Martin Luther: Here I Stand (Part 2 of 3)
July 1, 2009
Here I Stand!
(Martin Luther's Story)
RPM Ministries, Dr. Robert W. Kellemen
Martin Luther's Main Message: In ourselves, we stand naked before the All-Holy God;
in Christ, we stand clothed in righteousness before our All-Compassionate God.
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from
faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. -Romans 1:17
Presentation Introduction: Purpose
The presentation you are about to witness is a dramatization of major points in the life of Martin Luther. It will vividly portray the differences that he had with the Catholic Church of his day regarding the way of salvation. The intent is not to offend, but to instruct. The purpose is to enlighten the heirs of the Protestant Reformation to the nature of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.
The following story is a continuation from the previous article published in the May 2009 edition of the Amish Voice.
2. The Filthy Rags of the Merits of the Saints:
I [Martin Luther] hungered to find assurance of my salvation. However, the rigors of the monastic life could not calm my clamoring conscience. I saw that I was a great sinner in the eyes of God and I realized how impossible it would be for me to please God on my own merits. So I fled to the merits of the saints.
Though I was not good enough, perhaps the pooled goodness of all the saints would be good enough to please God. I believed the Church's teaching that the combined goodness of the saints, especially of the Blessed Virgin Mary, could save me. Mary, I was taught, was better than she needed to be for her own salvation. The extra merit of her righteousness constituted a treasury that the Church could transfer to my account. In other words, I would borrow her goodness to make up for my lack. Such a transfer or borrowing, the Pope called an indulgence.
Wanting to take full benefit of such a transfer, I felt myself highly privileged when the opportunity arose to go to Rome. Rome, like no city on earth, was richly endowed with spiritual indulgences. I could touch a piece of the very cross on which Christ died and shorten my time of punishment by 17,000 years. Each "Hail Mary" I said before the statue of the Blessed Virgin would earn me ten years worth of good works. I felt truly blessed to be able to climb, on hands and knees, the very stairs Christ climbed in Pilate's temple. Each "Our Father" said on each step was worth nine years' forgiveness, and an "Our Father" said on the step with the silver cross was worth double merit. I even kissed each step for good measure.
However, arriving at the top stair, I raised myself to full height and exclaimed, "Who knows whether it is so?" I had gone to Rome with the onions of my good works, and returned home only with the garlic of the merits of the saints.
My chief concern in going to Rome was that I might become a saint through the merits of the saints. Yet, all I found in Rome was the shamelessness, godlessness, and wickedness of all people, so-called saints included. For they, too, were sinners, unworthy of a holy God. How could they possibly offer me anything acceptable to God? I was striving after my own good works and the merits of the saints in order to compensate for my sins, but I could never feel that the ledger was balanced.
3. The Filthy Rags of the Sacrament of Penance:
I could not acquire heaven by becoming a saint, nor by the qualities of the other saints. However, I had one more set of filthy rags to wear-the filthy rags of the sacrament of penance. I was taught that the sacraments-like baptism, communion, or confession-actually added or dispensed grace. We may not be good enough, the saints may not be good enough, but the Church can add to our goodness because our participation in a sacrament serves as a reservoir for accumulating more of Christ's grace.
In particular, I availed myself of the sacrament of penance or confession to a priest. I confessed frequently, often daily for as long as six hours. I believed that every sin, in order to be absolved or forgiven, had to be specifically confessed. Therefore, I had to search my memory for sins of action and sins of motivation. I would review my entire life to be sure to remember everything, until even my confessor grew weary.
The great difficulty I experienced was my lack of assurance that I had recalled everything. My soul would recoil in horror when, after six hours of confession to a priest, a new sin would come to mind that I had not recalled. Even more frightening was the realization that a sinner like me did not even recognize some sins as sins.
I went every day to confession, but it was of no use to me. I always thought. "You did not perform that correctly. God has not forgiven you."
I had recourse to a thousand methods to stifle the cries of my conscience. Yet I despaired because I always doubted that God was gracious to me. I could find no doorway to salvation. I could not enter into fellowship with God through the harbor of my own good works. I could not approach God through the window of the merits of the saints. I could not draw near to God through the door of the Church.
I came to realize that the religious answers of my day would never quiet my soul. I came to realize that all human beings and all human institutions were spiritually impoverished. I was a spiritual very poor.
Here I Stand: Clothed by Faith in My Holy Savior
Ah! But this realization was the beginning of the Reformation. My awareness of my spiritual poverty motivated me to cry out to God for grace in spiritual humility. As I turned away from the world and turned to God's Word, I began to understand that no matter what coverings I attempted to wear to hide my sins, the piercing eyes of my holy God saw only filthy rags. God's Word opened the eyes of my heart to another truth-the Reformation truth that I could stand before my holy God clothed by faith in my holy Savior.
Before any of us can stand before God, we must discover and admit that there is something drastically wrong with us. I came to understand that my very nature was corrupt and that my whole nature needed to be changed. I came to perceive that it wasn't just individual sins that needed forgiveness; I needed to be forgiven.
A. Standing before God Clothed and Accepted
But how? How could I find forgiveness? How could I stand before God clothed and accepted? My questions were answered as I studied Paul's letter to the Romans. My study of Romans was my Damascus Road though which God's light radiated and peace with God became real. As I once wrote:
Romans is the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel. It is worthy not only that all Christians should know it word for word, but that they should occupy themselves with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. In Romans, I found the answer for which I had been endlessly searching. I discovered that the route to God leads through the path of faith in Christ.
B. Faith in My Forgiving Father
Through my studies, I began to see God in a drastically different light. My image of God radically altered. Where God had been an angry Enemy, He was now a forgiving Father. The All Terrible was now the All Merciful. The All Holy was now also the All Compassionate. I gained my new awareness through an ardent thirst to know what God meant by the phrase in Romans 1:17, "The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel."
I had hated the phrase, "the righteousness of God," for I had been taught that it meant only that God is righteous and that He punishes unrighteous sinners. In fact, I was angry with God. I was born in sin, I lived in sin, and the only sure fact that I could count on was that I would be damned in sin by a righteous God.
Galatians 2:16-Knowing that a man is not justified (made righteous) by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
At last, God being merciful, as I meditated day and night on the connection of the words, "the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, as it is written: ‘the righteous shall live by faith-(Rom 1:17). I began to understand that the gospel was a gift of God received by faith. And that our loving Father forgives us when we place our faith in Christ's righteousness. As I wrote at the time:
Ephesians 2:8-9-For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
This immediately made me feel as though I had been born again, and as though I had entered through open gates into paradise itself! And now where I had once hated the phrase, "the righteousness of God," so much I began to love and extol it as the sweetest of words, so that this passage in Paul became the very gate of Eden for me. Now I had found God's portal of salvation. Through the door of faith in Christ, I could enter God's heavenly home. In Christ, God accepted me.
I now viewed God as a loving Father instead of a wrathful Enemy. Now I perceived myself as loved by God and free to love instead of being hated by God and consumed with hate.
C. Faith in My Gracious Savior
Placing faith in my forgiving Father, I also placed faith in my gracious Savior. I read in God's Word that, "He who was without sin, for our sake became sin for us."-1st Cor 5:21. Christ took to Himself the iniquity of us all! He identified Himself with us to participate in our alienation. Wrath and love mingled on the cross of Christ. In the utter desolation of the forsaken Christ, God the Father reconciled the world to Himself.
I could not believe this. Christ suffered for me. He took my sin. He died for me. I had known Christ only as a stern Judge, now I knew Him as my gracious Savior. I began to see Christ as One who comforts, not as One who alarms. I now saw that Christ was my bridge to God. I am not good and righteous, but Christ is. Listen to what I wrote one day about my experience in Romans:
In Romans my anxious conscience found relief through the unconditional forgiveness of sin granted as a gift of grace from God through His Son, Jesus Christ. If you have a true faith that Christ is your Savior, 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. When you behold God in faith, you look upon His fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness.
All my life, I wondered how I could ever find peace with God. I longed to know what I could do to be accepted by God. Now I knew. I could do nothing. What had to be done; Christ had already done. Christ died and rose again to pay for my sin. In paying for my sin, Christ opened the arms of God. God's arms were now open to me, welcoming me, and all I had to do was believe. By faith alone, in Christ alone, God declared me righteous and acceptable. Now I had peace with God.
Peter writes in Acts 4:12, Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
Paul Writes in 1 Corinthians 2:2, For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
Continue to Part 3
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