Romans 1:17 “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The Word of God changes everything! “Ask anyone” how to get to heaven and they’ll tell you to be good. “Ask anyone” what good is and you’ll get a different answer from each. According to “anyone” the goal is simple but the road to get there is unclear, lost in the weeds, or just plain impossible. But God isn’t just “anyone.” He’s God and since heaven is His we should listen to Him for the way.
One day in 1514, Martin Luther, who had literally tortured himself to try and be good enough for God and his ticket to heaven, was studying Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Right near the beginning he read these words that I’m sure he’d read many times before: Romans 1:16-17 “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.’” (By the way, some of my favorite words from Scripture). Tortured by his own sin, tortured by never “feeling” good enough, self-tortured in his own body in a misguided attempt to appease God, he read these words again and, for the first time, the light went off (a light lit by the Holy Spirit as always)!
“Wait a minute!” This has been called Luther’s great “tower experience.” He had thought and been taught that to become righteous before God so you could go to heaven was to be punished every time you sin and to do EVERYTHING God wants. That’s what the Church had taught him but God’s Word was saying something completely different. God says we are made righteous before God by faith, by believing what God has done for us to make us righteous. God was saying the power to do that is in the Gospel. And what does that Gospel talk about? JESUS! 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (Another one of my favorites)
Boom! The light goes on! God punished Jesus in my place, He who kept the Law perfectly in my place. God carried out His threat against sin on Jesus on the cross instead of on me! This just needs to be believed - a gift and work of God too. Believe and receive. We don’t need to fear punishment by eternal death because death has been kicked in the teeth by the resurrected Jesus.
Luther was tormented by the same question by which we all are tormented: “How can I be sure that God has forgiven my sin and that He loves me?” Many false churches will still teach that if you do enough, pray enough, believe by your own strength enough, pay enough, then you can be sure. The problem is: What is enough? The answer is nothing. Mark 8:37 “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Nothing. We have nothing to give because we’re sinful to the core. So Jesus gave it all for our souls - and our bodies - and everything else.
The “righteous” don’t live by personal effort and besting a bargain they make with God. “The righteous shall live by faith.” What a liberating truth. God’s Word truly does change everything. This is our heritage as children of the Reformation. This the same Reformation message, 500 years later, that everyone still needs to hear; both the comfortable sinner and the tormented saint. May we, who have had our own “tower experience” by the power of the Gospel, now gladly share God’s liberating Word with all who need it! Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life let us share Him freely: Jesus alone, in grace alone, by faith alone, through God’s Word alone. Happy Reformation!