Reformation – 505 Years and Counting “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
Scriptures: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
MONDAY 10.31.22 Galatians 2:15-21
“No one will be made righteous by the works of the Law”
Martin Luther was a true son of the medieval church. He tried his very best to live out its directions for finding peace with God. But in the Bible, he found a very different message about salvation. “Luther then unearthed a third great problem with [the medieval system of] penance…it made Christ superfluous….the apostle Paul put it succinctly: ‘If justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing’ (Galatians 2:21). You cannot have it both ways—the law [human acts like penance] and Christ.” * Luther, like the apostle Paul, found that “trying harder” to earn God’s love doesn’t work.
- When Paul wrote “we KNOW that a person isn’t made righteous by the works of the Law,” he wasn’t speaking hypothetically. He’d once been sure his own religious credentials were enough to earn God’s favor (cf. Philippians 3:3-7), only to realize even that kind of holiness fell far short. What’s your experience?
What has helped you realize your need for God’s redeeming love and grace?
- In Galatians, Paul answered people who said Gentile Christians must adopt the Hebrew ritual of circumcision (cf. Galatians 5:2-6). The principle was the same for Luther, though the outward rituals of holiness were different. Do some external signs of holiness tempt you to rely on them today? How can you practice holiness as an outgrowth of your love relationship with God, not as an effort to earn that love?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I love you. I want to serve you and this world you love. Help me always to let my love and service flow out of my absolute trust in your saving grace. Amen.
* Steven Paulson, Luther for Armchair Theologians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 80-81.
TUESDAY 11.1.22 Romans 3:5-6, 19-28
“No one will be made righteous by the works of the Law”
Martin Luther described how understanding Romans 3 re-shaped his spiritual life: “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust…. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” *
- A historic connection ran from Paul to Luther and on to Methodism’s founder John Wesley. Here’s how…
Wesley described his discovery of God’s all-embracing grace: “I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation.” When did this great truth first warm your heart? Does it still?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you met Paul on the Damascus road and changed his life. Paul’s letter spoke to Luther’s heart. Through Luther, his words changed John Wesley’s life. Today all of them speak to me. Help me to trust your grace and sheer mercy, as they did. Amen.
* Quoted in Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950; paperback edition by Mentor Books, pp. 49.
WEDNESDAY 11.2.22 Romans 5:1-8
“While we were still sinners Christ died for us”
The salvation God’s grace offers us brings times of splendid joy and peace. But human feelings are volatile.
We do not always feel that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts,” and neither did Martin Luther. “The story of Scripture, Luther began to understand, is not how we make our way up the mountain by getting grace and then topping it off with love and works. Scripture is the story of how God came down to meet us— while we were yet sinners.” * Paul said we’re secure, not because we feel a certain way, but because Jesus loved us so much that he died for us.
- The Christian faith affects our feelings, but it is not mainly about how we feel. The faith’s roots are in a specific historical event—Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. Paul said the vital proof of God’s love for us is the fact that Jesus died for us. How solid is your grasp of the “Christ-event,” of the witnesses to the reality of Jesus’ history? In what ways might you deepen your knowledge and understanding of that central set of events?
- Paul twice used a verb that meant “to rejoice, be very happy.” In verse 2, the Common English Bible renders it “we boast in the hope of God’s glory.” In verse 3, we read, “We even take pride in our problems,” which may be even harder to grasp. Have you ever experienced the progression of trouble, endurance, character, and hope bringing you a powerful sense of God’s love being “poured out” in your heart?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you didn’t just wish me well from a distance. You came to this flawed planet, and lived, died and then lived again to save me. I open my heart again today—pour your love into it. Amen.
* Steven Paulson, Luther for Armchair Theologians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 62-63.
THURSDAY 11.3.22 Romans 1:16-17, 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“Not ashamed of the gospel”
Martin Luther faced a pivotal moment in 1521. In a large assembly, including the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, he had to say if he would recant his books “and the errors they contain.” He answered, “’Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.’ The earliest printed version added the words: ‘Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.’” *
- Luther took the Scriptures as his supreme authority. He repeatedly asked his medieval opponents to show him where Scripture said he was wrong. Paul said the Scripture is “useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character,” that through it “the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.” In which of these ways has the Bible had the greatest impact in your life? In what ways do you want to apply your Bible reading more fully?
- Like Jesus and the first Christians, Luther faced eminent political and religious figures who said their way of doing things was right—because it was the way they did things. Just prior to Luther’s emphatic “I cannot recant” answer in 1521, a church spokesman said, “Your plea to be heard from Scripture is the one always made by heretics.” ** But Luther didn’t flinch in the face of the name-calling. What does it take for you to be unashamed of Jesus and the Scriptures that teach you about him in the world of 2017?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I want others to like me, to approve of me. Sometimes that’s good; sometimes that leads me away from your path. Teach me how to be unashamed of my faith. Amen.
* Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950; paperback edition by Mentor Books, pp. 144.
** Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950; paperback edition by Mentor Books, pp. 143.
FRIDAY 11.4.22 1 Peter 2:4-10
“You are being made into a holy priesthood”
The medieval church said priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes were inherently superior, spiritually and legally, to everyone else. Based on the Bible’s teaching, Luther strongly disagreed. “God gave the ‘precious keys’ for heaven itself, which was first received in baptism, to all believers….Luther then referred to such forgiven sinners as ‘the priesthood of all believers,’ a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5) that was not reserved for a special class of people sacramentally ordained.” *
- Peter drew from Exodus 19:5-6 (Israelite people were a “holy priesthood”) and Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 (Israelites freed from exile were God’s people, though for a time they hadn’t been). Have you ever thought of yourself as a member of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession”? How can that rewrite your sense of mission and purpose in life?
- One of Luther’s projects that reshaped the world was translating the Bible into German. Since God called all Christians to be priests, he believed they should be able to read the Bible for themselves. Today there is a wide range of English translations of the Bible, and we can access them through tools like www.biblegateway.com. It is why our Bible Studies on Sunday and Wednesday, our Ignite! Small Groups throughout the week, are so important!
How will you deepen your understanding and application of the Bible in your own life?
Prayer: Lord God, you give me a high and holy calling, and you make the Bible’s writings readily available to guide me in living out that calling. I’m no Luther, but give me his devotion and willingness to learn from you. Amen.
* Steven Paulson, Luther for Armchair Theologians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 163.
SATURDAY 10.29.22 Psalm 46:1-11
“God is our refuge and strength.”
All through his life, Luther battled against awful low points. “The content of the depressions was always the same, the loss of faith that God is good and that he is good to me….Always and above all else, the one great objective aid for Luther was the Scriptures ….[He wrote,] ’The true Christian pilgrimage is not to Rome or Compostela, but to the prophets, the Psalms and the Gospels.’” * In his later years, he wrote one anti-Semitic pamphlet that even admiring biographer Roland Bainton called a “vulgar blast,” adding that “one could wish that Luther had died before ever this tract was written.” ** Yet this flawed but faithful servant, like the apostle Peter we studied in August and September, left an overall legacy of faith and fortitude that continues to challenge and inspire Christ-followers today.
- Luther based one of his greatest, most enduring hymns on Psalm 46. Let the message of his powerful lyrics sink deeply into your heart:
“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same, And He must win the battle.” ***
Prayer: Lord God, you are a mighty fortress, one to whom I can turn amid whatever flood of mortal ills I face. Thank you that I can share with Luther the confidence that, in the end, you must win the battle. Amen.
* Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950; paperback edition by Mentor Books, pp. 282-283, 288.
** Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950; paperback edition by Mentor Books, pp. 297.
*** Two stanzas of the hymn in the familiar English translation by Frederick Hedge. For all four stanzas, and an alternate English version, click here.