Faithlife
Faithlife

The Verses that Changed the Church

Loading…
Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:10
0 ratings
· 6 views

Mark the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation with a brief overview of the verses God used to start it all.

Files
Notes & Transcripts | Handout
We have already mentioned that Tuesday marks the 500th anniversary of the event that many historians count as the true start of the Protestant Reformation.
(Note: Historical information taken from The Story of Christianity, Volumes 1 & 2 by Justo L. Gonzalez (Third printing - 2004))
(Note: Historical information taken from The Story of Christianity, Volumes 1 & 2, by Justo L. Gonzalez (Third printing - 2004))
On October 31, 1517, a monk by the name of Martin Luther posted a list of his concerns with the Catholic church, specifically the practice of selling indulgences, on the door of the cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany. This list, now called the 95 Theses, was the straw that broke the camel’s back and would eventually lead to the founding of a number of protestant denominations that broke away from the Catholic Church.
What were indulgences? Well, we have to explain a little bit of Catholic theology and history for you to fully understand them. Painting with broad strokes, Catholics teach that there is a place called purgatory where you go after you die to purge what was left of your sin. Once that sin is dealt with and you’ve taken that punishment, you can then go on to heaven.
During the time Martin Luther lived, many of the popes who ran the Catholic church were more concerned with building an empire than spiritual matters. As a part of that, they would build massive, lavish cathedrals.
Well, buildings cost lots of money, and Pope Leo X really wanted to finish off St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, so he devised a way to pay for it: If you bought an indulgence, you could get your loved ones out of purgatory faster and/or prepay your debt so you wouldn’t have to go to purgatory.
You give your money to the church, the pope prays for you or your loved one, and boom! No purgatory. In fact, the men who sold these said things like, “as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
Some time before this, Martin Luther had come to an important realization about salvation that revolutionized his life. Because God showed him the truth, Luther couldn’t bear to see these lies spread. He wrote 95 theses about these issues and presented them for public discussion.
This act, and the discussions and actions that followed it, changed the face of the church forever.
Hear this clearly: Luther was not a perfect man, and neither were any of the other great reformers. However, we cannot deny that God used these imperfect men to reshape the way we think about God, salvation, and the church in ways that we still feel today.
We don’t agree with all of Luther’s theology, but we do agree on one major point: we are justified by grace through faith alone.
To better understand all this, we want to look at the passage that changed Luther’s life forever.
Open your Bibles to Romans 1:16-17...
I know you didn’t come to church for a history lesson this morning, but we have to know a little more of Luther’s story to see how God rocked his world with this one passage.
As we see how God worked in Luther’s heart, I also want you to see how God can work or has worked in your own, depending on whether or not you have chosen to follow him already!
Read these verses with me.
Romans 1:16–17 CSB
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.
Solid verses, right, but not all that gripping at face value?
How did this passage change the church forever? Let’s get back to Luther’s story.
As a young man, Martin Luther’s father wanted him to become a lawyer. When he was 22, however, Luther got caught in a terrible thunderstorm and thought he was going to die. He was scared that he would go straight to hell, so he vowed to become a monk if he lived.
It was a logical choice, right? I mean, if anybody was going to go to heaven, it was people who separated from normal life just to pray and teach and do spiritual things, right?
Things started off well. He was convinced that he was at peace with God and everything was good. He was doing good things, so surely God had to be happy with him.
It didn’t last, though. The longer Luther lived as a monk, the more and more he became aware of his own sin. He was doing everything right, performing all the rituals he was supposed to perform, going to confession, and yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was broken on the inside and that he would stand condemned before God.
I mean, what if there was something he forgot that he had done and he hadn’t confessed? He would be judged for that!
So he obsessed and became afraid, because no matter how hard he tried, he could never be perfect.
Does that describe you this morning? I get concerned sometimes that some of the most faithful members we have may be exactly like Luther—trying to be as good as possible to get to heaven on their own good works.
Maybe that’s why you are here this morning, just trying to check off your “God” box on the to-do list, hoping that helps.
Like Luther, though, your own good works cannot give you peace with God.
After a while, though, Luther got sick of all that and decided to try something different. There were groups of mystics who said that all you had to do was love God, and the rest would fall into place.
However, the more Luther tried to love God, the more he hated God, because he saw God as a cruel slave-driver who set expectations that no one could meet.
Finally, he reached the end of his rope. One group said the way to be right with God was to confess everything and do penance, but he knew he could never confess every sin. The other group said that you just had to love God, but he couldn’t stand the idea of following a God so harsh.
In the middle of all this, he was called on to teach a class on Romans, and he encountered Romans 1:16-17.
Read it again.
At first, he hated this verse!
Paul is talking about the gospel, and we want to look at it together in three ways to see why this was so frustrating to Luther, and yet, why it is so incredible to us.
First, we see...

1) The message of the gospel.

Start in verse 16...
For us to understand any of this, we have to understand what the gospel is.
The gospel is the news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection:
1 Corinthians 15:3–5 CSB
For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:3–5 CSB
For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
The message of the gospel, that Paul said he wasn’t ashamed of, is that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and that he rose from the grave.
Whenever we talk about sharing the gospel, that’s what we’re talking about: telling someone that Jesus died for their sins, was buried, and rose from the grave.
This message is the gospel, which literally means “good news.”
It is great news, but it wasn’t for Luther, because verse 17 said the gospel revealed the righteousness of God.
How was that good news? All it did for Luther was show that God was a just God whose standards we could never uphold.
Yes, our sins put Jesus to death, but I still have to go to confessional and still have to do penance, and I still can’t measure up to the righteousness of God.
That is only further complicated by the next aspect:

2) The impact of the gospel.

Look back at verse 16.
Romans 1:16 CSB
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.
This message is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes!
That’s why we as a church focus so heavily on the gospel—you cannot be saved apart from it, but you can be saved as you respond to it!
Acts 4:12 CSB
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.”
Luther knew the gospel, but like so many, he still didn’t have any assurance that he was saved.
He had been taught, like many of you may still feel, that his salvation was up to him. Sure, he had to believe the gospel, plus he had to work hard to keep up God’s standards.
Do you feel like that this morning? That you hope you get into heaven because you have tried really hard?
There is no reason you should leave here today and not know beyond any shadow of a doubt that you have been saved.
Jesus’ death and resurrection is the power of salvation, not your works, which is what we see clearly in verse 17...

3) The result of the gospel.

This was the verse that Luther hated.
When he saw the phrase, “the righteousness of God”, all he could think about was the standard he could never live up to.
He had been taught that “the righteousness of God” referred to God’s justified punishment of sinners.
How could that possibly be good news?
Deep down, if we are honest, we all know we are sinners. We all wrestle with the fact that we know we aren’t who we are supposed to be. We do things we shouldn’t, we don’t do what we should, and so to hear that God was going to reveal his justice by punishing us leaves us hopeless and helpless.
Does that describe you? Maybe you are here and you hate God because you had a mom or a dad or a coach you could never please, and that’s how you see God.
To say that God is just makes you hate him all the more because you know all you can do is disappoint him.
If that’s you, then you are in the same category as Martin Luther.
How can you say, then, that “the righteous shall live by faith,” when none of us are righteous?
As he wrestled with that verse, God helped him rediscover the true message of the gospel that had escaped so many.
The righteousness of God is not talking about God’s judgment, and it isn’t talking about us working to make our righteousness match God’s.
Instead, it is the righteousness that God gives us because of what Jesus has done.
That’s good news, alright.
In theological terms, we call this, “the doctrine of justification by faith.”
The gospel is that Jesus took our sin upon himself, paid the debt we couldn’t pay, rose from the grave, and now gives us his life.
We cannot earn it, we cannot deserve it, God simply gives us his righteousness and we place our faith and trust in his works, not our own.
That means that those who are saved, at this moment, possess the very righteousness of God.
We are declared righteous, or justified, by his grace.
Now, we live in faith that Jesus has paid our debt, given us his righteousness, and made us right with God.
Luther said this,
“I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on, the phrase ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.” (qtd. in Gonzalez, 19-20)
“I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on, the phrase ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.” (Martin Luther)
You see, that means our salvation isn’t based on our ability to confess every sin, do every good deed, or love God fully. It is based on his work on our behalf, which then frees us to obey him and love him and hate sin and follow Christ.
Where is your trust this morning? Is it in what you can do? How’s that working for you?
Why not, like Luther, surrender to the reality that you can’t do this on your own. You need God’s righteousness, and the only way to have it is to acknowledge that he is ready to give it to you.
It is simple, but it isn’t easy...
RELATED MEDIA
See the rest →
RELATED SERMONS
See the rest →