“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17).
For many years the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church made sense to Martin Luther. After all, he was a faithful priest of the Church. Luther had vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience to his superiors, and to the pope.
According to Rome, original sin was removed, by the grace of God, through the sacrament of Baptism. Those who were the object of this grace and mercy were to demonstrate their gratitude by living a virtuous life. If a transgression occurred, it was to be honestly confessed to a priest who had the power to absolve sins. To show that repentance was sincere, restitution was necessary through an act of penance, such as fasting, self-flagellation, performing a charitable work, or by giving a donation to the Church. On the Day of Judgment, if the good works outweighed the sins a person had committed, they will be declared justified in the sight of God, because they have merited the grace of God. It all made sense. And, to countless people today, still does. Many individuals are convinced that they are intrinsically good people, and, because they perform so many good deeds, they will go to heaven. They deserve nothing less.
But then, something happened to cause Martin Luther to reconsider the teaching of the Church on how a person is saved. The Church began to sell indulgences, or, official papal documents offering forgiveness of sins. There were various types of indulgences offered, but one of the most cherished one was the plenary indulgence, which could be applied either to oneself, or to the souls of the deceased.
The idea of helping departed loved ones move from the fires of purgatory to heaven was appealing. John Tetzel promised people, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs! It was all too much for Martin Luther.
When Leo X (Dec. 11, 1475 – December 1, 1521) decided to finance the building of St. Peter’s Basilica by exploiting the penance of people through the selling of indulgences, Martin Luther realized the Church had gone too far. The more he thought and prayed on the matter, the more Luther became convinced that the words of the Bible speak against good works being the basis of salvation. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Moreover, “the just shall live by faith.”
A person is commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, “and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). Faith alone, in Christ alone, is the ground and hope of every heart.
“My faith looks up to thee,
thou Lamb of Calvary,
now hear me while I pray,
take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day
be wholly thine.”
With the way of salvation being clearly established as rooted in faith alone, it is important that Christians remember to continue to live by faith.
Each day of life, by faith, believe in the love of God. It is not unusual for a devout Christian to question the love of God for their soul. But God does love sinners. God does love individuals. Assurance of God’s love is not rooted on a presumptuous and arrogant belief, but in the plain statement of His Word. “For God so love the world” (John 3:16). Every person could put their name in place of “the world”, if they put it there by faith. The fearful, and the unbelieving, refuse to put their name where it could be placed, which is why the Bible says that such people shall have “their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8).
Each day of life, by faith, believe in the hope of heaven. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3). In the hour of death, during the transition from time to eternity, faith in heaven will comfort the heart.
Each day of life, by faith, believe in the bodily resurrection. “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not” (1 Cor. 15:13-15). Our bodies are subject to so much pain and decay, filling our lives with sorrow and suffering. But one day, all that shall end, and we will have a glorified body, suited for the new heaven and new earth wherein dwelth righteousness.
Each day of life, by faith, believe that the teachings of Jesus offer the best pathway to human happiness, and holiness.
“Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.”
William D. Longstaff