“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17
This October we remember and celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Before Martin Luther became the figurehead for an international reform of the Roman Catholic Church, he was a lowly Augustinian monk. Luther as a monk was overwhelmed and terrified by the righteousness of God. He wondered how a righteous, holy, and just God would accept a sinful human being like himself. In some sense we should ask ourselves the same thing. As Luther studied Romans he came across Romans 1:16-17, where it says in the Gospel the righteousness of God is reveled. He couldn’t figure out how God’s righteousness, which he always associated with God’s wrath over sin, and the good news of the Gospel could fit together. He wrote this about his personal struggle to understand this passage in Romans 1:
“At first I clearly saw that the free grace of God is absolutely necessary to attain to light and eternal life; and I anxiously and busily worked to understand the word of Paul in Rom. 1:17: The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel. I questioned this passage for a long time and labored over it, for the expression ‘righteousness of God’ barred my way. This phrase was customarily explained to mean that the righteousness of God is a virtue by which He is Himself righteous and condemns sinners. In this way all the teachers of the church except Augustine had interpreted the passage. They had said: The righteousness of God, that is (id est), the wrath of God. But as often as I read this passage, I wished that God had never revealed the Gospel; for who could love a God who was angry, who judged and condemned people? This misunderstanding continued until, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, I finally examined more carefully the word of Habakkuk: ‘The just shall live by his faith’ (2:4). From this passage I concluded that life must be derived from faith.… Then the entire Holy Scripture became clear to me, and heaven itself was opened to me. Now we see this brilliant light very clearly, and we are privileged to enjoy it abundantly” (WLS § 2600).
The Holy Spirit working through the Word illuminated Luther’s mind to understand the Gospel for the first time. He realized that we are made righteous before God by faith. God’s wrath is poured out upon Jesus in our place, and we receive forgiveness, salvation, and the righteousness of Christ through faith alone. He had lived his life as an Augustinian monk under the condemnation of God’s law. He thought he had to earn God’s righteousness, but knew that his own sin was too great. After he truly understood the Gospel he was changed forever. He knew that the Roman Catholic Church that he was raised was also devoid of the Gospel. He knew that it needed to be reformed, just like he personally was reformed by the Word of God. This quest to bring the pure Gospel to the Church is what led him down the road to the Reformation, and the world was never the same.
Today we not only need to remember and celebrate the Reformation, but we need to learn from it. Every generation is in need of some sort of reforming. We need to examine our own lives and beliefs against the Word of God to see if there be any impure way in us, and allow God to reform us. One insignificant monk was personally reformed by the Word of God and he changed the world. What does God want to do in our generation through the power of His Word?