God’s Righteousness

No. 25 - 29th January 2017

I suspect that one way or another, we’re going to hear a lot about the Reformation this year. October the 11th is the 500th anniversary of the day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a Church in Wittenberg. The Reformation had begun. That one episode in Germany was to set off a chain reaction that spread throughout the whole of Europe within a few months. It all started over the matter of Indulgences. An indulgence is a way of reducing the amount of punishment you have to go through for your sins that have already been forgiven. And there are various things you can do to earn these indulgences. Well, at the time, some bright spark came up with the idea of selling indulgences as a way of solving the Church’s financial problems. A lot of people loved the idea. It meant they could do what they liked and pay their way out of any repercussions. You could effectively buy your Salvation. In fact you could even pay to get your friends and family out of Purgatory. Luther was infuriated by this, and wrote as one of the 95 Theses. “They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the coffer, the soul flies out of purgatory”.

Martin Luther was a monk in his mid thirties, and Professor of Theology at Wittenberg University. His 95 Theses were a list of arguments against this practice of selling indulgences and were intended as a basis for discussion with his Bishop. However, they quickly lit a spark that exploded into the Reformation, and they weren’t even his main contribution to the movement. For some time he had been comparing the traditional teaching of the Church, with what he was finding in Scripture, and the two didn’t seem match up. Most important was his understanding of Salvation. His reading of Scripture told him that we can’t buy our Salvation, and we can’t even earn it by being good, or doing good works. Salvation is a free gift from God. It was achieved totally by Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross, in our place. And if I believe that, then I’m putting my faith in what Jesus did to bring about my salvation. As Luther’s favourite Scripture puts it, “For it’s by God’s tremendous generosity that we are saved, through faith. It’s not our own doing. It’s a gift from God”. Wow, what a gift that would be. It’s basically what the Reformation was all about.

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