Summary: What does it mean to be justified before God and how does one become justified? It is this doctrine that the Reformers proclaimed that the Church stands or falls.
1/1/17 D. Marion Clark
Who knows what a year will bring? Five hundred years ago, an obscure monk had no idea that he would be used by God to bring about the most momentous impact on the church since it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, 1,200 hundred years earlier. On October 31, All Hallows’ Eve, the Augustinian monk and professor at the university in Wittenberg nailed 95 theses on the door of the church. They were written in Latin for the purpose of debate among church scholars. They were written to address a specific corrupt practice – that of selling indulgences, which were being sold to raise money for the building of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. The lead marketer had gone beyond the bounds of integrity, promising immediate release of relatives in purgatory to any who put money in the coffers. Other than scholarly debate with colleagues, Luther expected little reaction. Instead, someone took down the document, translated it into the common language, and distributed it throughout the land. It was the original social media viral event, and so began the Reformation.
That was the beginning of the chain of events which culminated in the break within the Roman Catholic Church and birthed the Protestant Church. But the selling of indulgences was not at the heart of what led to the division in the church. What became the central issue and the central doctrine over which the two branches of the Christian faith remain divided is that of justification. What does it mean to be justified before God and how does one become justified – it is the understanding of that doctrine which divides us to this day. It is this doctrine that the Reformers proclaimed that the Church stands or falls.
For the next five weeks we will take a look at five doctrines that are identified as the central tenets of the Protestant faith. They are referred to as the five soli, Sola is Latin for “sole” or “only.” They are, in the order we will treat them: sola fide, faith alone; soli gratia, grace alone; solus Christus, Christ alone; sola scriptura, Scripture alone; and soli Deo gloria, for God’s glory alone.
The doctrine that underlies the first three – faith, grace, and Christ alone – is that of justification. Let’s take time to understand it and what it means for us. Our Scripture text provides an excellent study for the doctrine.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.