Completing the Reformation

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.

Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.                                                                                                            Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

In many ways Martin Luther did not complete the Reformation that he began. Perhaps he could not because of the road on which he had to come in order to recover salvation by faith.

Luther, child of Roman Catholicism, had been trying to make himself acceptable to God by killing “the flesh” and by holy living. He was trying his best to fulfill the command, “Be holy, as I am holy.” Unfortunately, nobody can do that on their own, as the first three chapters of Romans makes very clear.

So Luther was lost in despair. The he discovered the great good news of the first half of Galatians and the chapters three through five of Romans. It is not our holy behavior that atones for our sin and gives us fellowship with God. God himself has made us acceptable to him by grace alone through faith alone. Holy behavior is not necessary to enter a relationship with God.

And if we think that is so, holy behavior can be an absolute hindrance.

So Luther stopped short (which, by the way, is why he found the book of James so distasteful). In the light of his earlier frustration and failure, he thought that holy behavior in this life was neither possible really necessary to a relationship with God. That’s unfortunate because that kind of behavior clearly is a vital component, as the rest of both Galatians and Romans spells out.

It remained for John Wesley to complete what Luther had begun. Holy behavior is both expected and possible in this life on exactly the same basis as initial salvation – grace alone through faith alone. Here is the totality, the fulness, of salvation. We can be welcomed into a walk with God in which past sins are all forgiven, and we are enabled to please him with behavior just like his – all through grace! That is the true Reformation!

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