Readings for Reformation Day

John 8:31-36; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7; Psalm 46

 “Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3 and 4.” (Augsburg Confession, Art. 4)

Sixteen years ago I was sitting in a seminary classroom repeating these words to myself again and again. Professor Eichmann had warned us they would need to be committed to memory for an upcoming test. We had to know them to pass the course. In all honesty, I was a little irritated. Wasn’t assigned memory work a bit too rudimentary for graduate students? It felt like junior high confirmation class all over again.

Today, I see the wisdom of what he was doing. “Always remember to keep the main thing, the main thing!” How tempting it is for us, the longer we’ve been a Christian, and the longer we’ve studied theology, to want to move beyond the simple good news of the Gospel: Jesus died for your sins. Salvation is a free gift of God to all who trust in him. We want to make it more complicated than it is. “That’s too easy,” we complain.

Sunday’s readings all speak to the “main thing” that is the heart of the Christian faith. You will never become acceptable to God by keeping His laws. No matter how long or hard you try. Your sins are too serious and too many. So God has done it for you through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. There is no other way (Rom 3).

This is the truth that sets us free to follow Jesus (John 8). This is the good news proclaimed by messengers both human and divine throughout history (Rev 14).  This is where we go for refuge in those times when we find ourselves under attack by guilt, despair, temptation, or conflict (Ps 46). “A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon!”