After all, how many events so completely shook the world?
489 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his small objections to the religious system of the day - a challenge to debate - on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. How could he have known that but within the week, copies of his theses would be discussed throughout the surrounding regions; and within a decade, Europe itself would be shaken by his simple act. The start of the revolution that would become the protestant reformation, and the end of the tyranny of oppression from a corrupt Roman church which had lost its authenticity.
But what started Martin Luther?
As is widely know, Luther - disheartened, depressed and confused, made his way one day to the Scala Sancta in Rome, the sacred stairs upon which Jesus had been judged by Pilate. They were brought from Jerusalem by the mother of Constantine the Great. Today, as in LutherÂs day, you can see the pilgrims going up those stairs on their knees. Luther was diligently doing that when there began to be heard in his mind the words he had read in Romans 1: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed . . . For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (vv. 17-18 KJV). Luther trembled when he read that. But now the rest of that verse began to be heard in his heart and mind. "The just (righteous) shall live by faith."
As this truth dawned on him - it gripped him - echoing louder and louder until it rang out the old and in the truth of the doctrine of Grace through Faith alone - and he sprang to his feet and left that place. A reformation began in his heart, which spread to the known world, and for which we remain the happy beneficiaries.
It's this truth that gives me great comfort these days... and there are three reasons why.
First, this thought - first from the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4) is quoted 3 times in the New Testament, and each time with an emphasis on a different part of this 3-part phrase:
1. In Romans 1:16, the emphasis is on "the just (righteous)":
"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'"
2. In Galatians 3:10-12, the emphasis is on "shall live":
"All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.' Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith.' The law is not based
on faith; on the contrary, 'The man who does these things will live by them.'"
3. In Hebrews 10:36-39, the emphasis is on "by faith":
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, 'He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.' But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
No wonder this truth was transforming to Luther! How powerfully simple, yet true - devastating to the entire way that the world tells us to live our lives! Here's what I mean (and what I'm trying to learn):
This verse tells me that if I want to be in the right place in life - with God - I must live by faith. Romans 1 is clear about the fact that I'm not, God is and He's willing to change me to the right way of living - by faith! I don't have to get better, the good news is that God Himself transforms me into what I should be, what I was created to be, when I believe! Not when I try harder, not when I work my fingers to the bone, but when I believe! No wonder they call it good news!
The Bible is very clear about this. "...And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe (a) that he exists and (b) that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:6, emphasis added) So through faith - believing God (as my Dad used to say, not just believing in God, but believing Him) - we are actually treated as if we are righteous!
I lay awake at night knowing my shortcomings, my failure... but through a living by faith, all of that is washed away, and I'm made right before God. Wow!
Equally powerful is that thought that faith is the lifeblood of a righteous man. I've been reading about the reformers - think about Martin Luther: He didn't know what he was getting into. If it hadn't been for the fairly recent invention of the printing press, his challenge to debate might have been quickly forgotten. He certainly wasn't out to change Western Civilization! But quickly he found himself in a position where, unless he renounced his views, he was subject to civil, economic, political, vocational - hey, even eternal - punishment from the view of his world system. He found himself in conflict with the mon0lithic power of that day, and refused to change, saying "...Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me." How??
Faith gives life to righteous men. This is what John meant when he said in 1 John:
"...for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith."
If I want to do more than exist... if I want to overcome - to really live, faith is the path I follow. It's not by my effort, but my stamina, by my courage, by my will... it's by turning myself over to the One who "exists and who rewards those who earnestly seek Him". Is that all? Yes, that's all! It's enough to move any mountain... even the ones I spend my life trying to move in my own strength. But righteous ones - the ones walking with God - don't feel that stress... they live by faith. And real faith, by the way isn't what you say, or even what you believe... it's what you live.
The testimony of Scripture is plain and clear. People who did this "overcame" life - even when in outward appearances they seemed like failures. They were the ones, like Joeseph, who looks at a lifetime of hardship and injustice, and talking to the very ones who inflicted the pain said "...you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good (!)..." Can something so... insignificant - intangible - as faith make a difference? Yes! It makes all the difference... it's life! The words of the old hymn are true:
"Faith is the victory, faith is the victory. Oh, glorious victory that overcomes the world."
"... By Faith" - One last thought:
The book of Hebrews (ok, the Bible!) announces a dire warning for those who turn back - who fail to keep going... what would it mean to "shrink back and be destroyed"?
All I know is that God says "He has no pleasure" in such people. Just men live by faith. They believe, and that belief has logical consequences. If I said that "I believed that my home was on fire, but stayed inside and played video games, I would either be lying about my belief or insane! If you believe something, you act on it! Crazy, religiousity-churchism today will say that you can believe, but not live like it... that's - well, stupid. No, you can't. If you believe something, you act on it. If you don't act in a manner consistent with what you say, you don't believe what you're saying. It's just that simple.
We live in a society where almost everyone "believes in God". So what?? The demons believe, and they tremble. But righteous people, they live "by faith" - they don't just accept the historical facts about Jesus, they hear His words and believe them! And they act on them because they believe!
Jesus was very clear about this too. You can't say that you're a Christian if you do not obey the teachings of Jesus. If you think otherwise, you disagree with the clear teaching of the Bible:
Jesus said "... the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." (John 10:3) or John's blunt words in 1 John 2:4-6:
"Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. "
I'm not saying that you have to be perfect, but I am saying that belief has logical consequences. And righteous people live by what they believe - by faith in Jesus - by believing what He said was really, honestly true.
Well, that's a mouthful for today. I'm seeking to be that kind of person... a righteous person - who lives, really lives - by faith.
Want to join me? :) "The just ... shall live ... by faith."