Verse of the Day 12-2-22

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For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

These two verses changed the world when a German monk/priest named Martin Luther read them and because of them began to question the practices of the Catholic Church. To be more precise than that these verses were one of the leading causes that lead Luther to post his “95 Theses” on the door of the church in the German city of Wittenberg. The key problem Luther is dealing with in his “95 Theses” something called “indulgences.” And before going any further there needs to be a basic understanding of the concept of indulgences.

Eric Metaxas had this to say about indulgences in his book on Luther:

The idea of indulgences comes from the treasury of merit. In order to see how it works, we must imagine someone in confession, telling the priest he had done this and that and another thing. The priest might assign him twenty Our Fathers and suggest that he do some good work for the church too. But at some point, the church came up with the idea of indulgences, and if someone bought an indulgence from the church, it was just like doing a good work. So if I decided to give money to the church to build a cathedral-by buying an indulgence set up for this purpose-it only made sense that the church could count this as a good work I had done that would go into the “merit” category. And if I were able to give ten times as much money, I should therefore be able to get ten times as many “merits.” But those merits didn’t go into a heavenly treasure. They were mine to keep and “spend” as I saw fit. So with my money I could buy an indulgence that granted me forgiveness for a certain sin. So if I were to sin and the priest assigned me certain prayers and good deeds as penance, I could pull out my indulgence certificate and show him that I had already paid my penance for that particular sin.1

Scott Hendrix wrote this about indulgences in his book on Luther:

The granting of indulgences derived its power from a treasury filled by the endless merits of Christ and the saints who had no need of them. Those merits could be transferred to ordinary believers in order to cover the penalty owed for their sins. Strictly speaking, indulgences were not sold or bought, but in reality they were exchanged for money designated for a purpose like the building of St. Peter’s. After 1476 the faithful were allowed to purchase indulgences for souls in purgatory, who were still working off the penalties left unfinished at their death. After that became possible, who would not wish to speed the exit of a parent or spouse from purgatory?2

The problem that Luther had with the practices of the Catholic Church should be obvious from just these two quotes themselves. The problem that Luther had with the Catholic Church’s policy was the fact that they were preaching the doctrine of grace plus works and not grace alone and today’s verses were and still are the proof texts for proving the validity of this very important concept.

In essence what Luther was arguing in his “95 Theses” was that one cannot be “saved” and gain a right relationship with God by good works, acts of love, devoted efforts to keep God’s commandments or any sort of religious routines. Rather Luther was arguing that one can only be spiritually saved by God’s grace, which is his unearned favor, love and enablement. There are very clear Biblical reasons for this fact: (1) The unsaved (i.e., those who have not been restored to a personal relationship with God) are spiritually dead3, under Satan’s influence and control4, enslaved to sin5 and under God’s condemning judgement6.

(2) In order to be saved (restored to a right relationship with God), one must respond to and accept God’s provision of mercy through his Son, Jesus7, be forgiven of sin8, be made spiritually alive9, be freed from the power of Satan and sin10, be made a new creation11 and receive the inner presence of the Holy Spirit12. No amount of self-effort can accomplish these things.

(3) Salvation comes to an individual by God’s grace, which is his (God’s) unearned favor that comes as a response to the person’s Godly faith13. God’s gift of grace includes the following: (a) God calls people to repent (i.e., turning from their own rebellious way, accept his forgiveness, surrender their lives to Christ and follow his purposes from them) and to accept his invitation to new life by faith in his Son, Jesus14. Along with this invitation comes the work of the Holy Spirit within a person, giving them the power and ability to respond to God. (b) Those who respond in faith and accept Christ as Lord and Savior, meaning the Forgiver of their sins and Leader of their lives, receive additional grace. This allows them to be spiritually renewed, or “born again”15, by the Spirit. In the process, the Holy Spirit comes to reside within them, also making available Christ’s invitation to be filled with the Spirit for additional power to communicate his message of forgiveness and new life to others16. (c) Those who become new creations in Christ17 receive continuing grace to live for Christ, resist sin and serve God’s purposes18. God’s grace operates within committed followers of Christ, giving them both the desire and the power to fulfill God’s good purpose for their life19. From beginning to end, salvation is by the grace of God.

Today’s Bible Readings:

Daniel 9:1-11:1, 1 John 2:18-3:6, Psalm 121:1-8 and Proverbs 28:27-28

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References:

  1. Metaxas, Eric. Maritn Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2017.
  2. Hendrix, Scott H. Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer. Yale University, 2015.
  3. Ephesians 2:1
  4. Ephesians 2:2
  5. Ephesians 2:3
  6. Ephesians 2:3
  7. Ephesians 2:4-5
  8. Romans 4:7-8
  9. Colossians 1:13
  10. Colossians 1:13
  11. Ephesians 2:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:17
  12. John 7:37-39 and John 20:22
  13. Ephesians 2:5 and 8
  14. Acts 2:38 and Matthew 3:2
  15. John 3:7
  16. Acts 1:8, 2:38 and Ephesians 5:18
  17. 2 Corinthians 5:17
  18. Romans 8:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 9:8
  19. Philippians 2:12-13