Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. Galatians 2:16This month marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Christians of all backgrounds will gather to celebrate and remember the historic nature of Martin Luther’s protest and the subsequent movement of the church. While the Protestant Reformation had ramifications for all aspects of society, its theological foundations are what have captivated my attention for many years.
As a teenager, I was assigned to write a research paper on any topic I wished. I chose to write about Martin Luther. This project forced me to immerse myself in the history of Luther’s life and the theological doctrine of justification. While it was quite a lot for a sixteen year old to process, it left an indelible mark on my life.
Like Luther, I was deeply touched by the magnitude of justification by grace. This concept, articulated in the writings of Paul, makes clear that our relationship with God is made whole not by our good works, but by grace. Grace is a gift of God, undeserved and free. We cannot earn our salvation but are saved by Jesus Christ. This theological concept drove Luther to write the 95 Theses and take a stand against the Catholic Church. But it also changed his life and relationship with God.
Like many people, Luther had understood God to be a harsh and punishing judge. This led him as a young monk to repeatedly confess his sins and seek absolution. He lived in constant fear and trepidation of God’s judgment and damnation. When he read and began to understand justification by grace through faith, his life was transformed. Luther understood God as loving and merciful rather than angry and punishing.
When we realize the gift God has given to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection and no longer feel the pressure of having to be morally perfect, it is liberating. We are set free from anxiety and fear. We are set free for love of God and love of neighbor. We can love others freely because we have been loved. We can give ourselves away because Christ gave himself for us.
We are justified by grace, through faith, apart from works of the law and it makes all the difference! Let us celebrate this remarkable and life-giving gift!