For most of his first thirty-four years on earth, Martin Luther was misery multiplied. He assumed that capturing peace with God was only possible via partnership. He knew that God demanded holy perfection from him. He also knew that God saw everything and missed nothing. He constantly felt the pressure of God’s holy, icy glare.
How would Luther cope? He tried everything he could think of. He joined a monastery, even though it was against his father’s wishes. He fasted much longer than required. He whipped himself. He spent countless hours in prayer. He tried making a pilgrimage to Rome. He slept naked on cold floors through the winter months. But peace remained elusive. His frustration boiled over as he wondered, “Why would God make such lofty demands, knowing very well that they are impossible to meet?”
And then, one random day as he was reading the Bible, a breakthrough happened. Luther realized that capturing peace with God couldn’t possibly be a partnership. That would never work. Salvation must come from some other place. It has to be a gift, not a reward. And Luther began to grasp the beautiful word “alone.” He pounded the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door on October 31, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany. And ever since then, Lutherans have celebrated the Reformation – and the beautiful word “alone” – on or around October 31.
Truth comes from Scripture alone. Truth will never come from the Bible plus another supposed holy book. He didn’t trust the “Scripture + feelings = truth” formula, or that there are many different interpretations of the Bible that are equally correct. What’s the simple, plain and clear meaning of the Bible? That’s Scripture alone. And that’s the only way to find out what’s actually on God’s mind.
In Scripture alone, we discover grace alone. Grace is not a paycheck you’ve earned by good behavior. And it’s not a divine energy drink to help you live a better life. Grace is God’s pure, undeserved love for awful, wretched sinners. Jesus didn’t come from heaven to earth because we were cute or simple-minded. He didn’t come because we showed some interesting potential. Jesus had a gracious passion to help his enemy – that’s sinful you and me – have peace. He came to save sinners, all by himself. Grace alone.
When we believe what God tells us in his Word, that’s called faith alone. Faith also is a gracious gift from God, and it saves us from all condemnation. There is no assurance from “faith + try your best at keeping God’s commands perfectly.” Put to death the part of you that wonders if divine assurance is ever possible, and feels responsible for unfinished spiritual business. Your salvation is not a partnership effort. (Jesus said), “Whoever hears my Word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned. He has already crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).” God said it. That settles it. Believe it!
All of this is yours in Christ alone. Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of Scripture alone. His words and actions are the perfect essence of grace alone. And Jesus Christ is the one-and-only object of our faith. Unmatched peace is captured in Christ alone. It’s not our job to add our two cents’ worth and hope we did enough. It’s only our job to say two things: “Wow! Thanks!” So stand peacefully and eternally in the Reformation heartbeat – Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone!
In Christ alone, my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song.
This cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love! What depths of peace! When fears are stilled, and strivings cease!
My Comforter, my all in all, here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless Babe.
This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones he came to save.
Till on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied;
For every sin on him was laid. Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground his body lay, Light of the world by darkness slain.
Then bursting forth, in glorious day, up from the grave he rose again!
And as he stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.
For I am his, and he is mine – bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death – this is the power of Christ in me!
From life’s first cry, to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand.
Till he returns, or calls me home…here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
(Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, “In Christ Alone”)