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By Chuck Collins
July 2, 2012

Martin Luther was slogging his way through school to satisfy his father's wishes that he become a gainfully-employed lawyer when, in an instant, lightening and dread of dying changed the course of his life. July 2, 1505, he found God in an awful storm. "Later he told the story as if Heaven had overpowered him" (C. Feldmann). Roman Catholics in the Middle Ages feared sudden death more than anything else because they lived with the awful uncertainty about their final salvation. They lived with the hope of future salvation, in and out of grace based on their own faithfulness and sanctification (infused righteousness). In the lightning storm, when fear had overtaken him, the fearful lawyer cried out to St. Anne, "I will become a monk!" Two weeks later Luther entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. Neither his friends nor his father could change his mind. He was determined to prove that he could become worthy of salvation and he started on the Augustinian path towards achieving justification by sanctification. It was necessary for this monk to try flesh-mortifying religion and self-improvement (in the guise of rigorous spiritual disciplines) in order to come to the point of knowing that moral improvement is not the way. He would come to see that it's not ascending to God that matters, but God's descent to us to save us. Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk and priest, would eventually come to see that Jesus didn't come to improve the improvable or to repair the repairable; he came to raise the spiritually dead to life. What finally changed the man who ignited the 16th century Reformation was seeing that his deepest need was for a righteousness outside of himself that would be credited to him. This and only this could save him - the righteousness of Christ imputed to completely undeserving sinners like himself.

"Luther believed that the inevasible human tendency toward self-centeredness rendered it impossible for anyone to be truly righteous this life. Therefore, humanity was constrained to seek another righteousness as the objective basis for justification, not relying on something within them, but looking beyond themselves to the perfect human righteousness which belonged to Christ alone. Noting that the Greek New Testament word for justification was δικαιοῦ, a legal term meaning to pronounce a defendant 'not guilty', Protestants taught that when sinners trusted God's promise to forgive their sin because of Christ's death on their behalf, God credited them with Christ's own righteousness. Although they would still struggle with sin working in their lives, God would continue to declare them to be 'not guilty' through their faith in Christ. Thus, justification came in a moment of belief that changed a sinner's status before God without changing his personal worthiness for acceptance. Cranmer eventually agreed."
-- Ashley Null, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of repentance: Renewing the Power of Love
"We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily on Justification."
-- Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, Article 11
"A young woman once told me that she credited her conversion to hearing a sermon which made clear that God's righteousness was not a passive attribute but a costly and effectual activity. The preacher had used a simple but singularly apt illustration. We would never call a woman a clean housewife because she is so fastidious that she stands aloof from any mess and condemns it as filthy. No, we would call her a clean housewife because she cleans up any dirt and tidies up every mess, even if she has to face into its very dregs to get rid of it, even if she has to get rather dirty herself as the price of getting her house completely clean. To this young woman, this was nothing short of a life-changing revelation. She had spent all of her life as a conventional church-going person and had only heard about a righteous God who clearly condemned sin but never deigned to be smudged by it himself. She sat absolutely astonished as she realized that God's righteousness is the very opposite of condemnation. Her whole grim picture of God turned right side up, revealing to her God's graciousness to sinners."
-- C. FitzSimons Allison, "Three Essential Words," Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F.M. Zahl, Ed. John D. Koch Jr. and Todd H.W. Brewer
"Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith."-- Philippians 3:9

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