500 Years Later
Text: Romans 1:16-17 | Listen to Message
Why The Reformation [Still] Matters
500 years ago, a 33 year-old German monk left his monastery, walked across the town of Wittenberg, and nailed a poster to the door of Castle Church. Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” – as they came to be known – were an invitation to public theological debate, primarily with one Johann Tetzel. Luther was challenging Tetzel over the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences to raise funds to renovate St. Peter’s Basilica back in Rome. That was October 31, 1517. The Protestant Reformation was born. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Rewind a few years. The law-student-turned-seminarian was a frustrated man with a deeply troubled conscience. At the heart of Luther’s angst was his understanding of Romans 1:16-17 – “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed…”
Wait, Luther wondered, how could the gospel of Jesus Christ be good news if it reveals the righteousness of God? God’s righteousness obligates Him to punish our sins. Thus, His attribute of righteousness stands over and against us. It is a dreadful thing. How is this good news – gospel – for anyone?
Luther spiraled into anger and despair. He obsessed over confessing his every sin, no matter how minor; otherwise God’s righteousness would have to condemn him. He grew to fear – and then hate – God.
Nevertheless, he kept reading the Bible. He kept studying this all-important phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith.” He kept digging through texts like Romans 3:20-28 and Galatians 2:15-16 that make it clear no one can be justified by works of the law but only through faith in Christ. He began to see in texts like Romans 5:12-21 that the righteousness of God is not just an attribute or character trait; it is also a free gift to those who believe in Jesus!
Taking this newfound understanding back to Romans 1:16-17, the light came on for Luther – a light which would become the heart and soul of The Protestant Reformation. Luther discovered the good news of the gospel: The righteousness of God is the righteousness He gives us through faith in Jesus so that we might be righteous before Him.
This is justification by faith: By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, declares a sinner righteous before Him. There is no longer enmity with God, but forgiveness and fellowship and eternal life.