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October marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on the church door at the Wittenberg Castle in Germany. An Augustinian Monk and a Christian Scholar, Luther had become convinced through the study of Scripture that the Church had lost sight of the very core of the Gospel – that “The just (justified, saved) shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17).
As Luther saw that it was by faith ALONE (and not by human works); faith ALONE, (and not faith enhanced or supplemented by our good deeds); faith ALONE, (and not faith plus our blood, sweat, or tears), he found faith ALONE is the One who poured out HIS Blood, Sweat, and Tears! Luther rediscovered the remarkably simple, profoundly powerful GOSPEL of Jesus Christ!
Luther sure wasn’t the first. Paul had the same discussion with the churches in the Galatia region of Asia about 1450 years earlier. They, too, like the Roman Church in Luther’s day, had started well with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, but had drifted into a legalistic religious mess that promoted people’s efforts and religious observations at the expense of the true Good News.
Jude, too, confronted in the first-century church religious leaders who promoted a “gospel” of sexual promiscuity and fleshly excess—all in the name of God’s love… (Sound familiar?!)
This tendency to “add to” the gospel, or change it subtly, or dress it up religiously, is a common and devastating reality—rooted in the religiosity inherent in all fallen humans. We think we are God. We want to save ourselves. We want God to revolve around our wants, needs, and desires. We want a gospel that makes us happy, rather than holy. We want Jesus to be our personal genie, and we want worldly pleasures, social acceptance, and economic success to be the reward for our “faithfulness.”
False gospels abound, and it is critically important that we not get sucked into them! As a Congregation, we need to always be careful to not go the way of the “bewitched” Galatians… or like the church in Luther’s day, which was selling a sort of “heavenly brass plaque” (indulgences) to pay for the building of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome…
There are many forms of false gospel being preached or modeled in the American Church, like the prosperity gospel, health and wealth gospel, social gospel, social-media gospel, hyper-grace gospel, big-crowd/low commitment gospel, and many more—all built on the same premise—that we don’t need faith at all—or that we need more than faith alone—to be in eternal relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As a Church, we emphasize Word, Worship and Life Groups because they are together the simple Biblical model for coming to the true Gospel, and for living our life out within the true Gospel. We are not ashamed of the Gospel! (Clearly, however, focus on the simple Gospel can really irritate human flesh!)
We must remain diligent in this because there is so much false teaching going on around us and so much temptation to find something that seems easier… cooler… more socially acceptable. But the one and only Good News of Jesus Christ is this – that we are saved by grace through faith ALONE!
(My thanks to R.T. Kendall who wrote a wonderful article on this subject in this month’s Charisma Magazine.)