Last night we watched the movie "Luther" in honor of Reformation Day. Many are not aware that October 31st has significance beyond Halloween. It is a Christian holiday which marks the anniversary of Martin Luther's nailing of his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany in 1517. This one act of tremendous courage was the catalyst for reform within the church which released the faithful from the shackles of legalism and corruption that pervaded it. Only clergy at the highest levels were allowed the privilege of learning Greek so that they could personally read scripture. The Bible was not made available in the common languages because the common man, including lower level clergy, were considered too simple-minded to understand it. Translation was prohibited. People were made to believe that their money was the answer to securing their own salvation and that of their loved ones, even those already dead.
Martin Luther, as a young monk, was sent by his mentor to Wittenburg to study theology. In his study, and through a visit to Rome where he witnessed the corruption first-hand, he came to the conviction that Christ alone was necessary for salvation. He very nearly paid for these convictions with his life. At the Augsburg Diet of Worms (pronounced Vorms, rhyming with forms) in 1521 Luther was ordered to recant his teachings and his writings or be condemned to death. His response was, "Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."
Many Christians gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel during the Reformation. Martin Luther did not. By God's grace, and the quick thinking of supporters in positions of influence, including Prince Frederick, he survived until 1546 when he died of natural causes. There is no doubt that he fully believed the closing words of one of his most famous hymns, "The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever." A good, albeit brief, synopsis of Luther's life can be found here.
I am so very thankful for the courage with which these men faced inestimable odds. They believed, as I do, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth as a man. He is the only person who will ever walk the earth and live a sinless life. He willingly gave Himself as a sacrifice, dying on a cross, to pay the penalty for my sin and yours. Sin, the the act of rejecting God and His law, separates us from God because He is Holy and can only be in relationship with those who are holy. Jesus conquered death on the third day after his burial and came back to life. He now stands as mediator between us and His Father, the holiness of His sinless life covering our imperfections. Christ's work is complete. Salvation is a free gift to all who seek it. Our only task is to ask God's forgiveness for our sin and entrust our lives to Christ and His finished work. Luther shared this opportunity for forgiveness with the people and taught them that no amount of money or good deeds could ever be enough to reconcile a sinner to God.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
Salvation is a gift of God's grace to all who will repent and believe. Martin Luther realized this and set the church on a trajectory toward freedom in Christ alone. Because, after all, that is what salvation is...FREEDOM.