Recently, I enrolled in a Ligonier connect course moderated by Tim Challies; the topic was 'Justification By Faith Alone'. It was an eight week course, and I wasn't quite sure what I would come away with, but I did actually learn a great deal.I have made an attempt to condense it into a nutshell; a nutshell, as there was so so much!
One thing this course affirmed was that History should never underestimated, especially church history. Sadly the secular History books don't even mention Martin Luther. We have whole generations who can't even tell the difference between Roman Catholics, and Christians. Luther was the focal figure for change, and it was quite accidental on his part, although we no that God had other ideas!
Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben. It was his father's intention that he would become a lawyer, but he dropped out of that to become a monk, after a couple of disturbing episodes;the first in which he was walking, and the sword he was carrying for protection sliced through his leg causing a lot of blood loss. If that wasn't bad enough he was later struck by lightening, and was so shocked that if he called out, 'Save me St Ann, I will become a monk.'
A century earlier, a man named John Huss (meaning swan) was accused of heresy and condemned at the stake by the Roman Catholics. (His crime was simply that he elevated scripture above the churches' teaching! Many people today seem to think we get our authority and teaching from the church. No! The only authority the church has is The bible, and on that everything stands.) He said at his death, ''You may burn me, but there will come a swan that you won't silence.' These words were prophetical! Ironically Luther was ordained on the site where John Huss's body was buried!
Throughout these years it was obvious that Martin Luther had an extremely tender conscience. He was always confessing sins, even the most trivial. He never felt he was forgiven. He was extremely disturbed at the evil he saw around him. On a trip to Rome he witnessed prostitutes, filthy living, a love of luxury, and all in the very people who claimed to eschew all this! Of course when he condemned it, it didn't make him very popular. The Roman Catholics promoted 'Indulgences' basically Tetzel was one of the better known sellers of these indulgences, and basically if a person purchased these then they could be forgiven their sins. (This rather makes me think of Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale, shocking that people could be so gullible, but it is actually going on today, in the sense that some claim their handkerchiefs, or water can heal, and make one wealthy!)Some of the items sold claimed to be parts of Jesus' robes, or Mary's hair locks etc.
As Luther was reading Romans, preparing a sermon one day (bear in mind only the clergy could generally read the Bible as it was all Latin, but Luther had access to the Greek and Hebrew also) he read, 'the just shall live by faith' The righteousness that God bestows by his grace. Imputation to the believer affected by faith. Imputation-God counts as putting trust in Christ, He has done the work. At that point he felt he was reborn, as he had realised that it is not as the church taught, which was Justification = faith + works. He began to see Justification by faith all through the Bible!
So, having discovered all this made him feel that the whole system of indulgences was wrong, and contrary to what scripture taught. It then caused him to nail his 95 theses to the door. Now, of course at that time that was the way in which you would raise a point to be discussed among the clergy etc, so it wasn't meant to be some huge world changing event! He basically attacked the idea that salvation, or forgiveness of sin could be purchased, and that Justification was by faith alone, not faith plus works. The catholics believed that salvation was only brought about through the church, and confession through a priest. Roman Catholics taught that baptism was a step in justification. Of course we know it is just a symbol of our faith- a public witness. They believe that faith is necessary for justification, but when sin is committed you lose that justification and now need penance: confession to priest, and works of satisfaction, and if you died with impurity on soul you would enter purgatory; which they believe is the cleansing period. Essentially they didn't have enough righteousness to enter heaven. We know that Christ was righteous, and that is why he had to live a perfect life on earth, so he could transfer that righteousness to us. His death on the cross and resurrection so important, propitiation, and expiation took place.
Expiation= Jesus removing our sins (by dying on the cross.
Propitiation= Settled demands.
The Bible appears to contradict itself in James, and Romans: In Romans chapter 4 it says that it was 'counted to him (Abraham) as righteousness.
This means that Abraham was justified the moment he put his faith in God.
In James it quotes 'faith without works is dead.'James 2:14. In context it means that if we are true believers in Christ we will do good works, not in order to be saved, but because we are saved!'If you love me keep my commandments.' This is a living faith, not a dead faith! I can only imagine how excited people were when they realised what true freedom in Christ was!
Obviously the message spread across the world, and the Pope who had control of much of Europe started to lose his stranglehold on these countries. Luther saw the Pope as the antichrist, as only Jesus, God has the power to forgive sins, and grant salvation. It seemed Rome's great wickedness had been exposed for all to see. No wonder they didn't want people reading the Bible!The Pope issued a death warrant for Luther, and all who help him. He eluded them for some time by being taken into hiding.
Through the providence of God Luther lived on till his 60's, and even married and had six children. I would urge you to read the story, it is a very interesting one. Yes, he was brash, and sometimes crude. He was what we would term anti- semetic, but you have to take it in context with the day in which he lived. One thing is certain- from this point on Christianity was not quite the same.
''Justification is the hinge on which everything turns.' John Calvin.