The winds of change blow constantly. There are mild, refreshing breezes. There are destructive hurricanes or tornado gales. How do we as followers of Jesus stand as the breezes and gales blow around us? How do we stand and not become cemented in a distant past? How do we stand, and yet move, as the Holy Spirit guides us? The life of Martin Luther, the man credited as starting the Protestant Reformation, gives us insight on how we faithfully stand in the storms of life. Let me begin with a story from four years ago.
The week of October 31, 2017, several hundred Pentecostal people from around the world gathered in Berlin and in the Castle Church at Wittenberg, Germany to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door. That act is considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. I, along with other IPHC members from around the world, participated in that commemoration.
While that date remains significant in world history, there is another date and event involving Martin Luther that is in many ways even more important. That date is April 17-18, 1521. That is the day that Luther stood before the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V in the city of Worms, Germany. Luther refused to renounce his writings because they were based on the Word of God.
Luther’s study of the Word of God had led him to recognize and oppose various abuses in the Roman Catholic Church. But his calls for repentance and reformation were rejected by the established church. Luther’s challenges also affected the political realities of a changing order across Europe. The April 1521 events in Worms were preceded by Luther burning a papal order against him on December 10, 1520. In response, Rome officially excommunicated the reformer on January 3, 1521. With the urging of political leaders sympathetic to Luther, the Emperor offered Luther another opportunity to renounce his views.
The critical meeting was held on late Monday afternoon, April 18. There, Luther refused to renounce his books, teaching, and preaching, claiming, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand; may God help me. Amen.”
The Word of God, justification by faith, and the universal priesthood of all believers is the solid ground upon which we can stand as the winds of the world swirl around us.
This part of Luther’s life is a great example and inspiration for all men. It takes courage to do what Luther did in speaking out against abuses, injustices, and corruption. Today, more than ever, we need men who are willing to stand firm on the truth of God’s Word as we relate to our families, our jobs, and our service to Christ in the church. I want to explore with you some thoughts about how we daily incorporate three areas of Reformation emphasis. First, the authority of the Bible as the Word of God over all other authorities. Second, we are justified before God by faith and not by works. Third, every believer is a priest before God and needs no other mediator other than Jesus Christ.
The foundation of our faith is revealed in the Word of God. The Bible is the book source of God’s will for humanity. It tells the story of God’s covenants and His commitment to people who believe His Word. Luther’s courage came about by his dedicated study of the Bible. From 1513 through 1519 he studied, in depth, Genesis, the Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. It was from this immersion in the Word that Luther discovered life-changing truths, and the courage to act on those truths.
You may be thinking you do not have time to study God’s Word as Luther did, and you are probably right. But each of us has time each day to take a portion of the Bible, study it, pray over it, talk about it with others, and ask the Holy Spirit to apply it to how we live. While driving, you can listen to podcasts about the Bible. At home, you can turn off Netflix and read a devotional book with your spouse and children. At church, take your Bible with you as a book or App and take notes. Do what you can to build your life upon the Word of God.
Second, discover the joy of living in the freedom of forgiven sin and victory over the temptations of life. Justification by faith means we fully trust in what Jesus did on the cross for our salvation. Righteous works are important, but they do not justify us before God. We cannot earn our salvation. We are fallen men, and only by the blood of Jesus can we be set free. As the old hymn put it, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” To know we are justified by faith is to know our sins are forgiven, we are adopted as sons of God, and we can serve God with joy and peace.
Third, every person has gifts from God. The basic gifts of our lives are those with which we are born. Everyone has something they do well, that fits their “wheelhouse.” We like to do these things and are effective as we do them. But we also have spiritual gifts that come from the Holy Spirit. We do not earn these gifts, but we receive them with thanksgiving and use them as the Holy Spirit prompts us.
It is important we as men discover what it means to come before the Lord through the name of Jesus and through His grace. In reality, our acceptance before God so that we can pray, can worship, and can serve the Lord, comes through the liberty we have as a result of justification by faith. Our service to God, to one another, to our families, and to the world flows from our relationship with our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ.
The Reformation called this the universal priesthood of all believers. It means we can learn from one another and can serve one another. It means we can “boldly come to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The Word of God, justification by faith, and the universal priesthood of all believers is the solid ground upon which we can stand as the winds of the world swirl around us. May we stand together as witnesses to Jesus Christ!
W.A. Mills sat down with Bishop Beacham to talk more about the 500th Anniversary of Luther's "Here I Stand" statement and how that applies to our lives today. You can listen to that podcast at this link.