“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written. The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17
This passage of Paul’s letter to the Romans, wherein he quotes the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, is the one that sparked the reformation of the church led by Martin Luther. However, the revelation that we are saved by faith in Christ alone did not come without a struggle.
In Luther’s own words:
I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant… Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’
Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven… If you have true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon His fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness.
Luther’s understanding of the righteousness of faith is our own and is echoed in the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord: The “righteousness of faith…is nothing else than the forgiveness of sins and the gracious adoption of the poor sinner for the sake of Christ’s obedience and merit alone.”
Praise You, Lord, for Your marvellous gift! Amen.