Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween, er, Reformation Day!

I love October, and it's only natural that my favorite month is capped by my favorite holiday: Halloween (All Hallows' [Saints'] Evening). As a child and to this day, I love tales of ancient British mythology, of ghouls and ghosts and druids and banshees, of eerie lights and howls in the night. But this day has an even greater dearness to me.

On this day, October 31, in 1517 an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther took advantage of the All Saints' (Hallows') Day traffic in Wittenberg, Germany, and nailed his "95 theses" to the cathedral door in Wittenberg, as sort of public bulletin board. His theses regarded the unbiblical nature the current practices of the Roman Catholic Church, namely, in regards to the sale of indulgences. Indulgences were these slips of paper that were sold as tickets to get yourself or a loved one out of years of purgatory--all for a few Deutschmarks or seeing some holy relic! As Luther pondered St. Paul's message to the Romans, esp. 1.16-17, he "beat importunately upon Paul" wondering what it meant that "in [the gospel] the righteousness of [or from] God is revealed." Alas! He discovered that a man's right standing before God is dependent on God's declaration of him as accepted on account of the perfect standing of his Son Jesus Christ, whose sufficient merits are imputed to us through faith. No indulgences, no allegiance to the papacy, no visitation of relics were needed; indeed, such are evil. Luther saw the need for reform, and made it known upon the cathedral door in Wittenberg.

Luther once wrote the following in a 1521 letter to Philip Melancthon, another 16th-century Reformer:
If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and sin strongly, but trust in Christ more strongly still, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice abides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3.13) are looking forwared to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

Duh, we were never meant to be perfect! This world is a fallen place wherein we all need restoration and redemption. Though we are far too gone to fix ourselves by our own efforts through good deeds, pentitential prayers, flaggelation, self-aggrandization, sacrifices, or enlightened philosophies, we have a sure hope: We have been purchased for God with the imperishable, precious blood of Jesus Christ, on account of which we are now forgiven, accepted, given Christ's own righteousness, and sealed in the Holy Spirit (Eph 1.3-14; 2 Cor 5.21). We no longer need to fulfill the righteous demands of God's law, for Christ has become to us Israel, fulfilling God's demands and being perfected through what he suffered. He has taken our sinful natures in exchange for his own righteousness before God. It's finished, indeed.

So when you grumble at your roommates, fail to pray for your family, made a snide remark to someone, feel ungrateful that you can know God, or have sex with your girlfriend/boyfriend, know this: You are a sinner under God's divine wrath, but Jesus has borne your punishment so fully that all that is left to you is God's mercy, love, and acceptance. Run to him, cling to him, embrace this glorious, comforting truth!

* * *

I love what Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in regard to sin and confession in the Christian fellowship:
The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. . . . You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that; He loves the sinner but He hates sin" (Life Together,
pp. 110-111).

For a related article on "the righteousness of God", see here.

1 comment:

Ryan P.T. said...

Well said, my man. How'd the party go?

I love that Bonhoeffer quote. In fact, I suddenly realized that what I thought was original material was really just me ripping him off. Eh.