Luther, the Gospel and Us

by Rev. Jerry Kieschnick

Lord, reform the church. Begin with me.

Kieschnick BigPastor John Kieschnick, my second cousin once removed, used to begin meetings with this simple little prayer. Preparing for the festival of the Reformation later this month brought it to mind.

As we prepare to celebrate, our thoughts naturally turn back to the circumstances that led to the Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The church at that time was not proclaiming the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ but was teaching wrongly that one must achieve righteousness before God largely by one’s own efforts.

Try as he might to achieve peace with God by his own efforts, Martin Luther could find no peace. Rather than a loving God, he knew only a God who was angry at his sinfulness. Whenever Luther read of the “righteousness of God” in the Bible, he cringed.

In 1545, he wrote how everything had changed for him years before:

“Meanwhile, in the same year [1519], I had begun to lecture on the Psalms again, believing that with my classroom experience in lecturing on the letters of Paul to the Romans, to the Galatians, and on the Letter to the Hebrews, I was now better prepared. All the while I was aglow with the desire to understand Paul in his Letter to the Romans. But . . . the one expression in chapter one (v. 17) concerning the ‘righteousness of God’ blocked the way for me. For I hated the expression ‘righteousness of God,’ since I had been instructed by the usage and custom of all teachers to understand it according to scholastic philosophy as the ‘formal or active righteousness’ in which God proves Himself righteous by punishing sinners and the unjust. . . .

“Finally, after days and nights of wrestling with the difficulty, God had mercy on me. . . . Then I began to understand that the ‘righteousness of God’ is that through which the righteous lives by the gift of God, that is, through faith, . . . as it is written: ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Then I felt as if I had been completely reborn and had entered Paradise through widely opened doors . . .” (What Luther Says, CPH, 1959, pp. 1225–26).

The Holy Spirit opened Luther’s eyes. Luther came to understand that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, not by our own works (Eph. 2:8–9). He and his colleagues did not keep this Good News to themselves. They led a Reformation that brought the Gospel to people everywhere.

We, too, are beneficiaries of the Reformation and the proclamation of the Good News about Jesus—Good News that we all can share with others. The apostle Peter writes, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Commenting on this passage, Luther wrote, “We live on earth only so that we should be a help to other people. Otherwise, it would be best if God would strangle us and let us die as soon as we were baptized and had begun to believe. For this reason, however, he lets us live that we may bring other people also to faith as he has done for us . . .” (The Church Comes from All Nations: Luther Texts on Mission, CPH, 2003, p. 20).

Our church body has chosen to place great emphasis on sharing the One Message that Christ alone is Savior of the world and that through Him we have forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and eternal life. This is why we are part of the Ablaze! movement to reach 100 million unreached or uncommitted people worldwide with the Gospel by 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

As part of Ablaze!, we are seeking to start 2,000 new churches, to revitalize the mission of 2,000 existing churches, to send more missionaries, and to support the work of our partner churches worldwide. These efforts, including the Fan Into Flame campaign to raise $100 million to support them, are integral to our attempts to win some for Christ. They will succeed only by the grace of God and with the blessing of His Spirit.

Let us pray that our Lord also would move us by the Gospel to share the Good News with those around us.

Lord, reform the church. Begin with me.

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