Every time a coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs. John Tetzel wandered around Germany
making this audacious claim. At the heart of this statement is a belief that good works are sufficient for the
salvation of mankind. It's a thought that still exists today, and still creates a problem. Sadly, this perspective
has infiltrated even into our own beloved church as people make statements at a funeral that a person is
certainly in heaven because
they were a good person.
In the 4th and 5th centuries, a man known as Pelagius was alive and working inside the church. He taught that
people had a role in salvation. There is an inward spark that can be fanned into fire, and out of this salvation
can be worked out. It's the goodness of man, and from this goodness faith can come. While this sounds good,
even appealing, we come to understand that this isn't the case. We don't do anything toward our salvation.
Initially, the teachings of Pelagius were condemned, but something called
Semi-Pelagianism came into being
which blended traditional Christianity with the teaching of Pelagius. The challenge is that there are movements
within the greater church that agree with this perspective, allowing that we have some part to do with our
salvation. On the other hand, there are secular perspectives that speak to the overall goodness of man.
Shakespeare clear back in his day wrote the magnum opus of the
spiritual movement that began to occur
new age philosophy back in the 1980's and 90's. He wrote,
What a piece of work is a man! how noble
in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in
apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this
quintessence of dust?. (Hamlet) Hamlet creates an interesting tension between the finiteness of man, and the
assumed greatness of humanity.
When Luther began taking up the fight of other theologians before him, He argued that mankind cannot be
involved in our own salvation. Being dead in sin, this is not a possibility. There is no inner spark. There is no
beauty. It simply is that mankind left to itself is stuck. No coin in the coffer can do anything. Luther's response
was to hear the words of Paul in Ephesians, and to be grounded in them:
For it is by grace we have been
saved, and this not of ourselves. It is a free gift of God, so that no one can boast. Our salvation is brought
about by work most assuredly. The Law demands that work be done for its fulfillment and for mankind to be
saved, yet the work isn't ours. It is Jesus'. Jesus' work is given to us so all the demands of the law are met.
All the demands of the righteousness of God are answered. No coin, no spark. It's all found in Jesus. As we
look to our Savior in faith, we rejoice as we receive salvation as a gift. We keep in mind that this gift was not cheaply won, but rather is an incredible gift that we receive that is given through incredible sacrifice. Jesus did what we cannot. Jesus died and rose again. Everything we have, we praise God because Jesus gave it to us.
During the Reformation, Luther constantly ran into the Catholic theologians of his day quoting James back to him. In James 2 it says,
But someone will say, These works, that James speaks of, are not the works that cause saving grace. They are works that are the result of saving grace. We don't do good things because we are good people; we do good things because of the Holy Spirit doing good things through us. Our works become the visible testimony of the Holy Spirit poured out upon us in our lives, but do not become the measuring stick by which salvation is garnered. The measuring stick of salvation is the cross. It's that simple.
As we move through October, we begin to celebrate Fall, and all the things that come along with it. My prayer is that while we celebrate this time of the year, the Reformation does not get swallowed up by Halloween and all our other celebrations.
You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
For as in Adam all die, in Christ all are made alive. (1st Corinthians 15)
Sola Fide + Sola Scriptura + Sola Gratia
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