Entries tagged with “justification”.

luther-face-webMy latest at First Things went up a few days ago (February 18), to coincide with the anniversary of Luther’s death. Since then, it’s been picked up by Real Clear Religion and the Gospel Coalition, among other sites.

On this day in 1546, Martin Luther fell asleep in the Lord. Lutherans therefore recognize him this day and thank God for him. But let’s be honest: Luther wasn’t always a very nice man.

So begins the article. I go on to discuss Luther’s failings (they are many) before bringing us back to the real reason we remember him:

“This truly is why we remember Luther: not because he was always nice, not because he was always good, and certainly not because he was always right. He wasn’t. Instead, we remember Luther because he directed attention always away from himself to Christ. It is to Christ we look for salvation, not our own holiness.”

Read the whole thing at “Standing with Martin Luther: Remembering a sinful saint.”

(The title of this post is taken from Anthony Sacramone’s tweeted description of my article).


My column for the September/October issue of The Canadian Lutheran is available online. That issue of the magazine had a dual focus on international missions and remembering the Reformation. I like to think I tied together those two focuses together in a fairly coherent way in my article, reflecting on St. Paul’s teaching that our faith moves us to share the Gospel. “We believe, therefore we have spoken.” The good news of salvation through God’s grace—the Reformation truth of justification—is not something we keep to ourselves. We can’t keep it to ourselves. It bursts forth from our lips—the Good News that Christ’s death and resurrection has accomplished our salvation.

cl2805-coverLuther could not keep quiet about this discovery; the Good News that we are declared righteous through faith in the Gospel was something everyone needed to know. Like Luther, we too are motivated by the Spirit to tell others that God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s mercy, not their works. Indeed, our faith compels us to share the Gospel. St. Paul explains it well: “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:13-15).

Read the whole article online here: We believe, therefore we speak.

Today is Reformation Sunday. Technically, Reformation Day falls upon October 31 (that being the date upon which Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Church door in Wittenburg). This is the Sunday before that great anniversary, and so it is our day of remembrance. Across the globe, churches today proudly sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” They dress their altars with red paraments, reflecting both the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Reformation, and the martyrs’ sacrifices during this era. It seems fitting then, that on this day we should pause to consider what Reformation is – and what it most certainly is not.

Some time ago, I was sitting with an acquaintance of mine, and our conversation moved to a discussion of Luther. It seemed to me that we had common ground. We both praised him as a hero of the faith, and as a man through whom God did wonders. He was, we agreed, a true follower of Christ, one of those saints in whom we may find inspiration and example. And then this young woman said something which struck me: “I like to think that if Luther was alive today, he’d be right there proclaiming that social Gospel.” I asked her to elaborate and soon discovered that she believed Luther would be pushing for female ordination, homosexual-inclusivity, and all manner of other “justice” issues. But what was remarkably lacking in her depiction of the man was any reference to his faith: no theology of the cross, no salvation by grace alone, and, inexplicably, no sola scriptura.1

It was evident that the Luthers we both so admired were not the same man. She saw a revolutionary; I knew the reformer.

Reformation, contrary to what some liberal factions in the Church today might state, is not about becoming relevant. Quite the opposite, actually. It is about being re-formed, that is to say, formed again into the original image. It is not a new creation, but a returning to the way things once were. The argument, in Luther’s day, was that the Church had departed from its original moorings of Scripture – that they, just as the Pharisees before them, had “for the sake of [their] tradition… made void the word of God” (Matthew 15:6).2 Luther’s desire was to help the Church get back to an authentic and historical Christianity. Consider Luther’s words from his introduction to his Commentary on Galatians:

“I have taken in hand, in the name of the Lord, yet once again to expound this Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians; not because I do desire to teach new things, or such as ye have not heard before, especially since that, by the grace of Christ, Paul is now thoroughly known unto you; but for that (as I have often forewarned you) this we have to fear as the greatest and nearest danger, lest Satan take from us this doctrine of faith, and bring into the church again the doctrine of works and men’s traditions.”3

Luther did not condemn tradition per se, but he did condemn anything which would contradict the Scriptures (and thus, that instrument through which we receive faith). And most certainly Luther would have included in his condemnation those liberal teachings which ignore biblical pronouncements on such issues as female ordination, homosexual-inclusivity, and others where people are so keen to pander to the “values” of our contemporary society. Martin Luther had no desire to be either relevant or rebellious. He wanted to be faithful to Scripture.

And so we see that Luther would never, absolutely never, have become an advocate of the modern concept called the “social gospel.” Doing good works, helping the poor, fighting true injustice… These are necessary things, to be true. And Luther agreed we must do them. But they are not the Gospel, and they should never be confused with the Gospel. The Gospel, in the words of St. Paul, is simple and pure: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This was Luther’s message. This was the message of the Reformation. And this is the message we should reflect upon in this season of remembrance: we have been saved by the grace of God alone.

1Lat. “Scripture Alone.”

2English Standard Version, as are all other Scripture quotations.

3Luther, Martin. A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Translation Robert Middleton, 1553. Adapted, unknown. Smith, English & Co. Philadelphia: 1860. p. 130.