THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH
by Seattle ALC
These words continue to symbolize the spirit of the reformation which signaled a new era for the Christian church. It was not a new or a different work than that which was evident in the early church following Pentecost, but a continuation and a revival of that work. It was a revival of what has been and should always remain the central theme of Christianity. It is the Biblical doctrine which alone leads to salvation — to peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When St. Paul included these words “THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH” in his letter to the churches of Galatia, he was not introducing a new teaching, not even coining a new phrase, but he was quoting from the Old Testament Prophet Habakkuk. .
As the time drew near in which the fires of revival were to burst forth in the sixteenth century, God had prepared His servants for the parts they were to play in the dramatic return to evangelical Christianity. The University at Wittenberg and the newly constructed All Saints Church in that same city were to be the centers for the teaching and the preaching that would fan the embers of living faith to the renewed height of effective testimony.
A plague of illness had struck Wittenberg in the year 1516 while Luther was lecturing there on the Galatians Epistle. He wrote to a friend, stating: ” I am not certain if the plague will let me finish lecturing on this epistle. Its attacks are sudden and violent, and it is making great ravages among the young in particular. If it spreads, I shall disperse the students in every direction, but as for me, my place is here. Duty does not permit me to desert my post until He who has called me shall summon me away. Of his subject matter, Luther said: “This Galatians epistle is my epistle. I am wedded to it.” In his lectures, whether as a professor at the university or as a preacher in the church, he taught that the natural, carnal desire of every person is toward “self-justification”. We seek to become righteous by our own works. This desire, he said, is the cause of all the distresses that surround, trouble and deceive the heart. And of the preaching of Jesus Christ, he said: “But he who receives Jesus Christ as Saviour will enjoy peace and not only peace, but a purity of heart that is imputed to us through the merit of our Saviour. Faith in the gospel is the divine work of the Holy Spirit which first gives us new birth and then also effects sanctification within us–as the fruit of faith and not as the basis for our salvation.”
This kind of firm reliance on Holy Scripture gave tremendous authority to these early reformation teachings. They attracted the attention of large numbers of people who were accustomed to hearing only about works which enslaved them in a bondage of desperation so acute that there was little if any assurance of salvation. And as if the works of the Ten Commandment Law were not enough, man-made rules and requirements were taught, emphasized and demanded over and above the standards set down by God himself in His law. It is apparent that God did not give His law with the intention that we mere mortals would be able to fulfil it, but for the purpose that “every mouth would be stopped, and all the world would become guilty before God.”
Luther made the assertion that the problem with most teachers of His day was that they saw no major difference between Moses and Christ–between the Old Covenant and the New–than in time and place. The truth is that there are differences between them, differences that are as great as between life and death, as between heaven and hell.
Though his teachings were public and general in nature, to Luther this entire matter came down to the question of individual and personal salvation. He wrote to one of his friends and co-workers in the monastery: “I should be very glad to know the state of your soul. Is it not tired of its own righteousness? Does it not desire to breathe freely and at last to confide in the righteousness of Christ? In our days, pride seduces many and especially those who labor with all their might to become righteous, not understanding that the righteousness of God is freely given to us in Christ. Oh my dear brother, he continued, may you learn to know Christ and Him crucified. Learn to despair of yourself and say to Him:
“THOU LORD JESUS CHRIST ART MY RIGHTEOUSNESS AND I AM THY SIN.”
“THOU HAST TAKEN WHAT WAS MINE, AND HAS GIVEN ME WHAT WAS THINE.”
“WHAT THOU WAST NOT, THAT THOU DIDST BECOME IN ORDER THAT I MIGHT BECOME WHAT I WAS NOT.”
Then he concluded his letter: “Beware of pretending you have such purity that you no longer must confess that you are a sinner. Christ dwells only with sinners. He came down from heaven, where he was living among the holy, in order to live among sinners. If our labors and afflictions could give us peace of conscience, why should Christ have died? You will not find peace except in Him–and only by despairing of yourself and of all your works and in learning that with unequalled love He opens His arms to you, taking all of your sins upon himself and giving you His Righteousness.
As we, in the end of the gospel age, look back upon these enlightened teachings, we can see that the powerful doctrine which had saved multitudes in apostolic times was destined yet to shed its pure light into countless more human hearts.
The church has traveled far in these four hundred plus years since the eventful days of which we are writing. The question before us today is this: HAVE WE TRAVELED. IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION? ARE WE STILL PREACHING AND TEACHING THE APOSTOLIC DOCTRINE WHICH AGAIN BROUGHT LIGHT TO SOULS CHAINED IN DARKNESS? ARE WE STILL ON THE WAY OF TRUTH WITH CHRIST ALONE AS THE AUTHOR AND THE FINISHER OF OUR FAITH? IS HE OUR ONLY FOUNDATION?
We must never forget that “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Gal. 3: 10-11
(From the writings of late Pastor A. C. Holmgren- October 1991)
Submitted by Pastor Stan
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