Summary: This is a sermon on salvation and justification by faith prepared for preaching on Reformation Sunday. If interested, I have four great Power Point slides that accompany this message.
“LIVING BY FAITH”—ROMANS 1:16-17
Besides the saints of the Old and New Testaments, I have several heroes of the Faith. These include such people as John and Charles Wesley, Francis Asbury, Phillip William Otterbein, Peter Cartwright, and Martin Luther. It was exactly 487 years ago today, Saturday, October 31, 1517, that Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg (“vit’-en-berk”) Church., only twenty-five years after Columbus had discovered the New World. Thus today we celebrate Reformation Sunday in the Church.
Luther, a devout Augustinian monk, agonized many long hours and sleepless nights over the questions of his relationship with God and his eternal destiny. A faithful Catholic, he had diligently practiced everything his Church prescribed for him to do, but he continually struggled for the assurance that he had made peace with God. A sense of divine forgiveness eluded him while his soul was continually tormented by guilt and condemnation.
In 1515 he gave a series of lectures at Wittenberg University on the Book of Romans; it was then he had a spiritual break through, as the Holy spirit brought the message of Romans 1:16-17 home to him. His life was changed, and his relationship with God became real:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is
the power of God for the salvation of everyone
who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed--
a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,
just as it is written: ‘The righteous (i. e., the just)
shall live by faith.”
The Great Reformer experienced salvation when he finally realized that one is saved by faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and not by any of his own personal effort or works. He came to accept God’s free grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.
Although a loyal Catholic since his birth in November of 1483, Luther, along with many others, had come to recognize the vial corruption that plagued the Roman Church of the sixteenth century. Popes, cardinals, bishops, and many parish clergy were corrupt. Noblemen of Europe would often purchase bishoprics and even the papacy for their younger sons. Even if forbidden to marry, Roman clergy kept mistresses and fathered illegitimate children. Although devout clergy were to be found in the rank and file, many priests were not true Christians and often did not believe in Jesus, the Bible, or the orthodox doctrines of the Church.
The Church’s practice of selling indulgences outraged Luther and many faithful Christians. The Roman Church taught that when people sinned, they had to confess their sins to a priest. However, they could not be totally forgiven until they performed an act of penance. The priest would give the confessor homework to do in order before receiving forgiveness, so many prayers to pray or a good deed to perform, but the requirement of doing penance could often be cancelled if the confessor would buy an indulgence, a papal certificate that abolished the need for doing penance. Indulgences could also be purchased to free your deceased relatives from suffering in purgatory. In other words, the Church taught that divine forgiveness could be bought and sold.
Pope Leo X financed the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome by selling indulgences. One of his best indulgence salesmen was a German, Dominican friar named Johann Tetzel. Tetzel went throughout the German countryside proclaiming that when one would purchase indulgences from him, he would instantly be freed from all punishment for his sins and any of his deceased relatives in purgatory would spontaneously be released to go to Heaven. Tetzel actually declared, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs” [--George Thompson and Jerry Combee, World History and Cultures in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed. (Pensacola: A Beka Book, 1997), 247.].
The entire Book of Romans, but particularly our text, brought Martin Luther to saving faith and assured him of his salvation. We have his personal testimony: “My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning. . . .This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.”
[--A. Kenneth Curtis, J. Stephen Lang, and Randy Petersen, the 100 Most Important Events in Christian History (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Co., Fleming H. Revell, 1991), 97.].