27th July 2017

How Can I Find a Gracious God?

“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.’”
Romans 1:17 (NIVUK)

This year marks the five-hundredth anniversary that tradition says occurred on the 31 October 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, against the selling of indulgences, on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg Germany. This date has subsequently been observed by some as marking the beginning of the Reformation.

In his post as professor of biblical studies at Wittenberg University, Luther lectured during the period 1513-18, on various books of the Bible; the Psalms, Romans, Galatians and then Hebrews. At some point during this period (around 1515) Luther radically changed his theological views.

Initially Luther accepted the theology that he had previously been taught that a definite human effort was required to place God under an obligation to reward the sinner with grace. At this time it seemed reasonable to Luther that God would not reward people unless they did something to merit that action. But Luther had a deep sense of personal unworthiness and feared an implication of this theology—what happens if sinners cannot fulfil the basic precondition? (This question arises in all schemes where works are required for salvation or where it is claimed that salvation can be lost through not doing certain works).

Luther wrestled with the opening text quoted above and could not see how the righteousness of God was good news since he had been taught that it was that righteousness by which God himself is righteous and punishes sinners. In effect this view claimed that the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel was nothing other than the revelation of the wrath of God directed against sinners. In view of this theology the profound question Luther asked, and one that is equally relevant today, was-how can I find a gracious God?

Luther had a breakthrough when he came to understand that Paul’s reference to the righteousness of God being revealed in the gospel does not mean that we are told what standards of righteousness we must meet to be saved, but rather that God provides the righteousness required for salvation as a free unmerited gift. Hence God’s acceptance was not conditional upon good works, but rather good works result from divine acceptance.

He had now found the gracious God that is revealed in the Bible and in a relationship with God determined by faith in the faithfulness of God and in the acceptance of the free gift of salvation procured by Christ’s death and resurrection. Luther reported that this discovery made him feel as though he had been born again and as though he had entered through the open gates of paradise.

The posting of the 95 theses was a direct practical consequence of his new understanding and his desire to share it with others.

Prayer
Father, we thank you that you have done all that is required for our salvation.
Amen

Study by Eddie Marsh

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About the Author:
Eddie Marsh attends Grace Communion International in Sheffield.

Local Congregation:
Grace Communion, Sheffield
Please email for Meeting Place

Meeting Time:
Saturday 10:30am

Local Congregational Contact:
Email: sheffield@gracecom.org.uk

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