How does a person get right with God? Can you gain God’s approval by being living a ‘good’ life? Many people think so. Can you gain God’s approval by attending Church, or Synagogue, or Mosque ? Many people think so. Can you gain God’s approval by keeping the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount? Many people think so.
For Martin Luther, the question, How does a person get right with God? became all-consuming. Consider Martin Luther’s attempts at pleasing God.
1. One of his fellow monks told Luther that a man becomes right with God through confession. Doesn’t the Bible say that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins? So confess your sins and all will be made well. So Martin did just that. He ransacked his mind attempting to find every sin no matter how trifling. After making a mental list he would go to the confessional and pour out his soul to his confessor. So scrupulous was he in confessing every known sin in his life, he would keep his superiors in the confessional for hours on end dredging up every idol word he had said, or foolish thought that had entered his mind. But confession and absolution still left him troubled. How could he be sure that he had confessed every sin? His spiritual gloom was not eased by confession.
2. Another well-meaning monk told him, “Martin, you can find peace with God through self-denial. Doesn’t Jesus say, ‘If any man will be my disciple, he must deny himself?’” And so Luther sought to deny himself with vigorous asceticism. He would fast for days on end, taking nothing but water. He cast aside his blankets, shivering in the cold of his cell. He would flog himself bloody. Luther would later write, that “If ever a monk could to get to heaven by his monkery, it would have been I.” Yet, Luther still did not feel right with God. His despair deepened.
3. A third friend told Martin that he needed to go on a pilgrimage to Rome to visit the Vatican, and venerate all the relics that could be found in the city’s various churches. So Luther went to Rome. Listen to what Martin writes: “When I got to Rome, I ran around like a madman visiting all the churches, and places of note. I said a dozen masses, and I almost regretted that my mother and father were not dead that I might had availed myself of the opportunity to draw their souls out of purgatory by offering masses and good works on their behalf.” But his trip to Rome left Luther even more frustrated then ever. His sense of guilt before God grew worse and worse.
It was not until Luther began to teach the Book of Romans at the University of Wittenburg that he came to understand how a man is made right with God. He came to a passage of Scripture that would change his life. It was Romans 1:16-17. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”" (Romans 1:16-17, ESV). That verse set him free! Luther would later testify: “It seemed to me as if I had been born again and as if I had entered paradise through newly opened doors.”
There is only one way that a person can be right with God. In Hebrew 11:6 we learn that, “without faith it is impossible to please Him.”
There are only two ways to live. One way, by far the most common, is to live by sight ... to believe in only the things you can see. This way does not please God. The other way, far less commonly taken, is to live by faith ... to base your life primarily and ultimately on what you can not see, but trusting that it is true because God says it is true. That is the Christian way, the Bible way. It is the way that pleases God.
In last week’s sermon I shared with you the first of the five Solas that came out of the Protestant Reformation that Martin Luther sparked. It was Sola Scriptura. The second Sola of the reformation is the sola that changed Luther’s life: Sola Fide—Faith Alone! This morning, I want you to see the ingredients necessary for a life of faith, drawn from the life of Abraham.
There are only two ways to live. One way, by far the most common, is to live by sight ... to base everything on what you can see. The other way, far less commonly taken, is to live by faith ... to base your life primarily and ultimately on what you can not see. That is the Christian way, the Bible way, that is the way that the people of God have always lived. It’s the way I want to encourage you to live.