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Monday, November 6, 2017

The lesson of Luther's spiritual awakening

            Luther got faith and assurance circuitously but ultimately by listening to God, a lesson for anyone.  Let me explain the story of this, in case you aren’t familiar.  Young monk, top of his class, but tortured over not just his sin but his state of mind and his faith.  Catholicism had taught that salvation is a journey.  Once in faith, you start confessing and God changes you.  You get better and this makes you love God all the more. Not Marty.  He worried in confession that he wasn’t sincere, that his mind was devious and self-centered, fooling himself so then he’d have to confess that too.  He never thought he had confessed enough. Not love but fear worried Luther. What Luther feared was not punishment and hellfire but God himself and His judgment. That’s because the ultimate judgment was God’s. “A harsh judge on a rainbow.” Who could measure up?  Well the Church's version was that if you die before you reach perfect sainthood, you just go to purgatory for clean-up.  And thus people bought indulgences to get relatives or themselves out of purgatory. 

            The Monastery tried to fix Luther’s angst by sending him to Rome to enjoy the majesty of the church, but his disgust was akin to mine when I first went to Washington, DC.  Such decadence!  The pope should be humble.  (And the conservative in me said that the federal gov should reside in a Butler building while we the people live a better life.)  Then Luther’s mentor Johann Von Staupinz promoted Luther to be President of a new small college in Wittenberg AND parish priest there.  He thought Marty would desist the navel gazing if he was worked to death.  Staupinz was right for the wrong reason.  On a night in autumn, we think 1513 (but maybe 1514) Luther was working on lectures for Psalms in his tower study.  He ran across Ps. 31:1 (or 71:2) “Deliver me in Thy Righteousness” and he was stunned.  For a long time he’d struggled with Romans 1:17 “for in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, for as it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’” But here was a psalm that described God’s Righteousness, not as harsh judgmental perfectionism but the reason for God’s salvation and deliverance.  Here was a God who loves us, saves us, comes after us, puts faith in us, forms a relationship with us.  Hallelujah! Luther, the guy who had all this scripture in his head, jumped for joy.  He wrote about how all of scripture suddenly seemed to open wide and the gates of heaven too.

            And it was all God’s doing for mankind who deserve only death.  “But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8.  “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life.” Rom 6:23.  It all came through faith, Eph. 2:8-9, Luke 18:13-14. And all about Jesus. John 20:30-31.  Grace Alone. Faith Alone. Scripture alone. Luther began to teach and preach this by 1515 but few noticed him until he wrote the 95 Theses against Indulgence sales in 1517. Posted them as the usual habit for scholarly debate. Snitched by students who printed them. Luther was suddenly, reluctantly famous.

            If a guy has gone from death to life, you’ll never let go of the belief that was given you.  If you are leadership personality and phenomenally intelligent, found the answer simply by listening to God’s words in scripture, you’ll never shut up.  That was Luther.  Leadership personality is what many entrepreneurs have.  He’s the guy who comes into the room where everyone is glum over an insoluable problem, saying “I have the answer.”  Vision. He thinks outside the box. Then he persuades the others until they buy into his idea. Persuasive. But how will  this be accomplished? He’s already thought out a stepwise plan. Strategic thinker. And once everyone wants to do it, he starts assigning different personalities to handle the different steps and tasks. Delegator/Manager.  Only about 7% of a population have Leadership Personality, though some of it can be taught.  Luther’s dad was a peasant who ended life owning 7 mines and 2 smelters.  And the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

            He convinced Wittenberg’s faculty to a man of his Grace/Faith/Scripture alone.  Among them was Europe’s foremost Greek translator, Phillip Melancthon. And did they ever have things to say! The Gospel fills believers with comfort, good cheer, and gratitude, so that they are glad to love and obey God. ”I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Phil 3:8. We are all helplessly dead in faith. Romans 3.  Or think how Jesus told authorities "From these very stones I will raise up a people greater than these." (Whew! That's DEAD.) We are not ready for the Gospel until we give up all hope of justifying ourselves by works. Parable of the two sons, Matt. 21:28-32.  Parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. Luke18:9-14, and of the pearl of great value, Matt. 13:45-46. Yet even believers remain sinners—Simultaneously Saints and Sinners. Romans 7:24-25 says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Because all our righteousness comes by faith, all sin is unbelief.  Eph. 2:3.  Parable of the sheep and goats in Matt. 25.  Spiritual life is less like a journey, because Christ is a gift we receive rather than a road we travel. If sin is unbelief, we daily fall many times and require salvation, every time bestowed by a gracious God. It is like Kathy Troccoli’s song, “Traveled long, traveled hard, stumbled many times along the way.  I’ve I've bruised my knees a lot ,and turned my back on God, and seen His mercy.I've been quick to judge, and slow to learn, so many times I've gotten in the way.  I think I know so much, I've questioned God a lot,but still He loves me.” Or Luther’s favorite parable of the prodigal son, Lk. 15:11-32, shows we fall back, yet God runs to meet us with His gift of life. Faith alone re-makes us inwardly from the bottom of our hearts by changing our conscience, our awareness of how we stand before God. A Christian is perfectly free, lord of all, subject to none. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the spirit of Christ has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death…But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Rom. 8:1,10. “my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit.” Rom 9:1

            And sacraments. In the O.T. God commanded sacrifices as a sacred act, which through faith, brings forgiveness and salvation.  Luther applied the principle to the 7 sacraments and found only 2 meet this test, baptism and communion.  He translated the Bible from Greek to German, a translation so much followed that it established the standard for German language to this very day.  When people clamored for German worship, he designed a singing service and began writing hymns which led to 25,000 German hymns composed in the following century.  His catechism, a help for parents to teach the faith to their children spawned universal education.  Sans medieval philosophy, mostly protestant mathematicians and engineers began to experiment and measure phenomena that began the scientific revolution which propelled the Western world to world dominance.  And when a Puritan, John Locke, “father of modern psychology” became a fan of Luther’s writings about conscience, he wrote a new theory of government where men would have Liberty, rights, and equality and it heavily influenced USA’s founding fathers. Quite a few things came from a guy who listened to what God said, and found salvation from God’s grace.