Friday, October 31, 2008

A Mighty Fortress is our God

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! II Cor. 9:15

Today is Reformation Day, the commemoration of the day in 1517 that Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses at the doors of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany to debate the doctrine and practice of indulgences. This was not an act of defiance as is sometimes thought. Luther was simply taking advantage of location: since the Castle Church faced Wittenberg's main thoroughfare, the church door functioned as a public bulletin board and was therefore the logical place for posting important notices.

This posting of the Theses was an initial attempt to bring reform to the Catholic Church. Many were troubled by what they saw as false doctrines and malpractices within the Church, particularly involving the teaching and sale of indulgences. This corruption was seen by many at the time as systemic, even reaching the position of the Pope.

An indulgence, in Roman Catholic theology, is the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. The indulgence is granted by the church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution. The belief is that indulgences draw on the storehouse of merit acquired by Jesus' sacrifice and the virtues and penances of the saints. They are granted for specific good works and prayers.

Luther knew, from reading God’s Word, that people didn’t need to buy forgiveness from the church – it was already granted to us from God through Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. And it is not a result of good works and prayers, but rather is God’s free gift to us!

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Paul makes it clear that it’s nothing we can do – it is not of ourselves. More good works and more prayers won’t “buy” us more grace. It’s God’s gift to those who believe. We have all sinned, but we are justified as a gift by His grace, and not by the works of the Law.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Romans 3:21-28

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. Galatians 2:16

I am so thankful that I don't have to earn, or buy, forgiveness and grace. As a child of the King, I am granted it daily. For that, I praise Him.

*Although this hymn's content is not about work vs grace, it is the traditional Reformation hymn so I wanted to include it today.

A Mighty Fortress is Our God
Words by Martin Luther

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

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 that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

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