For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
It often feels easier to say that we have faith in God than to say that we live by faith. Living by faith requires that we truly and fully submit our desires, our wills, our very lives to God, and this act of turning over our lives cannot occur through our own ability, rather it requires the work of the Holy Spirit. When you hear the term righteousness, of what do you think? Do you feel that you live by faith?
The established church during the 16th Century taught that in order for someone to receive forgiveness for their sins, they needed to engage in penance, which was an action that would express a person’s desire for repentance. These actions could take the form of charitable actions, undergoing a pilgrimage to a sacred site, or the recitation of certain prayers. The church taught that if penance did not occur before one’s death, a person would be consigned to Purgatory, an afterlife that existed between heaven and hell, where people would undergo punishment as a form of penance.
An additional form of penance developed prior to this time, which was the sale of indulgences. Indulgences were a writ that could be purchased from the church that would provide a removal of the need for punishment of a specific sin or sins. The church taught that these items would remove the need for other forms of penance both during a person’s lifetime, as well as, either removing the need for them to go to Purgatory or else lessening the time that they would spend in Purgatory following death.
Through his study of Romans, Martin Luther became focused on the two verses at the beginning of this lesson, as a way to understand how people truly find forgiveness and freedom from sin. In reflecting on this passage, he wrote:
“The word of God cannot be received or honored by any works but must be grasped by faith alone.” –Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian
He understood that people need God’s work within their lives to know forgiveness, rather than any action they can do. When people attempt to earn their salvation, they seek to remove the power of God to do good within Creation.
One of the great struggles for many people appears in the dichotomy of wanting to believe that we cannot earn our faith, while also resonating with the idea that we need to do something to show that we deserve to be saved. This struggle is one that can last most of our lives; however, God works in many ways to help us grow in our walk of faith.
God of All Creation, you continue to call us into a deep and ever-deepening relationship with you. You desire that we respond to your presence, not with the works that we do, but with faith, believing that you are the One True God who alone can bring us salvation. Help us to live by faith, seeking the guidance of your Holy Spirit to draw us ever closer to you in all aspects of our lives. In Christ’s Name, we pray; amen.
On October 31, 1517, a young monk and professor posted a list of interesting discussion topics to the local social media of his day, the door of the church. Today, we recognize Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” as a hinge on which all of history turned. What really happened 500 years ago? Why does it matter? Is the Reformation still going on now?