“At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live”. There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live”. Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself by open gates”.
That is how Martin Luther describes the great discovery he made as he read Romans 1:16-17, the passage that we will think about at Christ Church Düsseldorf next Sunday. Luther’s words remind us that the Reformation wasn’t just an intellectual movement, although it was a time of great intellectual discovery. Nor was it just a political movement, although the religious ferment of the time cannot be separated from politics. The Reformation was above all a spiritual movement, a movement of rebirth, renewal, and revival, as the Holy Spirit wielded the sword of the scriptures, and men, woman, and children were torn away from their false Gods, and drawn back to the God of grace alone, the true God who is only given in Jesus Christ.
Luther wasn’t the only one who discovered this. Ashley Null quotes the words of Queen Catherine Parr, the sixth and surviving wife of Henry VIII: “ “Come to me all you that labour and are burdened, and I shall give you rest”. What gentle, merciful, and humble words are these to all sinners? …What a most gracious, comfortable, and gentle saying was this, with such pleasant and sweet words to allure his enemies to come to him?… By this faith I am assured: and by this assurance I feel the remission of my sins. This is it that maketh me bold. This is it that comforteth me. This is it that quencheth all despair… Thus, I feeleth myself to come, as it were, in a new garment before God, and now by his mercy, to be taken as just and righteous”.
This shows us why the Reformation is not yet over, but needs to continue today. Not just because the Roman Catholic Church still holds to the false doctrines against which Luther and others protested; although it does. Not just because the Protestant churches have blocked their ears to the voice of God speaking in the scriptures, and need to listen again; although they have. Not just because all churches are composed of sinners, and so constantly need to repent and be reformed, although they are and do. But because all of us need to know the God who is gracious and merciful, and who saves us by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, to his own glory alone. We need to know the God who “allures” his enemies by his grace, so that he can be gentle and kind to them. That realization, that God does not drive us by law, but draw us by grace, is the true fountain of all spiritual rebirth and renewal.
This weekend we will celebrate 500 years since the Reformation, and there is much for which w can be thankful. But may it not be just a commemoration of an historical event. May we too feel that we are born again and enter paradise by open gates.
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