Wittenberg, Germany, October 31, 1517: a Catholic priest nailed his 95 theses to the door of a church. The noise, perhaps, disturbed a few. Its echoes woke the world. The priest was Martin Luther. His paper was a public announcement – a challenge to scholars to debate what he felt were the unscriptural practices of the Catholic Church. In his day, this was the method employed to invite debates on vital issues.
Luther was brought to this by six words (in our English Bible), six life-giving, darkness-chasing, emancipating words: “The just shall live by faith.” Prior to understanding these words, Luther had exhausted every means of saving himself. He wrote, “If ever a monk got to heaven by monkery, I would have gotten there.” He fasted for days, prayed fervently, went for many nights without sleep, embarked on pilgrimages, punished himself mercilessly, and confessed his sins over and over again. Here are his words: “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.” Then he turned to the Word of God: “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith … as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’ … 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, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul’s became to me a gate to heaven.”
Continuing to preaching this truth, Luther was brought to trial and commanded to recant. His famous answer was, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds of reasoning … then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience … Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”
Luther’s conversion and actions ignited The Reformation. Millions would hear that “the Scriptures alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone” was the only way to be saved and sure of heaven. This is still the divinely-prescribed means by which a sinner comes from darkness into light. Christ alone can save you. There is salvation in no other name under heaven. The gospel message points you to Christ because He alone suffered for sins and accomplished the work that saves. Apostolic preaching stressed that “Through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins.”
It is not Christ and something you do. It is Christ alone Who saves. He saves everyone who trusts Him. This is why salvation is by God’s grace through faith alone. When the dying woman in Matthew 9 said, “If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole,” she understood that there was nothing meritorious or powerful about her hand or the “touch.” It was Christ Who had the power to save her. Faith is simply the helpless sinner’s hand reaching out to take Christ as Savior.
The same “Scriptures of truth” that reveal our sinfulness also reveal that Christ died for our sins. The sinner who has trusted Christ has God’s promise that he will never perish. His assurance that he will be in heaven rests on the Scriptures alone. They are “the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever … and this is the Word which by the gospel is preached to you.” What higher, greater, stronger assurance could a person have? Trust God’s Word about God’s Son and, as Luther wrote, you will have this assurance:
This is the Christ, our God and Lord,
Who in all need shall aid afford;
He will Himself your Savior be,
From all your sins to set you free.