Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Many people these days have no sense of their own sin.
They're happy to do as they please no matter what God says. But in the 1500s, a man named Martin Luther had an acute sense of his own unrighteousness. This feeling led him to search for a way out – a way that led to the Reformation.
Stay with us. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, in your series on the Reformation then and now, you're telling us about Martin Luther, a man whom a pope called the wild boar in the vineyard.
Dave, this is such a fascinating story. This, of course, was after Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. And by the way, it is spoken of as a papal bull. That word bull comes from the Latin word led. In other words, it was because the document was sealed with led and with a pope's signature, his signature ring. It is because of this, it is referred to as a papal bull.
Well, I have to tell you that Martin Luther took that bull, he along with other students, and they burned it at the Elster Gate in Wittenberg, where I have stood many times and explained this to all those who have been on tour with us. I need to emphasize that we are making available a book I've written entitled Rescuing the Gospel. And if you believe that our ministry should be multiplied in the lives of other people, would you consider becoming an endurance partner? That's someone who stands with us regularly with their prayers and their gifts.
We are so appreciative. Here is what you can do. Go to rtwoffer.com.
When you're there, you click on the endurance partner button, or you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. Remember the name of the book, Rescuing the Gospel, but you can also help us by becoming an endurance partner. After he got back from Rome, he was asked to teach in Wittenberg because a man by the name of Elector Frederick was beginning a university in the little town of Wittenberg and he wanted this university to rival the universities in Halle and Leipzig. So Luther, being a brilliant man, was asked to come and teach philosophy. So he began to teach philosophy, but there was no hope for his soul, but it was there in Wittenberg that he met his confessor by the name of Johann von Staupitz. Luther says, were it not for Staupitz, I would have descended into hell. Luther began to confess his sins to Staupitz, sometimes six hours at a time.
This was the problem that Luther faced. Sins in order to be forgiven had to be confessed. In order for them to be confessed, they had to be remembered. If they were not remembered, they could not be confessed, and if they were not confessed, they would not be forgiven. The problem was he knew that he could not trust his memory. So what he did is he would begin by reciting the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins just to jog his memory so that he could remember all of his sins. And then after six hours of confession, he would go to Staupitz and say, Staupitz, I really do think that I've overlooked something. Could you imagine Staupitz's response?
How would you like to work with somebody like that? Staupitz was absolutely exasperated and one day said, if you expect Christ to forgive you next time, come in with something to forgive. Murder, blasphemy, adultery, instead of these little peccadillos, instead of these little sins, let it be a big sin and then we'll deal with it.
Luther was a better theologian than his contemporaries. He understood that the issue was not whether the sin was big or little. He understood that one smidgen of sin will damn you forever in hell. He understood that because the teaching of the church, which is of course taught in the Bible, is that unless you are perfect, you cannot get into heaven. Instead I want you to know that if you're here and you are not perfect and you die in your present condition, you will go to hell. Make no mistake, both Catholic and Protestants believe that. Unless you're as perfect as God, you will not be allowed into heaven.
You will be damned. So Luther sought perfection in all of these ways and in addition to confessing his sin, he realized also that the situation was even more troublesome than he realized, that his whole nature was corrupt. So you see, his problem was this, even if he remembered all of his sins, even if he confessed them all, today he took care of them. But tomorrow was another day with brand new sins.
It was like trying to mop up a floor with a faucet running. In German, there is a word for what Luther experienced. It is unfechtungen.
How can we translate that into English? It's an existential sense of despair of soul. It is guilt.
It is this alienation from God. Luther was tormented. And perhaps I already mentioned to you, he said, were it not for Staupitz, I would have fallen into hell.
So Staupitz tried to make it easier for Luther. And he said to Luther, if you want to be saved, why don't you just love God? Luther said, love God, I hate him.
I hate him. How can you love a God who is prepared at any moment to damn your soul to hell? Luther began to study philosophy and theology and discovered that one of the culprits in the church that had confused the issue was the great Dr. Thomas Aquinas. Because Aquinas united the teachings of Aristotle and the teachings of Christianity. You know, if you've ever read Aquinas, you know that he always refers to the doctor or to the teacher. That's a reference to Aristotle. It's the bringing together of Aristotle's philosophy and the Christian faith. And in that mixture, there is room for good works in the process of salvation.
And one can never be sure that he has done his part. Well, one day when they were under the pear tree. And if you go to Wittenberg today, you can go to the cloister and you can go to the courtyard in the cloister. And you can visualize Staupitz and Luther under a pear tree. The pear tree is not there today, unfortunately, but the cloister is.
And so is the courtyard was under the pear tree. Staupitz said something to Luther that was change his life forever. He said, Luther, in order to find rest for your soul, why don't you begin to teach theology? Teach the Bible. Luther said, teach the Bible.
It will be the death of me. He said, I will die. And he didn't realize how right he really was. He died in one sense when he began to teach the Bible. Because in 1512, he began some lectures on the Psalms. Now he began to study the Bible in earnest and he gets to Psalm 22. My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? And he says to himself, why is it that Jesus experienced what I'm experiencing? Jesus experienced this existential despair, this alienation from God, this unfechtungen, this unsettled feeling that he was cut off from God.
I can't believe it. Jesus on the cross. The light began to dawn that the reason that Jesus experienced that is because Jesus was dying for us and bearing our despair. And then Luther later on in 1515 began to lecture on the book of Romans. And if you have a moment, take your Bibles and turn to Romans chapter one and we'll see what Luther discovered.
Remember the background? You have to be as perfect as God to get into heaven. Luther discovered that despite doing everything that was required, plus he wasn't perfect. He looked in his soul with a sense of honesty and saw all kinds of sin. I don't have time to tell you all of the different ways that were offered to him of salvation. For example, there were those who says that if you could make one perfect act of contrition, you could please God.
But who in the world has ever made a perfect act of contrition? And you were supposed to love God. And even if he were to send you to hell, in other words, it was to be a love that would not want you to get out of hell because then the love would be tainted.
I mean, that there were all of these theories regarding what kind of love and what constituted a perfect act of contrition. Luther tried it all and it led to more despair. But in Romans chapter one, verse 16, he read that the gospel of Jesus Christ is something of which we should not be ashamed. Verse 17, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.
As it is written, the just shall live by faith. Luther said the phrase that terrorized him is that phrase, the righteousness of God. Because you see, if God weren't so righteous, maybe I could please him. It's his holiness that gets us into trouble.
And he read the phrase and was afraid of it. But as he looked at it more carefully, he said that the righteousness of God is revealed. And later on, he discovered that the righteousness of God is credited to us. So he began to see that there are two aspects to the righteousness of God. There is a righteousness of God that belongs to God as the attributes of God. But there's a righteousness also given to us as a gift of God, it says in Romans chapter three. The righteousness, which is a gift of God and Luther began to think, wow, that is really something. So there are some people to whom God gives the gift of righteousness. You see, in those days, justification was taught that God is in the process of making us righteous. Now, of course, God is in the process of making us righteous. But the view of the mediaevals was that if you go to the mass and if you do all the things that are required, righteousness is infused in you. And if you have enough and remember, nobody was sure that they did.
If you had enough, you would go to heaven. But few did. If you did, you were declared a saint. But there weren't many saints.
And so that was the view. It was a never ending process. It begins with baptism. You go through all the sacraments, you end with the last rites.
And if you do it all, you're never quite sure. You still may be in purgatory rather than heaven. Now, Luther is lecturing on Romans and he gets to chapter four. What do shall we say about Abraham? It says in chapter four, and Abraham, this is verse three, for what does the scripture say? Abraham believed God and it was counted or reckoned to him as righteousness. Now, said Luther, I'm beginning to see something that righteousness is not just something that God does in me, but there is something that God credits to my account on a legal basis that gives me the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And if I have the righteousness of Jesus Christ, I can go directly into heaven because God is pronouncing me to be as righteous as he himself is. I have the righteousness, the only righteousness that God will ever receive, namely his own.
And I'm looked upon as having it. It is reckoned to me. It's counted to me. Well, Luther said thereupon, I was reborn and it was as if I entered into the gates of paradise. That what we have by faith is a gift of righteousness. It's a righteousness that we cannot earn. It's a righteousness that we cannot attain to.
And it is a divine righteousness. And there is a huge difference between human righteousness and divine righteousness and all the human righteousness added together since the beginning of time will never change God's mind regarding a single sinner, but the righteousness of God credited to sinful human beings means that we can now die with the assurance that we go directly into heaven. That's why one of the first doctrines that Luther dropped was purgatory. See, purgatory was based on the notion that not too many people are perfect enough to go directly into heaven.
So the fires of purgatory purge them. But if I have the righteousness of Christ credited to my account, why then indeed I can go directly from this life and be presented in the presence of God declared as righteous as Christ himself is. And I can have the assurance now of heaven. You see, the Bible says God made him that is Christ to be made sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God in him.
Theologians speak about this as imputation, and there are two imputations. My sin is imputed to Christ and his righteousness is imputed to me. Jesus got what he didn't deserve, namely my sin, and I get what I don't deserve, namely his righteousness. That is the gospel and it's received by faith. Now I want us to think about this a little bit. It happens to be one of my favorite topics, and it's been years since I've preached a sermon just on justification by faith alone in the morning service.
But I need to do it. I should do it every year because it is the one doctrine that I think about every single day and helps me every single day. You see, the issue is the following. First of all, this righteousness has to be a gift because it's a righteousness to which we can add nothing. It is the righteousness of God. So it's not our righteousness mixed with God's righteousness coming up with some kind of a hybrid righteousness.
No, no, no. It is the righteousness of God. Secondly, the issue is not the greatness of our sin because God can credit the righteousness of Christ to a great sinner just as well as he can to a lesser sinner. Of course, it's better to be a lesser sinner than a greater sinner. But at the end of the day, the real issue is not the extent of your sin. The real issue is the quality of the righteousness that has been credited to your account.
Because we have a radio ministry, I received a letter from a prisoner who said, I raped four women. Can I ever be forgiven? Well, you know, there was something within me that wanted to say, no, people like you should just go to hell. And I would have been right in one sense. He should go to hell, but then I should have added and so should I go to hell. Though, thankfully, I've never done such a terrible thing. We're all guilty.
But I wrote back and I said this. I want you to visualize two trails. One trail is very messy with ruts going into the ditch and over here there's another trail and it's so well traveled. When a blanket of snow comes, let's say 18 inches, it covers both trails equally.
And you can't tell which was which. Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.
Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. The righteousness of Christ can be credited to that rapist in prison. Just as much as the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been credited to Billy Graham, to deal moody or to any one of us, it is the same righteousness and it covers despicable sins. That is the gospel. So it is a free gift. It is unchangeable.
It has intrinsic quality that you can neither add from nor subtract from. It is going to now become the basis for another reformation doctrine, namely the priesthood of the believer, because now we all have equal access before God. There's not a special way for the priest to get to God and then another way for the rest of us to get to God. But we're all coming as sinners on the same basis. So we have equal access to Almighty God. And it is the message that takes us all the way to heaven. Let me ask you something. Was Luther saved when he was confessing his sins six hours at a time?
No. And there are many people today in our churches that confess their sins regularly and they are not converted for the same reason that Luther wasn't. Can't remember them all. Tomorrow's another day. We only are saved when we see that Jesus Christ is our substitute dying in our place and receiving the gift of eternal life and his righteousness once for all that is credited to us. And that righteousness is ours even while we still struggle as sinners. That's why Luther said that Christians are both saint and sinner.
They're both. And we are both saint and sinner. The righteousness of Christ credited to us. The terrors of law and of God with me, they can have nothing to do. My Savior's obedience and blood hides all of my sins from view. My name is written on the palm of his hands. Eternity cannot erase. Forever there it stands, a mark of indelible grace. How do you get to heaven? You get to heaven by recognizing that you bring nothing to the table except your sin. Somebody said, don't I contribute?
I said, yeah, you really do. Your contribution is your sin. That's your contribution. God supplies everything.
Everything is one-sided. Luther says in his commentary on Galatians that the righteousness of God, he thought of it as a passive righteousness where he says the flowers in the field, they cannot cause the rain, but they receive the rain that comes from above. And it's not because they take their own righteousness as it were.
It is the rain that comes from God. In the very same way, it is the righteousness of God that is given to sinners that saves us. And assurance of salvation therefore comes to us.
Assurance comes because we now are no longer depending on ourselves. Our merit is found in Christ alone. We don't have to merit eternal life. Jesus merited it for us, and we are saved totally on the basis of what he did. That is the gospel. Well, my friend, this is Pastor Luther, and I never tire of explaining the gospel. I have in my hands a book I've written entitled Rescuing the Gospel, and I quote Martin Luther as saying this to a friend who struggled with assurance of salvation. He said, You should say, Lord Jesus, thou art my righteousness, but I am thy sin.
Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine, namely, your righteousness. What good news to share with others. If you believe that the ministry of running to win should be expanded so that more people hear the gospel, would you consider becoming an endurance partner? That's someone who stands with us regularly with their prayers and their gifts.
Of course, the amount that you give is entirely your decision, but investigate it. Here is what you can do. Go to RTWOffer.com. That's RTWOffer.com, and when you're there, click on the endurance partner button to receive info, or if you prefer, you can call 1-888-218-9337. If you've been listening to Running to Win for any length of time, you know that our burden and desire is to get the gospel of Jesus Christ to as many as possible.
Thanks in advance for helping us. Go to RTWOffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. And also, when you connect with us, remember the book Rescuing the Gospel, the story and the significance of the Reformation, a resource that will impact your life. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you find God's roadmap for your race of life. Next time on Running to Win, the story of Luther continues, along with some audience questions. We'll explore how the church went wrong in the first place. Make plans to join us. Thanks for listening. For Pastor Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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