Last Sunday (10/29/2003), we reflected on the life and teachings of Martin Luther, a key figure in the Protestant Reformation. Born in 1483 to peasant farmers, Luther pursued education, eventually becoming a monk and theologian. He became disillusioned with the Catholic Church, particularly the sale of indulgences, which led him to post his famous 95 Theses in 1517. These theses questioned the church's practices and sparked a movement.
Luther emphasized three principles: grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone.
He asserted that salvation comes through God's grace, not human works, and it is received through faith. He also emphasized the authority of Scripture, advocating for everyone to have access to the Bible in their own language. These ideas challenged the Catholic Church's teachings, leading to Luther's excommunication and threats to his life.
“Grace alone” indicates that we do nothing to earn God’s love. We are intrinsically valuable to God as his creation, just as children are inherently valuable to their parents. Children may need cleaning and teaching, but they are valued independent of their state. Martin Luther wrote, “Just like a mother's love is bigger than a child’s dirtiness, so God’s love is bigger than our sin.”
“Faith alone” indicates that we do not work our way into God’s love. We simply trust in it. As Paul wrote in Galatians 2:16 (ESV): "Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law because by works of the law no one will be justified." This makes a profound difference in the place of good works in our lives. Other teachings tell us that we have to do good works to earn love and forgiveness from God. In Christ, our good works are a result of the love and forgiveness showered on us in Jesus Christ. As Martin Luther wrote, “"We do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds but, having been made righteous, we do righteous deeds."
“Scripture alone” clarifies who or what has authority in our faith. Naming scripture as inerrant and the sole authority for Christians doesn’t solve all the problems, of course. Scripture includes historical narrative, poetry, metaphor, parables, wisdom literature, apocalyptic literature, and more. Even if scripture is without error, you are not necessarily without error in interpreting it. Concerning the Bible, Martin Luther wrote, “"The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me." The point of this principle is that no pastor, church council, pope, or church tradition speaks above the scriptures.
Grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone can be considered the theological gifts of the reformation. God saves sinners through his grace in Jesus Christ.
To close, here is what Martin Luther wrote about the accusing voice of Satan reminding him of his imperfections and sin: "When Satan tells me I am a sinner he comforts me immeasurably, since Christ died for sinners."
There is a lot more historical detail and many illustrations that did not make it into this summary. If you like to watch or listen to the whole sermon, follow this link (it will start at the beginning of the sermon): https://www.youtube.com/live/ob5z8afVuWE?si=4YoeAxJz4FlTUmYP&t=1571