This is a historical biographical sermon based on Romans 1:17. It looks heavily at the life of Martin Luther and examines his passion for the Bible and the gospel. This sermon was originally preached by Pastor Justin Bragg at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA. Audio unavailable.
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:: The Resolved ::
Justin Bragg (elder)
“Wir sein Bettler. Hoc est veru.”
“We are beggars. This is True.”
These were the dying words of Martin Luther. In a letter to his wife Katie, he penned, on a scrap of paper, referring to the supremacy of the Bible, “We should bend low in reverence before it. We are beggars, this is true.” After a life of struggle and victory, at the end of his life, he acknowledged the grace of God, and our utter dependence upon his grace, which includes, the paramount doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone!
Historical-Biographical Sermon on Romans 1:16-17
Very early on we come to the crux and climax of the book of Romans, and as we will see tonight, Christianity itself from the time of the apostles, to our presence in this room tonight, coming together a part of this church, The Resolved, and the universal church of Jesus Christ, the most immanent and crucial area of doctrine in all of faith
Break down the message into 3 parts:
From where did Luther come?
What did Luther discover?
And by what means did he come to this monumental discovery?
Circumstances Leading to the Reformation
(FROM WHERE DID LUTHER COME?)
At the turn of the 16th Century, The Holy Roman Empire was in dual allegiance to the Emperor and the Pope. In Germany, a power of the HRE, there were armies to defend both. God himself was believed to have ordained dual authority over Christianity
Emperor – ruler of life on earth
Pope – intercessor for man’s destiny in the world to come
The Church was in a dismal state, long forgetting the mercies of Jesus.
Instead, they emphasized an implacable judge. Jesus was portrayed the relentless avenger. Man lived in dread of a furious God who tormented them with the threats of hell. There also existed a deep superstition and fear among the people. Mix Christianity and Pagan elements.
Believed the world to be filled with demons/spirits. For deliverance from eternal damnation, the church demanded absolute obedience from the people.
Six factors led to or caused the reformation:
Abuses and worldliness in the Papacy and clergy
Too consumed with amassing political power
Amassing inordinate wealth
Practiced open immorality
Conflict of Nationalism with Papal Internationalism
England, Germany, wanted self-rule, break yoke of papal rule
Popes raised money to fund intrigues, works of art, etc
Would charge for various religious functions:
Baptisms, penance, indulgences (reduce purgatory)
Rise of Humanism
Rediscovery of Latin classics, in literature, arch, paint, sculp
Printing gave impetus to this – error free, large number redups
Included writings of Fathers of Church and biblical text (Erasmus and Greek NT in 1516)
Pietistic emphasis on Sin and Salvation
- Mechanical and superstitious approach to religion
- Priest say magic words to perform miracle of transubstantiation, and to offer sacs of mass for the living and dead in a foreign tongue
- Saint-worship, image-worship, superstitious rites/ceremonies
- Mechanical recitals and pilgrimages to shrines
- Mystic writers influences people to hunger for more personal, experiential type of Christianity (a Kempis)
Rise of Martin Luther
Important to note Luther didn’t single-handedly usher in reformation. All the factors above, and many more contributed. Any movement must have a strong leader. Luther was this, so let’s look at his own road to reformation.
We won’t spend too much time here, because the movie does a good job depicting the biographical events of Luther’s life. But a few observations that lead to Luther’s discovery, the object of our study
> In 1505, suddenly, in the midst of his successful studies in law school, Luther proclaimed to his friends and family that “something was missing” and that he feared becoming “a skeleton of his own beast”
> Sought to make peace with God through discipline and obedience in the Church – Augustinian order in Erfurt
> contrition – sorrow for sins, confession, penance
> resulted in weakened conscience, more uncertainty, troubled
> Strict adherence and acts of penance failed to bring peace to his soul
> Used to beat himself with a whip until he would pass out in his cell
> Advisor Johann Von Staupitz told him that he couldn’t help his soul by punishing his body, but Luther couldn’t rest with his sin
> At one point the priests ordered him to cease confession until he had committed some sin worth confessing.
> His piety gained him the reputation of being the most exemplary of monks
> Later in his life he wrote:
“I was indeed a pious monk and followed the rules of my order more strictly that I can express. If ever a monk could obtain heaven by his monkish works, I should certainly have been entitled to it. of this all the friars who have known me can testify. If it had continued much longer, I should have carried my mortification even to death, by means of my watchings, prayers, readings and other labors”
> Even after becoming an ordained priest 2 years after entering, he was tortured by sin and God’s justice
> When Staupitz inquired what was wrong once, Luther replied that he did not know what would become of him because he had committed unpardonable sins. God had judged him and he was condemned. He believed that God only condemns, how could he possibly love this God?
> So this was his unpardonable sin – he could not love God!
> The monkish wisdom of the day instructed him to satisfy God’s demand for righteousness by doing good works.
“But what works” though Luther. “What works can come from a heart like mine? How can I stand before the holiness of my Judge with works polluted in their very source?” He later said that if he could believe that God was not angry with him, he would stand on his head in joy.
Staupitz told Luther to look at the wounds of Christ, and find God’s grace in that blood. Instead of torturing self, throw self into the redeemer’s arms. God is not angry with you. You are angry with God.
But how could Luther do that? Where could he hear the Son of God speak to him as Staupitz said he would? The solution was in the Bible. In an attempt to keep him busy, Staupitz set Luther on the Bible, theology, teaching and preaching.
Thought that the church would “gain a champion” when Luther’s soul was set at ease. Further, Staupitz sent Luther to Rome, certainly all of the sights and splendor would busy Luther and give him peace. But Rome brought great trouble to Luther’s soul. He later said, “If there is a Hell, Rome is bult over it; it is an abyss whence issues every kind of sin.”
Kiss the crosses in front of Paul and Peter’s remains and be freed from 17k years of purgatory
14k more for kissing piece of silver used in Christ’s betrayal
9 years for stepping on the stairs Jesus climbed to Pilate’s house – saying “Our Father” on each one, 2x for the step Jesus fell upon.
Luther was greatly disturbed. People were trying to buy salvation.
Upon return to Whittenburg in 1511, a city with 1.9 million years of freedom from purgatory in relics, Luther began to study the Bible.
the distress of mind that he had left at Erfurt had returned with renewed force. The sense of his sinfulness troubled him: the prospect of God’s judgment filled him once more with dread.
But at the very moment that these terrors had reached their highest pitch, the words of St. Paul, “The just shall live by faith” recurred forcibly to his memory and enlightened his soul like a ray from heaven. Luther was learning to live by faith, which was what the text was teaching.
WHAT DID LUTHER DISCOVER?
Psalm 30 – if everybody could understand Ps 30, they would understand God’s righteousness delivers, and does not merely judge.
The church taught that only the Pope could interpret Scripture
What if every man could interpret?
There would be more Christians!
Asked Staupitz, “Do we find anything here of relics? By faith man is made righteous, not by what he does for himself; be it attention to relics, singing of masses, pilgrimages to Rome, purchase of pardons for sins, but by faith by what God has done for him already in his son?
Stuapitz replied: “IF you leave the Christian to live by faith, if you sweep away all good works, all these glorious things you dismiss as mere crutches what will you put in that place?
“Christ – man only needs Christ!”
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, by suffering and dying has already paid for our sins forever – how can any man make a further payment? You can’t buy God’s mercy”
“According to the Apostle in Romans 1, the gospel is a preaching the incarnate Son of God, given to us without any merit on our part for salvation and peace. It is a word of salvation, a word of joy, a voice of the bridegroom and the bride, a good word, a word of peace.”
He concludes: “Therefore the true glory of God springs from the gospel. At the same time we are taught that the law is fulfilled not by our works but by the grace of God who pities us in Christ and that it shall be fulfilled not through works but through faith, not by anything we offer God, but by all we receive from Christ and partake of him”
By 1516, Luther was teaching that our inward righteousness was the gift of God and the source, not the consequence of good works. In other words, we are not righteous because we do good works, but we do good works because we are righteous
By 1519, he understood that the righteousness of God is not a righteousness that judges and demands, but a righteousness given by God in grace. The problem for Luther is “how can man, who is conscious of his condemnation as a sinner before God, stand before God?” The answer is that there is nothing of his own merit that he can do, but he can stand before God on the basis of faith alone in Chirst.
According to Luther [Comm on Gal.], justifying faith is “a certain sure confidence of heart and firm assent by which Christ is apprehended, so that Christ is the object of faith, nay, not the object, but, so to speak, in faith itself Christ is present.”
The believer is “cemented” to Christ on the basis of faith, so that the two are made, as it were, one person. the believer can say, “I am Christ, that is, the righteousness, victory, life, etc.m are mine”; and in turn Christ can say, “I am that sinner, because he cleaves to me and I to him, for we are joined by faith as members of His body, of His flesh, and His bones (Eph 5:30).”
The foundation of justification is the atoning work of Christ. Justification is a forensic declaration of God, whose prime element is remission of sins.
The doctrine of justification by faith implies assurance. In salvation by works, you never know if you have done enough. The implications are life-altering and paradigm-shattering. Imagine these truths being taught to people who for their whole lives had been told that their Christian life was based upon their ability to appease God by doing good things and being good people. Imagine hearing for the first time that God was merciful, and his righteousness was given to you, in Christ, apart from anything you do. This is the greatest discovery in all of the world since the discovery of the empty tomb Easter morning.
HOW DID LUTHER COME TO THIS DISCOVERY?
Luther was a man of the External Word (Luther calls it the “external Word” to emphasize that it is objective, fixed, outside ourselves, and therefore unchanging.
To see this intertwining of study and gospel let’s go back to the early years in Wittenberg. Luther dates the great discovery of the gospel in 1518 during his series of lectures on Psalms. He tells the story in his Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Writings. This account of the discovery is taken from that Preface written March 5, 1545, the year before his death. Listen for the references to his study of Scripture (italicized).
I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was … a single word in Chapter 1 [:17], ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed,’ that had stood in my way. For I hated that word ‘righteousness of God,’ which according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteous wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and trouble conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” There I began to understand [that] the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which [the] merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. Here a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory …
And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word ‘righteousness of God.’ Thus that place in Paul was for me truth the gate to paradise.
Notice how God was brining Luther to the light of the gospel of justification. Six sentences—all of them revealing the intensity of study and wrestling with the Biblical text:
I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans.
According to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically. (An approach to study from which he was breaking free.)
I beat importunately upon Paul a that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words.
Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory.
That place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.
The seeds of all Luther’s study habits are there or clearly implied.
In 1533 he said, “The Word of God is the greatest, most necessary, and most important thing in Christendom.”
This was the mark of Luther. In his great refusal to retract his writings as being heretical and divisive in his trial before the Diet of Worms, he said, “Since your most serene majesty and your high mightiness require me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give you one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear to me as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning – unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted – and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me, Amen.”
Do you see his steadfast reliance upon Scripture for all matters of life?
Facing excommunication, being marked a heretic, and probable death, he would not and could not go against his understanding of Scripture, even as it informed his conscience. Oh that we might be people of vigor, enthusiasm and conviction concerning the Word of God
We will never be worth anything if we do not find our entire life and meaning in the Words of the Bible. You want a point of application – Read your Bible! Study it, meditate upon it daily, memorize and dwell upon it every waking hour of your life. Do not rely upon anything but the Word of God.
The Reformation did not take place because of a clever and stubborn man, it is the definitive victory of the Word of God in the lives of His people. Get your doctrine from the Bible, believe it with your mind and your heart, and live it with every breath God gives you. Many try to dismiss the importance of doctrine. Doctrine is very important. Luther’s posting of the 95 theses, and every action he took, every word he spoke was a result of a firm conviction in doctrine.
He wasn’t lackadaisical in his belief and practice. He was convinced of the doctrine of Justification by faith alone, and it was the driving influence behind every great thing he did for the kingdom of God
Luther would go on to preach and write many things about the doctrine of Justification by faith, which he learned from Rom 1:17. He would call it “the chief article from which all our other doctrines have flowed.” He called it “the master and prince, the lord, the ruler and the judge over all kinds of doctrines.” He said, “if the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time.”
He argued, “It alone begets, nourishes, builds, and defends the church of God and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour.
If justification by faith is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls, our contemporary declines are no doubt due to our failure to understand, appreciate and live by this doctrine
The church of our day does not stand tall before the world. It bows to it. Christians are not fearless before ridicule. We flee from it
Is the reason not that we have never truly learned to stand before God in his righteousness? Is it not because we have never learned the truth of Rom 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The church will never be strong unless it is united around faithful men and women who firmly hold this conviction.
Over the next few weeks we will be learning more about what this crucial doctrine truly means. Commit to becoming the type of people that know that they are justified by faith alone, and live as justified sinners, not ashamed of the gospel, but proclaiming in word and deed.
It will only come through bending low in reverence before the Word of God
We are beggars. This is true.