Martin Luther is in the news these days as the whole church celebrates 500 years since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Whether he actually nailed 95 theses on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg is not historically certain; it may be more the enhanced narrative crafted by Melanchthon. We do know that his writing circulated widely and that his challenge to many of the conventions of medieval Catholicism sparked theological debate, political intrigue, and ecclesial fracturing.
I have been at my home church two Sundays in a row (gasp!), so I have been in the teaching mode in Sunday School. The Jubilee Class is a patient lot, and they indulge my professorial meanderings with good humor and genuine interest.
The Epistle to the Romans is prominent in the lectionary readings in this season, so we tackled chapter 5:1-8 yesterday. This text lays out Paul’s clear statement about what God has done through Christ to transfer believers into the realm of grace. I could not help but recall Luther’s anxiety about salvation as I worked through the text; it was not until he understood that he was justified by faith that he could find the assurance he desperately sought.
The kind of faith that justifies is more than cognitive assent; it is a radical entrusting of the whole self to the care of God. Acknowledging what one’s true state before God is ingredient to this justification, and this may be the hardest thing for self-sufficient people.
The Apostle writes: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” What does it mean to be weak and ungodly? In Romans, it means at least the following:
God demonstrates love for us by sending Christ, who freely chooses the pathway of “one for the many.” Hope and love arise out of God’s action of pouring the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
Suffering is endemic to following a crucified savior, and this suffering produces endurance, character, and hope. And hope does not disappoint when placed in God’s own faithfulness.
Luther’s great insight was that God’s righteousness transcends legalism. He did not have to earn right-standing before God. In his inimitable words, God can impute justification by “wrapping the robe of righteousness around our pig-befouled bodies.” Christ creates peace between God and humanity, securing our identity as beloved of God.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church and serving humanity.