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Sunday, October 8, 2017

“Martin Luther: Justified by Faith”

Galatians 2:15-21

Paul is making abundantly clear how central the concept of justification by faith is to an understanding of God’s plan of salvation. For Paul to depend on the law is to choose the path of sin.  As he said elsewhere the law only gives us a knowledge of sin.  It can do nothing to take away our sin (Rom. 3:20).  Paul is emphatic that no one will be justified by the works of the law.  For Paul we are either depending on Christ or own works (Rom. 4:5).  Paul speaks of having died to the law so that he may be alive in Christ. This clear antithesis is seen in the gospels in Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus rejects them totally (Matt. 23; John 8:31-59). To depend on Christ is to leave the law behind.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. The religious leaders only knew the letter of the law. They missed its larger significance in its pointing to Christ (Matt. 5:17-20).

Based on his study of scripture Martin Luther rejected three fundamental themes of the Western church going back even to Augustine whom he called “Blessed Augustine” for his clear understanding of grace. Yet even Augustine was too dependent on Greek philosophy according to Luther.  The first theme Luther rejected was the whole idea of “free will.” Luther didn’t deny that human beings have the ability to make choices. However, in our relationship to God we have no free will. Our wills have been taken over by sin and we are left spiritually dead (Eph. 2:4-5).  It is only in Christ that our will is restored.  Luther’s second theme was the whole idea of “good works.”  Good works play no role in our salvation because our works are always tainted by sin (Isa. 64:6).  Luther was not opposed to good works in general. However, they could not lead to salvation.  Good works were the result, not the cause, of our being saved (Eph. 2:8-10).

The final theme which Luther rejected was the idea that we have any merit before God.  We deserve nothing and we accomplish nothing in ourselves.  The church tradition before Luther had debated how much of our salvation is dependent on our own actions, our own merit.  Did our merit precede grace or follow after it?  The assumption in all this was that we play a role, we have a responsibility for our own salvation.  God offers us his grace, his undeserved favor, but it is up to us to decide whether or not we will accept that grace.  We then in effect become agents of our own justification.  Luther however, following Paul, believed that any idea of merit inevitably led to self- righteousness (Luke 18:9-14). God justifies us. We play no part. Even our faith is a gift. Our works of the law have no value.  Paul could not be more explicit, “if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”

I praise you Lord that you have done everything for my justification, my being made right, in your eyes.  Strengthen my faith in you.  May you live in me.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.