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Returning to the Gospels

October 22, 2017

Commemoration of the 500 years of the Reformation

“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

Matthew 10:26-33

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
What a challenging verse, especially in our time, when there are so many martyrs in the world who are still preaching about the living God of the Bible, and while at the same time there are even also many churches and Christian institutions that water down the message of the Word of God, the Bible!
Luther knew very well what this word for today meant. He discovered it when he read the Bible for the first time. And he felt that all the plain and simple truths of the Bible had to be said in his church. Luther’s courage was to free the power of the clear and simple truth of the Bible with the intention of it being understandable by everyone. This Word came to change the world at that time.
And that word also challenges us today to continue proclaiming the only truth of the Bible in a clear, simple but challenging way.
In the history of the church, every time that there was a real revival movement and a strong presence of the Holy Spirit was when the believers started to once again read and believe the word of God, the Bible, above the wisdom of the world.
And that is unfortunately happening in our society today where many believers dilute the message of the Bible to adapt it to the whims of the world. And Martin Luther was known to precisely lead himself according to the Holy Scriptures and not the teachings of the societies that have often contradicted themselves.
Everyone of us as believers and each of our churches will receive God’s blessing and receive the presence (this we call anointing of God) as long as we return again and again to give sole authority to the Holy Scriptures and so confess Jesus Christ before people. As the Bible says: “God has given the Spirit to those who obey him”. (Acts 5:32)
Luther, when he began to read the Bible, returned to the sources of the Gospel, felt relieved and loved by God and free of the demands of a church that dictated what had to be fulfilled in order to “earn heaven.” He realized that true good works are those that come from a grateful heart, which is a product of faith in Jesus Christ. (Just as he said, “Faith in Christ is the beginning of good works.”) They are works of love for one’s neighbour and they are not a competition for salvation. The sacrifices imposed by religion and all demands (fasting, celibacy, renunciations, personal sacrifices, processions) lead to nothing. Rather than heaven, they often produce boasting because those who practice them believe they are better than others. In others, they lead to despair because nobody can fulfill everything to perfection.
That is why one of the greatest re-discoveries that Luther made was to read the Bible and to confirm the truth that, up until that moment, had been hidden. He summed it up in four fundamental notions for our salvation:
Only by faith
In Luther’s time, people were practicing religion for fear of going to hell. People did everything they could to secure forgiveness while on this earth.
Today, it is very unlikely that people run after forgiveness and are interested in life beyond death. But almost everyone runs after being recognized and pursues what the society in which they live deems of worth.
What Luther rediscovered was that recognition and worth in this life can be received instantly and freely from God. No study or career, no sacrifice, no effort or willpower, nor richness can make us perfect. No strict observance of religion guarantees eternal life. No good deed or any volunteering of any kind in society will bring us closer to God or forgive us our sins. Only by faith we are able to approach God, obtain his forgiveness and live as true Christians. And what is faith? It is not a mere acceptance or observance of some doctrine, but a deep trust in God and our decision to surrender our life to Him. It is the confidence that by the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross my guilt for my sin has already been paid for and that God transforms me into a new person. It is to know that I am unworthy, but that God gives me worthiness. It is trusting that God loves me and invites me to his Kingdom.
Religion is often a bag of inherited traditions and ceremonies from the past while faith is an experience of forgiveness of sin and a new life in community. It is to know that we are accepted by God and invited to live in fellowship with other people of the same faith. God loves you, God forgives you for the work of Christ, and God changes your life. God puts you in a church. God creates with you and with other believers in Jesus Christ a new family that lives in a different way and that is often opposed to mainstream society’s way of living. With believers, God creates an alternative to the world.
How does this faith take place? Through the preaching, teaching and, of course, hearing of the Word of God, which is accepted precisely with faith, in the midst of a congregation in which all members help each other. In order to achieve its growth in faith and love, a church needs minimal organization: meeting places for worship, teaching, Bible study, preaching, and celebration of the sacraments.
“We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16).
Grace alone
It means that God forgives the sinner freely and mercifully, not because he has done things. Five hundred years ago people did not know how to earn God’s favour. They believed that as greater was the sacrifice or work, as greater was the merit. Some even punished themselves to the extreme for this reason. The Reformation insisted that salvation is a gift of God. God does not have to reward anyone. What he does, he does simply because he wants to. Such is the nature of true love; is not sold or bought, but is given, accepted and lived. It must be highlighted that there is only one condition for God to give us that salvation and that condition is to repent our sins and decide to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour and to commit our life to God by faith. That’s the first step.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2: 8).
Only the Word
That is the Holy Scriptures, or the Bible. Where did these ancient teachings about the punishments of purgatory, indulgences, personal sacrifices or the need for good works come from? Where did the commercialization of divine forgiveness come from? Where did the business of selling the grace of God come from? From the Bible? No, not at all.
For many centuries there had grown within the church a tangle of human teachings, speculations, popular traditions, church decisions, beliefs and customs. That jungle had covered up the biblical message. –In the same way as many philosophies and new age teachings are covering the true message of Christ today—
The Reformation again maintained that only the Bible is the source and standard for Christian faith and life. Therefore, he rejected everything that was not found in the Bible. Among these rejected beliefs are works that grant merit, indulgences and purgatory. This was the only way to re-emphasize the teachings of Christ. The Reformation placed clear and simple preaching at the center of worship and promoted the Bible among all the faithful. All believers must know the Word of God, feed their faith with it and lead their lives according to it. Without the reading of the Scripture there can be no Christian faith.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).

Only Christ
The Middle Ages saw the acceptance of a great number of mediators between God and human beings: virgins, saints, angels and patrons of all kinds, even priests themselves, the sacrificial works of the faithful, indulgences and relics (especially bones and the remains of saints).
Once the incomparable value of the work of Christ was rediscovered, the Reformation insisted that only Christ is the mediator and saviour of those who believe. Salvation is only his work. All other help or intermediation is unnecessary and also contrary to the Bible. The reformation rediscovered that every believer can and should have a living relationship with their Lord. That relationship is maintained through prayer, Biblical study and active participation in the congregation.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2: 5)
Many of the mistaken practices of that time have already been overcome or at least “softened”. It is not necessary to maintain hostility towards the faithful of other churches, as was done in the past. But what we must do is affirm our own faith in the gospel. We must know in what and in whom we believe, know why we believe, have the personal certainty that we live from God’s forgiveness, and participate with conviction in the congregation of believers.
If we believe, feel and know this, and if we remain joined to our church and actively participate in its mission, true and renewed faith in Christ will grow in us just as Luther wanted to teach to the church of his time.
May the Lord, give us the faith that it is nothing other than a miracle of God, –for not everyone can believe, only those touched by the Holy Spirit– but also the decision to trust our life to God, because there are many who know that God is real but they do not decide to entrust their life to him yet.
May God give us courage to be believers but also to be witnesses of Jesus Christ and to speak about what the Bible alone says about Christ to those who do not know Him yet; a courage that before God will be transformed into blessings and joy for our lives and our churches. Amen.

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