On October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther started a movement of re-formation. By nailing a protest to the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, he forever changed the church. It is commonly held that Luther’s own reformation began as he was studying the book of Romans. He was struck and forever changed by the Doctrine of Justification found in Romans 1:16:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The book of Romans unpacks the doctrine of Justification. It begins in chapter one with the above verse. Later in Chapter 3 we read:

But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed…   that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the  glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24)

and then again in Chapter 4:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… (Romans 4:4-5)

This weekend we will take a quick look at Martin Luther’s life and discuss the Doctrine of Justification – specifically that we have been given free justification (justified freely) because of Jesus Christ.


Summary: Martin Luther [1483-1546] – was so afraid of the Justice of God and ended up as a professor at Wittenburg, in Germany of the Psalms, Galatians and Romans. As he began to study. He was blown away at Romans 1:16-17. This opened Luther’s eyes and lead to his preaching of ‘sola fida’ or salvation by faith alone, not the powers of the church. And printed many works that were printed and spread through out Germany that taught against the churches heresies. He lead a huge split between Germany and Rome and was summoned to the Diet of Worms to either recant his writings or be killed by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. He was then kidnapped and translated the NT into German and public protest began.




But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed…   that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the  glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

(Romans 3:21-24) 




This week was October 31st – and I am sure you know that October 31st is a pretty popular celebration here in America. But… did you know that it is also a celebration day for Christians? Now it’s not a holy day or holiday but it is a day that should get our attention because October 31st is also known as Reformation Day. In 1517, on October 31st, Martin Luther pinned his famous 95 theses to a chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany and that event rapidly escalated into what is today known as the Protestant Reformation.


The Protestant Reformation is a cataclysmic event in our history as Christians. Today I want to spend a little time talking about church history which will give us a little background behind what we believe as Protestants, particularly what’s behind the doctrine of justification. Ooo, heavy theological term I just dropped there. “The Doctrine of Justification!” Well, that is a really heavy term but we have to unpack it because it was justification that started a personal reformation for Dr. Martin Luther and, for all that the early reformers did to herald a clear message of free justification, it is still a lost, confusing, controversial concept today. Listen to this verse:


But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed…   that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the  glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 

(Romans 3:21-24)


For Luther, that sounded very different than the works earned salvation of the Catholic Church of his day. The Bible does not say that salvation (or justification) is earned – rather, it clearly states that it is given freely, through faith to all who believe. It’s Free Justification to all! Now, we are going to unpack this verse, but before we do I want set the stage with some history.


MARTIN LUTHER [1483-1546]

Martin Luther was completely terrified of the justice of God. As a young man his controlling and abusive father wanted him to become a lawyer. Luther received a Master’s degree from the University Erfurt, which he later described as a beer-house & whorehouse. He then enrolled in Law School but quickly dropped out because he felt that Law “represented uncertainty” and he wanted to pursue a field that offered more certainty – more assurance about life – something like Philosophy! In time – logic, reason, and philosophy left him with even more questions about God so he began to study the Bible in order to find him there.


One day, Luther was riding on horse back and a great thunderstorm came on him. Then a lightening bolt almost struck him and of course scared the whatever out of him. At that moment he cried out in fear, “Help me! Help me! If you help me St. Anne, I will become a monk!” He quit Law school, sold all of his books and enrolled into an augustinian friary that same month. Of course his father was livid and felt that it was a complete waste of his education.


As a monk Luther dedicated himself to prayer, fasting, and extreme confession. When most monks would come into confess there sins that might say something like, “Forgive me father for I have sinned. Last night I coveted brother Bartholomew’s loaf of bread. I was very hungry and wanted more to eat and I wanted his bread for myself. That is a sin and for that I’m sorry. Forgive me father for I have sinned. Last night I had impure thoughts. Forgive me father for I’ve sinned. Yesterday I felt anger towards brother… and you get the picture. I mean, really, how much sinning does a monk get to do locked up in a monastery. The normal confessions of a monk might last 5 minutes. But Luther, was terrified of the justice of God, would confess his sins for hours. In fact, he spent so much time in prayer, fasting and confession that his confession father told him to go sin properly so that he could confess properly.


Luther was a student of the Law. He poured over the law and he knew he fell short. He tried his best and later stated:


“If anyone was going to make it to heaven through monkery, it was I.”


And he recognized later, after his collision with the Doctrine of Justification in the book of Romans that as a monk:


“I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.”


{video of Luther’s ordination}


After his ordination he was called to teach theology at a new University. He earned several more bachelor degrees and a Doctorate in Theology. It was at this university with the title Doctor of Theology that Luther began to teach and study the book of Romans. He was literally converted by this verse.


For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  (Romans 1:16-17)


You see the Roman Catholic church taught that faith alone was not enough. Faith alone could not justify man. Instead, justification (or salvation) depends only on such faith as is active in charity and good works and, incidentally, the benefits of good works could be obtained by donating money to the church.


Let me draw our attention to that for a second and highlight something. Doesn’t that sound like what many evangelicals believe today?  But that is not what Luther found in the book of Romans. Well, we’ll come back to that.


So Luther became convinced that the church was corrupt. Even in central matters like salvation and justification. Justification is God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous. Romans teaches that we are declared righteous by faith alone through grace. Luther coined the term ‘sola fide’ or ‘Faith Alone’ to clarify the doctrine of justification. Here are view quotes:


“This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine.” ML


“Forgiveness of sins is not something we earn for ourselves by our own good deeds. Rather, it is a free gift which God gives to us as a result of all that Jesus did for us as our Savior. Salvation, therefore, is completely and only faith in Jesus.” ML


As he taught and studied and wrote he grew increasingly skeptical of Catholic corruption. Especially in regards to the sell of indulgences. You see, at that time The Roman Catholic church wanted to raise money in order to remodel St. Peter’s Basilica so they commissioned a man named John Tetzel to sell indulgences. An indulgence was a guarantee for heaven. You could, at that time, buy your way out of purgatory straight into heaven if you bought an indulgence for yourself. You could even buy an indulgence for a deceased relative and then their soul would instantly spring from purgatory to heaven. In fact, the come motto or marketing slogan of the day was:


“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory into heaven springs.”


{video of Luther’s rebellion}


Then on October 31, 1517 Luther had had enough. He posted a document on the door of the Chapel – something like a bulletin calling for a rigorous discussion about the validity of indulgences. It was common on the University to post things for disputation. Luther posted a document entitled, “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” And that started a wild fire. That document quickly made it into the hands of the Pope and to make a long story short Luther was given an ultimatum. Either recant all that you have said or be excommunicated. Luther chose the latter and the rest is history.


{video of Luther’s excommunication}



At this time I want to turn our attention to the doctrine of justification. I mentioned earlier that it is still a confusing theological concept. Remember how that quote I posted earlier seemed to describe our modern evangelical way of thinking about justification. Clearly we need to spend some time discussing this. Before we look at our passage in Romans, let me throw out another quote for discussion.


“’Faith is not enough,’ they say. ‘You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.’ They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, ‘I believe.’ That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this faith either. Instead, faith is God’s work in us that changes us and gives new birth from God.” ML


Discussion: What do you think about this quote?




Well lets look at Romans 3 and unpack some of this theology. “But now” there is something completely new, something different than anything you’ve ever heard before. This is different than every religious or philosophical or social system known to man. When you see those words ‘but now’ think all of that. But now, we have a new deal and it is apart (separated) from the law. Therefore, we are not under the Law. We are not under a heavy burden of do’s and don’ts – but now, apart from the law…


righteousness! What is righteousness? “Righteousness is a validating performance record for opening doors.” (Timothy Keller) For example, if you need a job you will present a resume or a vocational record that says, “Look at me. I am worthy. I am the right person for the job.” If you wanted to pursue an advanced degree you would present your educational record saying, “Look at my achievements and grades, I am worthy of acceptance. I am the right student for your program.” That is simply how it works in all of life. And that why every culture in the world believes it is the same with God. If you want God, you need to present your moral record. But now, righteousness, apart from a performance record is here.


That is God’s righteousness. Not just righteousness but God’s righteousness, that is the perfect record of the righteousness of God. His record is given to you. When Jesus says to his disciples, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees…” (Mt 5:20) – he is talking about God’s righteousness. They need a righteousness that is even greater than that of the Pharisees. They must be perfected as God is perfect. (Mt 5:48) But now the perfection of God has been revealed… ie… Given…


Through Faith in Jesus Christ. Let me clarify, perfect righteousness has been given to you and me through faith in Jesus Christ. Now you are the right man, the right woman – fit for heaven. How did you get that? Through faith in Jesus Christ.


To all who believe. Just in case you might feel tempted to redefine faith like those early Catholics, Paul goes on… To all (anyone) who believes. To put that in Jesus red letters: “Who-so-ever believes in me shall be saved!”


The very next verse reminds you and me that we fall short. Luther knew he fell short, you and I know that if heaven is obtained by merit, we all fall short. But here is the good-news…


They are justified freely. All of us who fall short are justified freely. That means what it says, its not a trick. It is free. Free justification to all who believe! What is justification. Well, in greek it is the same word as righteousness. In other words we get free righteousness. Again, Keller is so helpful with word pictures.


Justification is infinitely more than forgiveness. Forgiveness is a negative. It means you’re now free from liability or punishment. But justification is a positive. It is a bestowal of a status – with all the rights and privileges and benefits. Forgiveness is, “You may go, you have been let off of your penalty.” Justification is, “You may come, you are welcome into my love and presence.” 

Timothy Keller


Don’t you see? It is free justification – free right standing – with all the privilege. It is free. It is faith alone. Sola fide!



Luther was passionate about this and it started a revolution, a re-formation of the church. He wasn’t afraid to take it too far either. He almost had to. He would say things like:


Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ. Martin Luther 


Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding. Martin Luther 


That sounds like something the Apostle Paul said when he called himself a fool and mad man for boasting in works. Paul too was not scared to take it too far. Paul says stuff like, “We are saved by grace through faith” (Eph 2:8) and “where sin increases grace increases all the more.” (Rom 5:20) It sounds crazy. Even scary. If you teach that, then won’t people go on sinning. Won’t we take advantage of grace? Yeah, maybe – but I wonder which is worse taking advantage of grace, or trying to earn it. Both are sinful. Im telling you, its crazy! Which was what lead one author to say,


Let it be counted folly or frenzy or whatsoever.  It is our wisdom and our comfort; we care for no knowledge in the world but this, that man has sinned and God has suffered; that God has made himself the sin of men and that men are made the righteousness of God. Richard Hooker


One person said, “If what you say is true, then I have no incentive to live a good life. I can just go on sinning.” But here is the thing, And trust me, I am not about to say what you think. Listen…that is fear talking. That is not faith. That is fear telling you you have to do something. That is not faith.


Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. Martin Luther


When you live in fear, you try to do good, and that good is not good – it is selfish. “What happens if you loss the fear? Then you loss the incentive and that’s selfish. When you live a good life bc your afraid of not going to heaven, then that is selfish.” (Keller) You’re not doing it out of faith, you’re doing it to ensure something that you can not ensure. Only faith can ensure it. Luther believed that the free grace gospel was worthy of dying for and fighting for.


You are not to seek heaven with any kind of works, but only to do the works freely, then the result, eternal life, will follow of itself without your seeking. For if I should see heaven standing open and could merit it by picking up a straw, I would not do it, lest I might say: Behold, I have earned it! No, no, not to my deservings, but to God be the glory, who has given me his Son to abolish sin and hell for me. Martin Luther 


Let be counted folly, or frenzy, or foolishness, or whatever. Let us be counted as mad men, no matter. It is faith alone – and right now, at this very moment you can call on the name of Jesus, in faith and believe that the gospel is true, and you will be given justification and righteousness. And this is the Gospel, so simple I can give it in:


1 word: Jesus! There is no other name by which we’re saved (Acts 4:12).

2 words: Christ alone!

3 words: None but Jesus! If this was good enough for Spurgeon

4 words: “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (Jas 2:13 & Jas 5:11).

5 words: “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” That was good enough for Paul (1 Cor 2:1-5).

6 words: Saved by Christ; kept by Christ. Many Christians believe only the first part of that statement.*






*I stumbled on this little list from a word search I did on the Gospel and landed on