We are finally arriving at the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Back on October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther nailed 95 theses for debate to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.
And what was at stake with the Reformation? The answer to that is as simple as it is critical: Getting the “HOW” right of our salvation. How are we saved? Is it by works of the law or by grace through faith alone?
Of the many portions of Scripture which answer this basic question, the one that is most prominently held up on Reformation Sunday is Romans 3:19-28. It is one of the assigned readings for the day. This familiar passage culminates with, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (verses 21-22).
That’s HOW we are saved. By God’s grace through faith alone. And that’s worth celebrating.
However, while we are celebrating the HOW of our salvation, let’s not lose sight of the WHY of our salvation. Because the Lutheran Church was born out of a grave concern for getting the HOW right, we can sometimes forget the importance of the WHY. However, the HOW and the WHY are two parts of the same whole. They belong together. Together they form the COMPLETE message of God’s Word.
So, HOW are we saved? By grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, of course. And WHY are we saved?
See what I mean? We Lutherans are wonderfully clear and articulate about confessing HOW we are saved. And it is a gift to the world. But we are a little less clear about WHY we are saved. And because of that, our response to being saved by grace through faith can devolve into a vague passiveness as we live out our daily lives. In other words, because we are clear on the HOW but not so clear on the WHY, we settle back quietly to sit on the bench and run out the clock until we die and go to Heaven.
But can such a passive response to salvation by grace through faith be what God intended? Of course not. But what IS our response then?
The good news is that the same Bible which clearly answers the question of HOW we are saved also answers the question of WHY we are saved. (We just haven’t asked the question as consistently.) And it turns out there is a very important PURPOSE behind God going to all the work of saving us.
Paul puts it succinctly in Ephesians 2:8-10. First Paul gives us HOW we are saved, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Nice and clear. Then he gives us WHY we are saved, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In other words, WHY did God do all that work of grace-ing us and faith-ing us and saving us? Simple. So that we could be freed to do the good the Father has prepared in advance for us to do each day. Again, nice and clear.
Going back to his letter to the Romans, Paul is a little less succinct, but he is unpacking the same message. In chapter 3 he begins unpacking the HOW of our salvation and continues to unpack it all the way through chapter 6. But when he finally gets to the end of explaining the HOW, he then points us directly to the WHY: “Therefore, do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather [wait for it] offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness,” (Romans 6:12-13). In other words, we get to offer ourselves to God so he can use us as tools for making something right happen in the lives of people around us.
Paul delivers both the HOW and the WHY.
Of course, he does. They belong together. And together they form the complete message of God's Word.
According to God, now that we are saved by his grace through faith alone, we have things to do each day. God does not save us so that we can passively sit on the bench and run out the clock until we die and go to Heaven. He saves us so that we can again be the way by which his goodness gets loose in the lives of people around us who need it so badly (Ephesians 2:10). He brings us from death to life so that we can be the reason something right happens in the lives of people around us who need it so badly (Romans 6:13).
So, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, let’s keep the WHY of our salvation as clear as the HOW of our salvation. God’s Word instructs us to and our neighbors need us to.
By grace through faith... for a purpose. Here we stand.