The Reformation Event: How Can It Affect Our Lives Today?

On October 31, 1517, a thirty-four-year-old monk by the name of Martin Luther posted ninety-five theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany to be debated by those interested in doctrinal error in the Church. This marked the official beginning of what is known in history as the Reformation Event.

The question that comes before us in this sermon is this: How does the Reformation affect the spiritual life of people who live 500 years later?

First, we look at what the Gospel did to Luther’s life.

When the disciples left Jerusalem to evangelize the world, they had a very simple message to proclaim. They were to tell the story that God came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ; He suffered and died for the sins of world; and those who confess their sins and trust him as their Savior and Lord will be his children forever.

When Luther was a young man with great spiritual concerns, this message had been so clouded by the Church that he could not understand how a person could find peace with God. No longer was the Church proclaiming that God was love, that he sent his Son to die for the sins of the world, and that forgiveness and peace with God was a gift from God simply through trusting Jesus as their Savior and Lord. No longer did the spiritually needy hear they could walk in a personal relationship with the Savior who loved them.

Hoping to find this peace, Luther entered the Augustinian monastery where he hoped to escape the temptations of the world. Instead, Satan met him inside that building, and his soul was tortured still. No matter how often Luther went to confession, he found no peace.

Yet he continued his studies and was a faithful monk. In 1512 he received the degree of Doctor of Theology and became a professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg. It was while Luther was preparing his lectures on the book of Romans that God spoke to the young theologian through these words: “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: ÔThe righteous live by faith'” (Romans 1:17).

Luther’s eyes were opened. He had peace in his mind and fire in his soul. This was a message that the world must hear: “The righteous live by faith.” However, the hierarchy did not share Luther’s conviction. They warned the people that a “wild boar” was loose in the vineyard.

After years of theological arguments and trials, Luther was called to Worms to withdraw his treatise on the Church’s departure from Scripture. As he stood before noted theologians and Emperor Charles himself, they asked if he was ready to withdraw his writings. It was then that Luther made his famous statement:

“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other Ð my conscience is bound to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go contrary to conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.”

Luther was a convicted heretic and excommunicated from the Church. He could be hunted and killed. It was not a pleasant experience, for Luther loved the Church.

Next we ask, how can this reformation experience affect us who live five hundred years later?

Today, I would like to mention the first of three great blessings that are a part of our rich evangelical heritage. They were given by the Holy Spirit and were returned to the Church’s proclamation following the Reformation.

We are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone!

During these years since the Reformation, people have come to know Christ and have passed the message on in many ways throughout the world. Missionaries have paid a tremendous price by sharing this gospel in heathen lands, and they are still doing so today. But God has blessed His Church, and the world has been changed.

Yet as we see the blessings that have come to the world since the Reformation, we find human nature cannot comprehend the message that salvation is free. Gradually the gospel does not ring as clearly as the Bible teaches. Let me illustrate.

When I was a young person, we had annual Reformation rallies. Congregations gathered and joint choirs sang Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” with great luster. Outstanding preachers came to tell the story of how God used the reformer to tell us the simple Gospel. We were inspired and went home as faithful children of the Reformation.

However, I had no peace in my soul. I had been taught, and I believed, that salvation came through faith in Christ alone. Yet I was also told by some of the well-meaning pietists in our congregation that I could not do certain activities if I was God’s child. For example, I could not attend a school-sponsored dance, for this might lead me into adultery. Soon the same thought that plagued Luther in the monastery developed in my head. Salvation came through faith in Christ plus keeping some of the legalistic rules, like not dancing, drinking, playing cards, etc. Many of us were raised on this teaching of mixing the Law and the Gospel. It only led to confusion about the Christian faith.

It was not until I was a sophomore in college that I first heard the gospel clearly. I sat in the back row of an auditorium listening to a theological professor speak to 400 pastors. He said to the assembled pastors, “I do not like to be offensive, but I must say in Christian love that when I hear some of the preaching coming from our pulpits on Sunday morning, it is not a clear gospel. You are telling the congregation that they are saved by believing in Jesus, but then you add that they must also do something. The results are that the poor people are not spiritually able to do what is demanded of them, and they have no peace. Such preaching reminds me of the advertisement that says, ÔIt is 99.44% pure,’ meaning that, although Christ has done most of what is necessary for salvation, we also have to make a contribution to it. This takes away the assurance of our salvation!”

That did it for me! I was free. It was the greatest day in my life. Christ had done it all, and I contribute nothing! Did that mean that as a free person I could now go out and follow the desires of my sinful nature? Not at all. My life would now be lived out of love for my Heavenly Father. He redeemed me and I am His forever. He had captured my soul. He would direct me in my living, but the good that would come from my sinful being was a fruit of my faith, not a contribution to my salvation.

As I listen to preaching today and read some of the theological books on social justice, I fear we fall into the same sin of work righteousness. Certainly a Christian loves his brother and sister, feeds the hungry, cares for the sick, and visits the poor in spirit, but these actions are a fruit of the faith, not a contributing factor to his salvation.

The Gospel Ð that we are saved by grace Ð is so far above our human reasoning that we cannot comprehend it. We hear people say there is no free lunch. Many believe this is also true when it comes to their eternal salvation. So they hope they will be saved, but have no assurance. Others believe there is nothing to worry about. A gracious and loving God will save us all.

The Reformation event gave us back the clear biblical teaching that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus. This is the core of the Christian faith, which is eternal. God grant that it may be proclaimed faithfully until he comes again.

A Spiritual Checkup: How’s the Diet?

Have you had a physical checkup lately? I’ve had a few in my life. The older I get, the more important it seems to be to get things checked out. When I go to see my doctor, he will check my vital signs, draw some blood for tests, and poke and prod around every opening in my body. Along the way, he will typically ask me some questions regarding my health. He may ask how I’ve been feeling and if I’ve been taking care of myself. One of the things doctors will often ask about is diet. If the weight is off or if the tests come back showing high cholesterol or high blood pressure readings, diet will most certainly be a subject that is addressed during that visit to the doctor.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like being told what to eat and what not to eat. I came across a story with a prescribed diet that I might like to try. This person wrote: “Yesterday I went to the doctor for my yearly physical. My blood pressure was high, my cholesterol was high, I’d gained some weight, and I didn’t feel so hot. My doctor said eating right doesn’t have to be complicated, and it would solve my problems. ÔJust think of colors. Fill your plate with bright colors Ð greens, yellows, reds, etc.’ So I went right home and ate an entire bowl of M & Ms. Sure enough, I felt better immediately. I never knew eating right could be so easy.”

Sounds like a good diet, doesn’t it? But seriously, you and I know proper diet is important for good health.

Just as the body needs proper nurturing, so do our souls. Jesus was talking with his disciples the evening before he was crucified for the sins of the world. He told them they needed to abide in him Ð to stick with him the rest of their days. He described himself as the life-giving vine, and they were the branches. Apart from him, they could do nothing. He talked about the vital signs of a healthy Christian life as bearing fruit. He meant a couple of things when he talked about fruit:

1. Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. These would be displayed in our actions and attitudes.

2. Bearing fruit also was spoken about people who would be brought into the kingdom of God through our efforts.

Jesus then, in John 15:7-11, prescribes for the disciples how they might abide in him. To abide in his Word means to read and study the Bible, trust him and his promises, and believe that he truly does know what makes life work.

Notice the prayer promise attached to this for those who hearts are filled with the Word Ð “Ask and it will be done for you.” What does he mean by that? It sounds like a blank check, doesn’t it? But that’s not what he is saying at all!

When Christ’s Word dwells in us, we ask those things that Christ would ask. We begin to pray with the mind of Christ, keeping his priorities and his promises in mind.

As you live with Christ in the gospels, you discover quite a bit about the prayer life of Jesus and what he asked his heavenly Father for:

¥ Strength to serve Ð “Not my will but your will be done . . .” prayed in the Garden of Gethesemane.

¥ Forgiveness for his attackers Ð “Father forgive them . . .” as he hung on the cross.

¥ Strength for his disciples Ð that they would glorify God and stay strong in the truth for the sake of the kingdom.

¥ Guidance in what to do with each day for the sake of the kingdom.

Abiding also means keeping Christ’s commandments. Jesus went on to say to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” Just think of it; you have been loved! He went to the cross to die for our sins in order that we might have forgiveness and eternal life.

You have been loved as you are. The world may put conditions on the love it will give, but Christ’s love is offered freely and unconditionally to all. Receive it. Revel in it! Remain in it! You have been loved!

Here is how he says we can remain in his love. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” What does it mean to keep his commandments?

First, when I keep something, it means that I value it. I hold onto it because I consider it useful in my life. It is important to me.

In the Old Testament, the Word of God was described as a great treasure. Listen to Psalm 19:7-10,

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul,

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure enduring forever.

The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.

They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;

They are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.”

Next, to keep his commandments means that I not only treasure them, I also will obey them and put them to work in my daily life. I will live by them!

What are these commandments Jesus is talking about? One day Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment. He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Matthew 22:37-38). Love God and your neighbor.

In another place, he told his disciples, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things that you worry so much about shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). In this particular chapter, after Jesus talked about remaining and keeping his commandments, he would go on to say to them, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Now some scholars believe that Jesus was referring to everything he ever said to his disciples, his whole message, about totally trusting him with their lives. Jesus said spiritual help comes to a person who not only reads and hears his commandments, but actually lives by them.

Finally, Jesus sums up this little section of his talk with these words, “I’ve said all this to you that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full.” Let me paraphrase this for us. “I’ve told you that I am the vine and you are the branches. So you remain in me in order to bear fruit. And to abide in me means abiding in my promises and keeping my commands so that you may have my joy in you. Jesus said,”I’ve said all these things so that you can have joy!” He wants us to have joy Ð the sense of well-being in any and all circumstances.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is the chief business of heaven.” I like that.

Dr. John Lloyd Ogilivie wrote that you and I were created to enjoy God. He writes, “Enjoy God? Isn’t that word – enjoy – a bit frivolous to describe our relationship with the Almighty? Not when we understand the deeper meaning of enjoyment. Authentic enjoyment is the experience and expression of joy. And true joy is the outward manifestation of the inner grip of grace on our souls. So enjoying God begins with the sheer delight of God and receiving his unmerited favor and unqualified love.”

So how is your spiritual diet these days? Are you nurturing your soul in his word? We can do that in a variety of ways.

¥ The joy of worship. That is our lifeblood as we come together to be fed the Word.

¥ The joy of personal Bible study. Read a story a day out of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Read it over and over.

¥ The joy of discovery in a group of other believers who are looking for that same intimacy with Christ that you long for. I’ve seen the Word come alive in that setting many times.

The truth is, we need the Word Ð it is life.

What God said to St. Augustine Ð an early Christian Church Father Ð a long time ago when he was far from God, He says to us. “Take it and read.”

When Is Enough, Enough?

Rejection is a crushing emotion. No one knew this better than Jesus. In the most difficult times of his earthly life, Jesus saw people turn their backs and disown him.

As he sat on the mountain overlooking Jerusalem, he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). He was rejected by the crowds.

Looking down from the cross, Jesus noticed most of his disciples had deserted him. He was rejected by his own.

And then on the cross, he looked heavenward and verbalized the pain of rejection when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46. This is the height of rejection, when one feels God has rejected him.

In the parable of the wedding banquet, Jesus shows how rejection can produce anger. That is what happened in the life of the king who saw people reject the invitation to the wedding banquet of his son. They refused to come simply because other things in life were more important to them than being with the king at his son’s wedding festivities. So with anger the king says to his servants, “ÔThe wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite anyone you can find’ . . . both good and bad to the banquet, and the wedding hall was filled with guests” (vs 8-10).

The story is self-explainable. The rebellious people represent Israel. The king’s servants represent the prophets. The son is the Lord Jesus, who was rejected as the Messiah and crucified. The invitation is now extended to the whole world, and the good news of salvation is for all people.

Tom Wright, in his commentary on this parable, warns us that there is, however, a difference between the wide open invitation and the message so many want to hear today. We want to hear that everyone is all right exactly as they are, and that God loves us as we are and doesn’t expect us to live changed lives when Christ becomes a part of us.

Many do not want major changes in their lives. Leave my values alone. Let me govern my own commitment to Christ. Do not expect me to be vocal in my faith saying Jesus Christ is the One who has assured me that I am his forever.

Not so. When the blind man came to Jesus, Jesus made him well, and he became a new person. When Zaccheus met Jesus, he became a changed person and made amends for his dishonesty in collecting taxes. These changes were the fruits of their faith. Since God’s love transforms us, he cannot afford to let us stay as we were before meeting Christ.

What does this story tell us?

God’s patience with us can end. He is our friend; he loves us, and he has prepared the way of salvation for us. It is a gift. But if we continue to be indifferent and refuse to become new people in Christ Ð just be a Christian with no personal relationship with the Savior and give Jesus a low priority in our lives Ð the parable says that God can say, enough is enough, and he will move on to other people.

This is a stirring message that we need to hear. God is love, but he is also righteous. Remember that he repeatedly said, “I, the Lord God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the father to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:5, 6).

God can say, and does say, that a time can come in the life of an individual when enough is enough.