"A Reformation Invitation - the Just Live by Faith "#85-09
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 29, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Special : Reflections on the Reformation - Part 3)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Romans 1:16-17
"I'm not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. 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, the just shall live by faith.'" Christ is risen; He is risen indeed. Hallelujah! Amen.
The just will live by faith alone. That's the truth today just as it was the very day it was written by the hand of the apostle Paul in the book of Romans in the Bible. It was true 500 years ago in the reaffirming Reformation work of a pious monk named Martin Luther who rediscovered this Good News, this biblical message of the power of forgiveness, life, and salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And this simple, straightforward, clear message of life and salvation in Jesus is an invitation for you to believe, for you to live again today.
This is Reformation Sunday, and folks, it is my last official sermon as The Lutheran Hour Speaker, and I'm writing it and I'm speaking it right here in that place when the very Reformation began. I'm in Wittenberg, Germany, the place of a simple monk named Martin Luther; the place of a professor of exegetical theology, Martin Luther; the place of a pastor who wanted what was best for his people, Martin Luther. The message that he had for them is the same one that he has for you: the just will live by faith in Christ alone.
Five-hundred years ago, Martin Luther unleashed the grace of God in Jesus Christ upon the world anew, but here's the question: can this message turn the world upside down again? Is this message-the just will live by faith alone-capable of transforming the modern world? Maybe the better question is can this message transform you?
As the speaker of The Lutheran Hour, one who has been behind this microphone for almost seven years, I'm dedicated to proclaiming the truth that this message can indeed change your life. It can change mine. This message is about the preaching and the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus. What a message of hope it is in the middle of despair. It's life in the middle of death. It's salvation to all who are overwhelmed by grief and guilt, struggle and pain. So today I strive to be as clear as I can for you and for me. The just live by faith alone? Yes, absolutely, yes, because the Just One-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One-He lived, He died, and He rose again for you.
Martin Luther was so sure of the truth of this that he wrote an enduring hymn to the power of that Gospel in Jesus. The hymn is called "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." He, that mighty fortress in Christ, is the reason that life is still possible in this world, that peace is still possible amidst the violence and discord, that forgiveness is still possible and reconciliation is still possible in your life and in mine. The just live by faith, and that message is a transforming power even today because it is God, the mighty fortress, who is at work in the world amidst this world's craziness, sinfulness, evil, and chaos.
There's a story that came out of World War II about this transforming power amidst the world's evil and chaos. The story was about a small village in Poland, and the fateful day was when the Nazis came to town. It was a day where the phrase "the just will live by faith" was better today "the just will die in faith." The people were gathered in their church. They were there worshiping when the troops of the Third Reich swarmed into the village. They entered the church. They escorted everyone outside, and they set fire to the structure. As the soldiers then trained their weapons on the congregation, these people began to sing. Now what song did they sing? What verse could matter now?
They began to sing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." In the midst of the madness of the modern world-a world of Third Reichs and master races and military madness and arrogant humanistic pride-another message rang out: a mighty fortress is our God. And strangely, these German soldiers-many of them just children themselves, doing what they were told-they realized that these were words and this was the music of a hymn that they themselves had heard. It was written by a famous German long ago, Martin Luther. It was a song that many of them sang growing up, though long since drowned out by the new promise of the so-called modern world. Now, here, it was being sung amidst violence, amidst fire, amidst danger, at the end of the barrel of a gun, but the people kept singing. They sang verse after verse, waiting for the bullets they expected to rip into their bodies and stop their song, but the bullets never came.
Finally, looking around at the German soldiers surrounding them, they were astonished to see the guns lowered and every hardened Nazi face streaming with tears. The soldiers, one by one, two by two, slowly turned and climbed back into their trucks, as they pulled away from the little town, leaving behind a congregation of the faithful standing outside of their burning church, singing. No doubt these words still echoed in their ears. "Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing? Dost ask who this may be? Christ Jesus, it is He. Lord Sabaoth His Name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle."
And He did. And the just will live by faith in Him, no matter what this world comes to. The just will live by faith in Him, now and forever.
So let's be clear today. Let's be clear today. Who are these just ones? Luther was under no illusions. In fact, here's where you're going to be very surprised. Luther taught what the Bible taught, that we are all sinners, we are all incapable of being the very just ones that God created us to be. The churches of Jesus Christ are not full of people who believe that they are "holier than thou." No, the churches of Jesus are full of people just like you, people who know that they themselves are the unjust ones in need of a great salvation, a great forgiveness-people who yearn to not only receive the powerful mercy of God, but yearn to live lives of mercy, joy, and peace in His Name.
Luther took sin seriously because he took life seriously. That's why he entered the monastery. That's why he tried to live life the best that he could, and what he found out is even his very best was not enough. So please be honest today. You know that your best is not enough even for you, either. We don't even measure up to our own standards, let alone God's. If the just alone live and the unjust don't, then all of us are those unjust ones by our works and deeds. Luther took sin seriously because he took life even more seriously, joyfully.
People today say that they are unconcerned about such things. You know, that people are not concerned about the things Luther was concerned about, that Luther's questions aren't even being asked today. But I say people are the same as they've always been. We just assuage our consciences differently. They bought indulgences then-religious artifacts that they thought would cover their guilt and sin; today, we join causes. We run races. We go on pilgrimages to assuage our guilt. We speak about carbon offsets. We speak of paying taxes as if they're religious offerings. We demand certain kinds of cars, certain kinds of foods, certain kinds of lies, all conforming to some piety, secular or spiritual, all to assuage our guilt or to punish the new lawbreakers. The just will live, we say today, not by faith, but by works. And Luther's questions and the Bible's answers are engaged anew.
This is my last official sermon as The Lutheran Hour speaker, so I'm going to be more direct than usual. This message, the just will live by faith, it is the only hope for the world in which we live. It's the only hope for people who know they're sinners, through and through. It's the only hope for you and me, and here's the good news: it is a hope you can have today. It is a joy that you can experience right now. Luther rediscovered that the message of the Bible was not some message of puritanical piety. It was not some message of self-help for a sinful people. And God forbid, it was not some political prescription for social change. It was a proclamation of freedom, of life and salvation, and the Person and work of Jesus Christ for all who would believe in Him.
The just will live, but the Bible teaches that there is only one Just One: Jesus the Messiah. And He came and lived a perfect life as the God-man in the flesh. You know the Christmas stories about His invasion into our miserable situation. He came not to live life as a mere example; He came to live it in our place. And He lived that perfect life not for Himself, but for you and for me. He lived our lives and took upon Himself our sin and judgment so that His earned life could be our life as a gift. The essence of the Gospel is this: Jesus enters our injustice. Jesus enters our sinful chaos and rebellion. He comes to live the life that we were meant to live, to die the death that we had earned by our sinful lives, and to give us His life and salvation as a gift of grace through faith alone.
Luther called this the happy exchange, and that sure sums it up, doesn't it? Instead of judgment, we receive His mercy. Instead of eternal death, we receive eternal life. Why? Because Christ has made it possible through His life, death, and resurrection for all. That's what Christmas is all about. That's what Good Friday is all about. That's what Easter morning is all about. That's what the Reformation message was then, and that's what it is today.
My friend, if you're yearning for life today, look to Jesus Christ. He was the heart and soul of a Reformation movement that changed the world but, more importantly, He is the center of the message that can still change your life and mine. I don't know what you're going through today. I don't know if you're overwhelmed with guilt. I don't know if you're numbed by the purposelessness of modern life. I don't know if you're one who's just having a blast in life, but you know something is missing. I don't know if you're overwhelmed, underappreciated, set upon by doubts and regrets, or just looking for something to believe in again. The Reformation says, "Look to Jesus alone. Because the just will live not by their works, not by their best efforts; they will live by faith in the One who is their Lord, their Savior, their brother, their friend. Jesus Christ."
Several years ago I had the distinct pleasure of leading many of you on a tour of Germany, the lands of Luther, and one place was especially meaningful to me, the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany. There is one place in the castle, a small desk where Luther was reported to have labored for many days, translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into German. Very nearby that desk is an ink spot on the wall. Tour guides regularly point out that spot on the wall in this cold, dark, even foreboding place. Here's the story that is told of that spot.
One night, during a bout of mournful solitude when suffering from great depression, the great reformer dreamed that Satan appeared to him with a long scroll in which were carefully written the many sins and transgressions of which he was guilty from his birth and which, the evil one proceeded to read, mocking all the time that such a sinner as he should ever think to be called to do service for God or ever escaping himself from hell. As the long list was being read, Luther's terrors grew and his agonies of soul increased. At last, however, rousing himself, he jumped up and exclaimed, "It's all true, Satan! It's all true, and many more sins which I've committed in my life which are known to God alone. But right at the bottom of your list, the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin." Then, grasping the inkstand on his table, he threw it at the devil, who fled, the memorial of that event being left in the ink splash right there on the wall.
For the believer in Jesus, all your sins, all your struggles, all your guilt, all your pain-bring them to the foot of the cross of Jesus alone. Hear His declaration of forgiveness, His gift of new life, just for you-for you, for me, for Luther, for all. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. St. Paul proclaims-Luther reclaims-this incredible truth of the Bible for all people. There is a Gospel proclamation. There is good news for all people today because the Gospel of Jesus is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. 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 just will live by faith."
The just will live by faith alone. It's an invitation to life and salvation, not some prescription for religious piety. It's an invitation to receive mercy and to become a mercy-giver to a sinfully demanding world. It's an invitation to be a believer in Jesus, to receive all that He has accomplished for you through His cross and resurrection, and then to live that life in Him for others. Don't just hear this message today. Receive it, believe it, and begin to live your eternal life in it. The Bible is clear: the just will live eternally in Christ alone by grace through faith in Him alone.
The just will indeed live by faith, and today my Reformation prayer and hope is that such a faith is yours today-a grace-alone, faith-alone, life-in-Christ-alone blessing. There's no better way to live now and forever. Amen.
Special Reformation/Martin Luther Discussion - Part 3
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. I'm Mark Eischer, and joining me here today and once again in the studio is Dr. Gregory Seltz, Dr. Dale Meyer and, joining us from his home in Texas, Pastor Ken Klaus. Once again, welcome to you all.
Gregory Seltz: Great to be here.
Dale Meyer: Our pleasure.
Mark Eischer: Luther ignited a movement that transformed Western Christianity. It's called the Reformation, not the revolution. Pastor Seltz, what's the difference?
Gregory Seltz: Even in the Scripture, St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10, "What I receive from the Lord, I make known to you." I think that's Luther's compulsion, too. He's trying to be faithful to the Scripture. He's trying to be faithful to his people, and when he begins to see that the church is not upholding its job, there is a reformation because you want to be faithful to the things that Christ has given you. That's different than a revolution. You're being faithful to what's given you, not creating something brand new out of full cloth.
Mark Eischer: Martin Luther stood before the holy Roman emperor. He refused to recant his teachings, and the Reformation takes off while the holy Roman Empire is distracted by other things. Meanwhile, Luther continues with his writing and his teaching. Dr. Meyer, how did the church begin to change then during this time, and if I'd been a parishioner at the local church, what might I notice happening?
Dale Meyer: That's an interesting question. I'm just thinking that if I am Hans and my wife is Diane and we go to church, we might not notice anything. It would depend upon the priest and upon the government of that region. Slowly, I think we would start to hear rumblings that there is something big going on, but it would depend. If the priest of our parish bought into what Luther was teaching, and if the elector-the government leader-did, then we would see changes pretty quickly. But a lot of it depended, I think, upon externals. I think most people would understand something is afoot.
Mark Eischer: Pastor Klaus, what threats did Europe face at this time, and how did that affect the Reformation?
Ken Klaus: Their world was in many ways a lot like ours. Columbus had just discovered the New World. The Renaissance was changing the way humanity thought about itself in relationship with the Lord. Technology-the printing press, gunpowder-inventions were outstripping humanity's ability to morally deal with them and, of course, Islam was still there, knocking at the doors of Europe.
Mark Eischer: Pastor Seltz, the Reformation itself sparked a generation-long religious war in Europe. What was the outcome?
Gregory Seltz: You begin to see Luther's proclamation of the Gospel upset the whole cultural apple cart, and there's gonna be politicians and warriors trying to put it back together. Eventually, they come to a truce of kinds, the Peace of Westphalia, and there's a religious autonomy, and there's a sense where things have changed and the Gospels had free reign in many ways, and that's and exciting thing.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer, we touched on this briefly, but how did Luther's approach compare to that of other reformers of his day?
Dale Meyer: I think Luther was the most incisive when it came to the biblical message of grace-not works. He drew that especially from St. Paul. St. Paul used the truth of grace as opposed to works for the sake of the Gentile mission, and also overturning any Jewish reliance upon religious works. What Luther did was to take that Pauline externally focused message of grace for the sake of the mission and turn it in on the church. He says in the first thesis that the total life of a Christian is repentance. What that meant was that grace means every gathering of the people of God in Christ is going to operate according to different rules than society. That took on the established church in the day. I think that was his insight into theology and grace that really took off.
Mark Eischer: Pastor Klaus?
Ken Klaus: It needs to be stated that Luther, while the most famous and really the most prominent of reformers, he wasn't the only one. Other nations had their own. There was the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli, a few years later John Calvin. All of these had followers, and some of those followers were quite violent in promoting their beliefs, and they became revolutionaries.
Mark Eischer: Pastor Klaus, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, what would you say are the most profound, lasting impressions Martin Luther has left on our world today?
Ken Klaus: The pendulum of popularity for Martin Luther, it swings radically from one side to the other. One century has him being a super saint, and the other one certainly less than that. It's not an exaggeration to say you'd be hard-pressed to find an area where Luther didn't leave an impact, but if you have to nail it down to one thing, it's restoring Scripture to the people and, in doing that, he cuts out the middleman. He lets God speak for Himself through the life, the sacrifice, the suffering, the death, and resurrection of God's Son who saves us.
Mark Eischer: Once again, thanks to Pastor Seltz, Pastor Klaus, Dr. Meyer for this special look at Martin Luther and the enduring legacy of the Reformation.
Gregory Seltz: It's really been great to be here and be a part of it.
Ken Klaus: Thank you for the opportunity.
Dale Meyer: I enjoyed it.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"In Peace and Joy I Now Depart" by Martin Luther, setting by J.S. Bach. From Martin Luther: Hymns, Ballads, Chants, Truth (© 2004 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.
"We All Believe in One True God" by Martin Luther, arr. Neff.