishing the nobleman.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 106)

 

III-  Martin Luther discovers an alien righteousness .(Hab 2:4b; Rom 1:16-17; 3:20-22, 28; 10:4; Gal 3:6, 11; Phil 3:8-9)

 

In 1519 Luther introduced the terms “alien righteousness” and “proper righteousness” in order to clarify his thinking on the matter.  Alien righteousness is the righteousness of Christ by which He justifies sinners through faith.  In faith Christ’s people have community with Him; i.e., all that He has, His people have as a gift of grace.  As Christ Himself becomes theirs by faith, His righteousness becomes theirs and swallows up their sin.  It is instilled in them by grace daily as Christ wars against the old Adam.  This alien righteousness is the basis of all other Christian righteousness.  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia–Volume Four: Q-Z, 194-5)

 

The true knowledge of Christ disputes not whether you have done good works to righteousness or evil works to condemnation, but simply concludes after this sort:  if you have done good works, you are not therefore justified; or if you have done evil works, you are not therefore condemned.  I neither take from good works their praise nor commend evil works.  For it is Christ alone who justifies me, both against my evil deeds and without my good deeds.  If I have this persuasion of Christ, I lay hold of the true Christ.  But if I think that He exacts the law and works of me to salvation, then He becomes unprofitable unto me, and I am utterly separated from Him.

This is then the final conclusion:  either you must forego Christ or the righteousness of the law.  If you retain Christ, you are righteous before God; but if you stick to the law, Christ avails you nothing:  you are bound to keep the whole law, and you have a death sentence already pronounced against you:  “Cursed is every one that fulfilleth not” (Dt 27:26).  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 326)

 

The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of ALL Christian doctrine . . .  Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually. (Martin Luther; Commentary on Galatians, 2:14)

 

“So we receive Christ not by just repenting of our sins, but also of our best achievements as self-salvation, by making Christ not just an example, teacher, and helper but actually a savior.”   (Steve Childers paraphrasing Luther’s preface to his commentary on Galatians)

 

Any failure of actual righteousness is always a failure to live in accordance with our imputed righteousness.   We make something besides Jesus our real hope and life.  So believing the gospel means to repent, not just of our sins, but of the particular (self) righteousness(es) underlying our behavior.  That is the secret of change.   (Tim Keller paraphrasing Martin Luther’s Theses from his Galatians Commentary)

 

IV-  Martin Luther:  500 Years Later

IVa-     Sola Fide = Salvation and works by faith

 

He taught that salvation came to everyone who trusted the promises of Jesus.  He wanted to make clear that the promise and the presence of Jesus are objectively true and available even where there is no faith.  Faith does not create the promise or make Jesus the Savior; rather, faith simply rests on the saving Jesus.  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 162)

 

It is a hard and a dangerous matter to teach that we are made righteous by faith without works, and yet to require works.  Here unless the ministers of Christ are faithful and wise disposers of the mysteries of God, rightly dividing the Word of truth, faith and works are soon confounded.  Both these doctrines, faith as well as works, must be diligently taught and urged; and yet so that both may remain within their bounds.  Otherwise, if they teach works only then faith is lost.  If only faith is taught, then carnal men soon dream that works are not needful.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 355)

 

IVb-     Sola Gratia = Grace as means of salvation

 

The Law is a divinely sent Hercules to attack and kill the monster of self-righteousness and to show us every day just how desperate we need God’s grace. (Martin Luther as quoted by Tullian Tevidgjian; Life Without God – Pt 7)

 

If any man feel in himself a love toward the Word of God, and willingly hears, talks, writes, and thinks of Christ, let that man know, that this is not the work of man’s will or reason, but the gift of the Holy Ghost; for it is impossible that these things should be done without the Holy Ghost.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 247)

 

Whoever feels any love or desire for the Word, let them acknowledge with thankfulness that this affection is poured into them by the Holy Ghost.  For we bring not this desire and affection with us, neither can we be taught by any laws how to obtain it; this change is plainly and simply the work of the right hand of the Most High.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 247-8)

 

Do we then sin in keeping the law?  No.  But we despise grace when we observe the law that we may be justified through it.  The law is good, holy, and profitable, and yet it justifies not.  He then that keeps the law to be justified thereby, rejects grace, denies Christ, despises His sacrifice, and will not be saved by this inestimable price, but will satisfy for his sins through the righteousness of the law, or deserve grace by his own righteousness.  And this man blasphemes and despises the grace of God.  Now, what a horrible thing is it to say that any man should be so devilish as to despise the grace and mercy of God!  And yet all the world does so.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 118)

 

He who knows not this doctrine, and thinks that the faithful ought to be without fault, and yet sees the contrary in himself, must at length be swallowed up by the spirit of heaviness and fall into desperation.  But whoso knows this doctrine well and uses it rightly, to him the things that are evil turn into good.  For when the flesh provokes him to sin, he is stirred up and forced to seek forgiveness of sins by Christ, and to embrace the righteousness of faith which otherwise he would not so greatly esteem.  Therefore, it profits us very much to feel sometimes the wickedness of our nature and corruption of our flesh, that even by this means we may be waked and stirred up to faith and to call upon Christ.  And by this occasion a Christian becomes a mighty workman and a wonderful re-creator, who of heaviness can make joy, of terror comfort, of sin righteousness, and of death life, when he by this means of repressing and bridling the flesh makes it subject to the Spirit.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 365)

 

IVc-   God’s Promises vs. Emotions/Feelings

 

Your righteousness stands not on your own feeling, but on your hoping that it shall be revealed in due time.  Wherefore, you must not judge according to the feeling of sin which troubles and terrifies you, but according to the promise and doctrine of faith, whereby Christ is promised to you, who is your perfect and everlasting righteousness.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 328)

 

Let us learn, therefore, in great and horrible terrors, when our conscience feels nothing but sin and judges that God is angry with us, and that Christ has turned His face from us, not to follow the sense and feeling of our own heart, but to stick to the Word of God.  This verse therefore teaches plainly that the law and works bring us no righteousness or comfort at all:  but the Holy Ghost does, who raises up hope even in terrors and tribulations.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 333)

 

When a man feels this battle of the flesh, let him not be discouraged, but let him resist in the Spirit, and say:  I am a sinner, and I feel sin in me, for I have not yet put off the flesh, in which sin dwells so long as it lives; but I will obey the Spirit and not the flesh:  that is, I will by faith and hope lay hold upon Christ, and by His Word I will raise up myself, and being so raised up, I will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 364)

 

So Paul would have us to walk in the Spirit, lest we fulfill the lust of the flesh.  As if he should say:  Although you are moved with wrath and displeasure against your brother, offending you or doing anything heinously against you, yet resist and repress these emotions through the Spirit; bear with his weakness, and love him.  For your brother does not cease to be your neighbor because he slips or offends you; but then has he most need that you should show your charity toward him.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 359)

 

Here we may see what great infirmity is yet in the flesh of the godly.  For if we could be fully persuaded that we are under grace, that our sins are forgiven, that we have the Spirit of Christ and are the children of God, then, doubtless, we should be joyful and thankful to God for this inestimable gift.  But because we feel contrary emotions, that is, fear, doubt, anguish and heaviness of heart, we cannot assure ourselves hereof; indeed, our conscience judges it a great presumption and pride to challenge this glory.  If we will understand this thing rightly, and as we should, we must put it in practice; for without experience and practice it can never be learned.

Let every man, then, so practice with himself, that his conscience may be fully assured that he is under grace, and that his person and his works do please God.  And if he feel any wavering of doubting, let him exercise his faith, and wrestle against it, and labor to attain more strength and assurance of faith, and so be able to say:  I know that I am accepted and have the Holy Ghost, not for my own worthiness, work, or merit, but for Christ’s sake, who of His love towards us made Himself subject to the law and took away the sin of the world.  In Him do I believe.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 249-52) . . . We must not judge therefore, according to the feeling of our own heart, but according to the Word of God, which teaches us that the Holy Ghost is given to those that are afflicted, terrified, and ready to despair, to raise them up, and to comfort them, that they be not overcome of their temptations and afflictions, but may overcome them, and yet not without great terrors and troubles.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 252)

 

IVd-    Sola Scriptura = God’s Word is the bottom line

 

Since then your serene majesties and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, plain and unvarnished:  Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scriptures or clear reason, for I do not trust in the Pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.  I cannot do otherwise.  Here I stand.  God help me.  Amen.  (Martin Luther quoted by Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 216)

 

No man can understand what God’s will is and what pleases Him, but in His Word.  (Martin Luther; Commentary on Galatians, 255-6)

 

Luther boldly declared that he would rather have Jesus present in the preaching of the Word than in person:  “Thus He comes to us through the gospel.  Yes, it is far better that he comes through the gospel than that he would now enter in through the door; for you would not even know him even though he came in.  If you believe then you have; if you do not believe then you do not have.”  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 164)

 

For Luther, true preaching must always have two elements:  the law and the gospel.  We cannot know God or ourselves without these two truths.  Of the law in preaching, he wrote:  “The Law only shows sin, terrifies, and humbles; thus it prepares us for justification and drives us to Christ.”  The law must be preached regularly to God’s people who never outgrow their need of its humbling work.  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 164)

 

God is everywhere.  However, He does not want you to reach out for Him everywhere but only in the Word.  Reach out for it and you will grasp Him aright.  Otherwise you are tempting God and setting up idolatry.  That is why He has established a certain method for us.  This teaches us how and where we are to look for Him and find Him, namely, in the Word.  — Martin Luther.

 

Scripture’s clarity will bring consensus and unity, while our hearts’ darkness, obduracy, and love of novelty bring schism.  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 120)

 

Luther repeated:  “I did nothing; the Word did everything.”  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 194)

 

One little point of doctrine is of more value than heaven and earth; and therefore we cannot abide to have the least jot thereof corrupted.  We can very well wink at the offenses and errors of life.  For we also do daily err in life and conversation; yes, all the saints err:  and this they earnestly confess in the Lord’s Prayer.  But our doctrine, by the grace of God, is pure:  we have all the articles of our faith grounded upon the Holy Scripture.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 341)

 

Today’s preacher has all too often lost confidence in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God and is left with little to say and no authority for saying it apart from prejudice and personal conviction.  Western society no longer recognizes the authority of a clergyman, or even the authority of a preacher.  Still less does our society acknowledge the authority of Scripture.  In a world of moral relativism, today’s preacher questions the right of any individual to deliver a monological address that requires repentance and points the way to an exclusive Savior who alone can save.  Luther knew no such restrictions.  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 275)

 

IVe-    Believers and the Sinful Nature

 

For as long as we live here, sin remains in our flesh; there is also a law in our flesh and members, rebelling against the law of our mind, and leading us captives to the service of sin (Rom 7:13).  Now when these affections of the flesh do rage and reign, and we on the other side do through the Spirit wrestle against the same, then is there a place for hope.  Indeed we have begun to be justified through faith:  whereby also we have received the firstfruits of the Spirit, and the mortification of the flesh is also begun in us; but we are not yet perfectly righteous.  It remains then that we are to be perfectly justified, and this is what we hope for.  So our righteousness is not yet in actual possession, but lies under hope.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 328)

 

For my righteousness is not yet perfect, it cannot yet be felt; yet I do not despair:  for faith shows me Christ in whom I trust, and when I have laid hold of Him by faith, I wrestle against the fiery darts of the devil, and I take a good heart through hope against the feeling of sin, assuring myself that I have a perfect righteousness prepared for me in heaven.  So both these sayings are true:  that I am righteous already by that righteousness which is begun in me, and also that I am raised up in the same hope against sin, and wait for the full consummation of perfect righteousness in heaven.  These things are not rightly understood until they are put into practice.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 328-9)

 

True it is that we ought to fulfill the law, but sin hinders us.  Indeed, the law prescribes and commands that we should love God and his neighbor as the law requires.  But in the life to come, where we shall be thoroughly cleansed from all vices and sins and shall be made as pure and as clear as the sun, we shall love perfectly and shall be righteous through perfect love.  But in this life that purity is hindered by the flesh; for as long as we live, sin remains in our flesh.  Why?  Because the corrupt love of ourselves is so mighty that it far surmounts the love of God and of our neighbor.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 356)

 

Here, not only the schoolmen, but also some of the old fathers are much troubled, seeking how they may excuse Paul.  For it seems to them unseemly to say that that elect vessel of Christ should have sin.  But we credit Paul’s own words, wherein he plainly confesses that he is sold under sin, that he is led captive of sin, that he has a law in his members rebelling against him, and that in the flesh he served the law of sin.  Here again they answer, that the Apostle speaks in the person of the ungodly. But the ungodly do not complain of the rebellion of their flesh, or any battle or conflict, or of the capacity and bondage of sin; for sin reigns in them.  This is the complaint of Paul and of all the saints.  They who have claimed that Paul and other saints had no sin have done very wickedly.  For they have robbed the Church of a singular consolation; they have abolished the forgiveness of sins and made Christ of no effect.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 362)

 

Luther put it this way:  “We cannot help it if birds fly over our heads.  It is another thing if we invite them to build nests in our hair.” (Patrick Morley; The Man in the Mirror, 323-4)

 

When I was a monk I thought that I was utterly cast away whenever I felt the concupiscence of the flesh; that is to say, if I felt any evil emotion, fleshly lust, wrath, hatred, or envy against any brother.  I tried many ways, I went to confession daily, but it profited me not; for the concupiscence of my flesh did always return, so that I could not rest, but was continually vexed with these thoughts:  “This or that sin you have committed; you are infected with envy, with impatience, and such other sins; therefore, you are entered into this holy order in vain, and all your good works are unprofitable.”  If then I had rightly understood these sentences of Paul:  “The flesh lusteth contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit contrary to the flesh,” and “these two are one against another, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would do,” I should not have so miserably tormented myself, but should have thought and said to myself, as now commonly I do:  “Martin, you shall not utterly be without sin, for you still have the flesh; you shall therefore feel the battle thereof, according to that saying of Paul, ‘The flesh resisteth the Spirit.’  Despair not therefore, but resist it strongly, and fulfill not the lust thereof.”  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 364)

 

We need the Decalogue not only to apprise us of our lawful obligations, but we also need it to discern how far the Holy Spirit has advanced us in his work of sanctification and by how much we still fall short of the goal, lest we become secure and imagine that we have now done all that is required.  Thus we must constantly grow in sanctification and always become new creatures in Christ!  (LW, 41:166 quoted in Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther)

 

IVf-    Priesthood of all believers.  (In God’s Economy every human endeavor is important)

 

Luther’s theology was leading him to one new place after another.  For example, his understanding of the “priesthood of all believers” meant the whole structure of the church was a pretense.  The idea that there was a special caste of people who alone had the privilege to preach and to pastor and to hear confession was simply not biblical.  It had been invented out of whole cloth by human beings and had no basis in scripture.  Therefore for every Christian to have to submit to this, especially now that it was being used to tyrannize people–to bully them into submitting to a power and authority that was not given by God–was intolerable.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 185-6)

 

The work of monks and priests, wrote Luther, “ in God’s sight are in no way whatever superior to the works of a farmer laboring in the field, or of a woman looking after her home.”  The view that scrubbing floors held as much dignity as occupying the pulpit democratized the work ethic.   (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 315)

 

Through faith in Christ, household work becomes holy work.  Luther said the Holy Spirit is unashamed to bless a woman’s household chores.  If a wife works in the kitchen, feeds the children, washes them, and puts them to bed as a believer trusting in Christ, then she is a saint.  In Christ, the ordinary becomes extraordinary:  “The life of married people, if they are in the faith, deserves to be rated higher than those who are famous for miracles.”  Indeed, in the ordinary labors of common life, men and women serve as God’s coworkers.  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 88)

 

It is pure invention that pope, bishops, priests, and monks are to be called the spiritual estate, while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the temporal estate. . . All Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is among them no difference except that of office. . . Their claim that only the pope may interpret Scripture is an outrageous fancied fable.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 186)

 

In a sermon he published in December 1519, Luther proclaimed–in German, so all could understand–that he advocated that the church should allow the laity to take both the bread and the wine at Communion.  Hus had argued the same thing, so by doing this Luther was taunting all those who had accused him of being a Hussite, especially Eck.  The implications were staggering.  Luther was in effect reestablishing the biblical idea that everyone who has faith in Christ is equal and that the church’s position that priests are somehow different from the people in the pews is wrong.  For him, the Scriptures established the idea of “a priesthood of believers,” and anyone who truly believed was a Christian equal to any other Christian, so why should only the priests take the wine at Communion?  The Greek Orthodox and other Eastern churches had not done this for fifteen centuries, and the early Christians themselves had not done it either.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 180-1)

 

Luther viewed family life as a noble, heavenly calling.  As he saw it, nothing is more important in our pilgrimage to heaven than bringing up our children in the Lord, and nothing damns parents to hell so effectively as allowing their children to sin without discipline.  Luther wrote that each father should “regard his child as nothing else but an eternal treasure God has commanded him to protect, and so prevent the world, the flesh, and the devil from stealing the child away and bringing him to destruction.”  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 87)

 

Worship Point:  Worship the God who saves us in so many ways.   He even provides us with the righteousness we fail to achieve on our own.  (Rom 1:16-17; 10:4; Gal 3:10-14; Phil 3:8-9)

 

“The real evil is that we trust in our own power to be righteous and will not lift up our eyes to see what Christ has done for us…”   It is your goodness more than your badness that separates you from God.” (Steve Childers’ paraphrasing Martin Luther’s preface to his commentary on Galatians)

 

You have as much laughter as you have faith!  — Martin Luther

 

Gospel Application:  Jesus lived the perfectly righteous life we were supposed to live and died the death of a sinner that we deserved to die and offers us the double payment (Isa 40:2) for salvation by simply putting our faith and trust in Him.  (Jn 3:16; Rom 1:16-17; 10:4; Gal 3:10-14; Phil 3:8-9)

 

Spiritual Challenge: Like Martin Luther, make the Gospel amazing and electrifying by discovering both the bad news of your sin through the Law and your future judgment without Christ; and, then the good news of salvation through faith in Christ.

 

If you don’t see the absolute holiness of God, the magnitude of your debt, the categorical necessity of God’s just punishment of your sin, and therefore the utter hopelessness of your condition, then the knowledge of your pardon and deliverance will not be amazing and electrifying!  — Tim Keller

 

The office therefore of the law is to kill, but only so that God may revive and quicken again.   It is not given only to kill; but because man is proud, and dreams that he is wise, righteous, and holy, it is necessary that he should be humbled by the law so that this beast, the resumption of righteousness, might be slain; otherwise, man cannot obtain life.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 219)

 

When a man is humbled by the law, and brought to the knowledge of himself, then follows true repentance (for true repentance begins at the fear and judgement of God), and he sees himself to be so great a sinner that he can find no means how he may be delivered from his sin by his own strength, endeavor and works.   (Martin Luther, Galatians, 94)

 

If anyone is not a murderer, and adulterer or a thief, and outwardly refrains from sins, as the Pharisees did, he would swear that he was righteous, and therefore he conceives an opinion of righteousness, and resumes on his good works and merits.  Such a one God cannot otherwise mollify and humble but by the law, for that is the hammer of death, the thundering of hell, and the lightning of God’s wrath, that beats to powder the obstinate and senseless hypocrites.  Therefore, says God by the prophet Jeremiah (23:29):  “My word is a hammer, breaking rocks.”  As long as the opinion of righteousness remains in a man, there abides also in him incomprehensible pride, presumption, security, hatred of God, contempt for His grace and mercy, ignorance of the promises and of Christ.  The preaching of free remission of sins, through Christ, cannot enter into the heart of such a one, neither can he feel any taste or savor thereof; for that adamant wall of the presumption of righteousness resists it.  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 203)

 

When the law has been preached to crush all self-righteousness in sinners, then the gospel must be presented.  The two are necessary, but must be sharply distinguished.  The true preachers and the true Christians are the ones who know the law and the gospel and know when and how to apply each to the Christian’s conscience.  (R.C. Sproul & Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther, 166)

 

So What?:  Your salvation will never be amazing and electrifying, your witness will never be amazing and electrifying, your life with never be amazing and electrifying unless or until you see the Good News of the Gospel in the context of the absolutely terrifying bad news of the holiness, justice, wrath and judgment of God.

 

If we see ourselves as a little sinner, we will see Christ as a little savior

If we see ourselves as a big sinner, we will see Christ as a big savior.  — Martin Luther

 

The true way to Christianity is this, that a man first acknowledges himself by the law to be a sinner, and that it is impossible for him to do any good work.  For the law says:  You are an evil tree, and therefore all that you think, speak, or do, is against God.  You cannot therefore deserve grace by your works:  which if you go about to do, you double your offense; for since you are an evil tree, you cannot but bring forth evil fruits, that is to say, sins.  “For whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Rom 14:23).  So he who would merit grace by works going before faith, goes about to please God with sins, which is nothing else but to heap sin upon sin, to mock God, and to provoke His wrath.   When a man is thus taught and instructed by the law, then is he terrified and humbled, then he sees indeed the greatness of his sin, and cannot find in himself one spark of love of God; therefore he justifies God in His Word, and confesses that he is guilty of death and eternal damnation.  The first part then of Christianity is the preaching of repentance and the knowledge of ourselves.”    (Martin Luther; Commentary on Galatians, 92)

 

Once the interpretation of the Scriptures and the concept of truth was taken away from the church itself, it was given away to each individual, and real and objective truth itself was effectively abolished.  Once the authority of the church was broken up and the opportunity to disagree with the church was possible, anyone might disagree with any authority, and a thousand churches might spring up, each with its own version of the truth.  This is indeed precisely what happened.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 219)

 

Many historians have put Luther forward as the first to put “individual conscience” before the authority of the church and empire.  But ironically, he was not at all asserting the freedom of the individual to do as he pleased.  He was asserting the freedom of the individual to do as God pleased–if and when the church or the state attempted to abrogate that freedom.  Luther was asserting the modern idea of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience for the first time in history.  These things point not to man as a new free agent but to God himself.  That it would be possible for someone to abuse these ideas to do what God did not want him to do was always the risk, so to the extent that Luther made that risk and error possible, he may be held responsible for that.  (Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, 221)

 

(Ps 18:27; 51:17; 147:6; 149:4; Prv 3:34;  Isa 57:15; 66:2;  Lk 1:52; Eph 4:2a; Phil 2:3; Col 3:12; Jam 1:9; 4:6, 10;  1 Pt 3:8; 5:5-6)

 

Martin Luther once wrote a letter to George Spalatin, a Christian brother who had worked with Luther during the Reformation.  Spalatin had a difficult time dealing with overwhelming feelings of guilt over some spurious advice he’d once given.  When Luther learned of Spalatin’s condition, he wrote to him the following:

My faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners.  You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our Helper only when we want to be rid of imaginary, nominal, and childish sins.  No, no!  That would not be good for us.  He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total…

Dr. Staupitz comforted me on a certain occasion when I was a patient in the same hospital and suffering the same affliction as you, by addressing me thus:  Aha!  You want to be a painted sinner and, accordingly, expect to have in Christ a painted Savior.  You will have to get used to the belief that Christ is a real Savior and you a real sinner.  For God is neither jesting nor dealing in imaginary affairs, but He was greatly and most assuredly in earnest when He sent His own Son into the world and sacrificed Him for our sakes.  (Steve Brown; What Was I Thinking?, 149 – bold emphasis Pastor Keith)

 

 

JESUS:

our RIGHTEOUSNESS

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