One of the most life-changing classes I took at Bible college was the study of the European Reformation. In that class, one character loomed tall above all in his passion for Christ, his heart for the Church, and His zeal for the Word: Martin Luther. Luther was a budding law student, who out of fearfulness donned the cloak of monkhood. And he threw himself wholeheartedly into the cloth, giving everything he had to self-effacing acts of piety. As he once quipped, "If anyone could be saved by monkery, it would be I." But the more he tried to be holy, the more he realized he was sinful. For him, to see the righteousness of God only created a resentment. How could one love God if God was standing over them continually with the judge's gavel, knowing full well that the sinfulness of man was on full display before the all seeing eye of God. God was not the tender shepherd who walked us through the valley of the shadow of death, God was the darkness of the storm thundering and shaking, striking and lighting up Mount Sinai. For Luther, to stand in God's presence was a terrifying prospect indeed, because he had no righteousness to cling to. He would surely be swept away at the awesomeness of that mighty moment.
But Luther realized something about the righteousness of God. It was not only the standard by which he judged all human actions. It is also the means by which God makes his people righteous. God's justice is how he justifies his own. The righteousness God has, he gives to his people, this is what he says, as reported by the eminent Roland Bainton,
"Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that "the just shall live by his faith." Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the "justice of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love...
If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God's heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love." (Here I Stand, A Life of Martin Luther, 49-50)
God is a holy, righteous God. Before him, we are all shown to be what we are: fickle, feckless children. But by the blood of Christ, God's wrath is removed. Our debt is paid. Our estrangement is taken away. Our slavery is redeemed. In the cross of Christ, the righteousness of God is made known. He became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)
Dear friend, hear the raw and radical, astonishing and audacious, overwhelming and breathtaking message that Luther preached. The righteousness of God was made known on the cross and can be grasped in faith. Only by emptying our hands of our little trinkets, only by scraping our resumes of all our accomplishments, only by humbly acknowledging what God already knows too well: that we cannot be good enough for God, can we come into the presence of God. We take off our own accomplishments, and we put on Christ's. We give up our own achievements, and we take up Christ's. We stop trying to pay the debt, and we cash the check that Christ wrote. Christ exchanged places with us, he took our shame, he gave us his honor. He took our sin, he gave us his salvation. He took our guilt, he gave us his grace.
This is the gospel, the good news. This is the salvation that Christ gives us. This is the significance of Luther then, he dared to preach a gospel of audacious grace, a gospel of strange salvation. A gospel that tells us the whole world is guilty before God, and yet the grace of God can be had by all who believe.
Southern Heights Christian Church
Come here for thoughts on how to follow Jesus in our every day life!