October 31, 2019 marked the 502nd anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Many Protestants celebrate this day as Reformation Day. Every year in our Omnia curriculum, our sophomore students begin learning about Luther and the Protestant Reformation right around Reformation Day. I don’t know that we specifically planned the curriculum to sync up with Luther’s timeline, but it is a happy occurrence regardless. It gives our students a fresh opportunity to reflect on some of the doctrines we hold so dear as Christians: the authority of Scripture, the work of Christ on our behalf, God’s free grace, justification by faith, and the glory of God.
In addition to reading secondary sources about Luther’s life and the progress of the early Reformation, our students have the opportunity to read some of Luther’s own writings. In particular, we read his 1520 work titled The Freedom of a Christian. Luther’s point in this treatise is that good works do not cause people to obtain favor from God. This favor comes through faith alone. And yet, those who enjoy God’s favor necessarily live lives that are characterized by good works. Luther puts it this way: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” By calling a Christian a “free lord of all,” Luther means that we do not depend on good works for our salvation. We are free from works in that sense. Our salvation, our right standing with God, comes through faith.
What is it about faith that allows it to secure the benefits that good works are unable to secure? Good works draw attention to what we have done. They highlight our own behavior, which, outside of Christ, is fickle, halfhearted, and shot through with sinful desires. Faith, on the other hand, looks elsewhere. It draws attention to Jesus, who fulfilled God’s law perfectly and offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. In fact, Luther argues that faith unites us to Jesus in holy matrimony, allowing us to participate in our bridegroom’s heavenly status. “Christ,” writes Luther, “is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s.”
Because our status with God rests not on our own obedience but on the obedience of Christ, we are the most secure people in the world. We can face calamity and distress with the confidence that God is for us and not against us (Romans 8:31, 38–39). Even death loses its fearful grip. We belong to Jesus, and he will never let us go. Luther writes this about Christ’s bride: “Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, ‘If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his.’”
We have done nothing to earn this favor. It is a gift of God that we enjoy by faith alone. What mercy. What kindness. What freedom.
In the Joy of Our Savior,
Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy
- Pray for our students as they have about a month left of school. Pray God would help them persevere in their studies and finish this semester strong.
- Pray that the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday would provide our faculty, staff, and students with a chance to rest and to enjoy time with family and friends. Pray that we would be the aroma of Christ to any unbelievers we spend the day with.
- Pray that God would continue bringing applicants to our programs for Fall 2020.