Righteous Shall Live By Faith

The righteousness that we are to live is not our righteousness but Jesus Christ’s righteousness that becomes ours by faith!

For in [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Romans 1:17

According to the Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis – and their web page www.lutheranhistory.org/history/tih1018.htm – October 18 is the day that Martin Luther was awarded the doctor of theology degree from Wittenberg University.

In these days leading up to the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation – October 31, 2017 – I want to share with you some insights about and from Martin Luther.

The congregation that I serve in Hawthorn Woods – St. Matthew Lutheran Church & School – uses a somewhat unique way of specifically proclaiming the Gospel.

Senior Pastor Timothy Kinne enlightened me as to this way and we both use is frequently in our teaching and preaching.

We preach and teach that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus

was Born to be our substitute under God’s Law;

Lived perfectly to be our righteousness by faith;

Died on the cross to forgive all the sins of all people of all time;

Rose from the grave so that we, too, can rise from the grave one day;

Ascended into heaven with the promise that he will come back to take all believers in him to paradise forever.

It is the second point that Martin Luther initially had huge problems with. He couldn’t wrap his head – or his soul – around the fact that St. Paul writes in Romans 1:17 what we need to do: “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Here are Luther’s own words:

“At first I clearly saw that the free grace of God is absolutely necessary to attain to light and eternal life; and I anxiously and busily worked to understand the word of Paul in Rom. 1:17 : The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel. I questioned this passage for a long time and labored over it, for the expression ‘righteousness of God’ barred my way. This phrase was customarily explained to mean that the righteousness of God is a virtue by which He is Himself righteous and condemns sinners. In this way all the teachers of the church except Augustine had interpreted the passage. They had said: The righteousness of God, that is (id est), the wrath of God. But as often as I read this passage, I wished that God had never revealed the Gospel; for who could love a God who was angry, who judged and condemned people? This misunderstanding continued until, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, I finally examined more carefully the word of Habakkuk: ‘The just shall live by his faith’ ( 2:4 ). From this passage I concluded that life must be derived from faith. . . . Then the entire Holy Scripture became clear to me, and heaven itself was opened to me. Now we see this brilliant light very clearly, and we are privileged to enjoy it abundantly”” (What Luther Says – A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, © 1959 Concordia Publishing House, p 835).

Luther was at a deep point of despair. Here he was, living in a monastery, dedicating his entire life to God, and at the same time wishing that God had never revealed the Gospel!

Because to Luther, the righteousness that he was supposed to live was – in his mind – the wrath of God. It is as if he was saying, “How can I love a God who hates me?”

He couldn’t, of course. But he also didn’t have to!

Because God didn’t hate him or any of us.

The righteousness that we are to live is not our righteousness but Jesus Christ’s righteousness that becomes ours by faith!

Once this door of realization was opened to Luther, there was no going back. He received his undergraduate degrees and finally, on October 18, 1512, his doctor of theology degree.

Five short years later, he revealed to the world what he had found when he nailed the 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. When he did that, he sparked the conflagration that we celebrate today, 500 years later.

This 500th anniversary year is not a celebration of Luther, however. It isn’t a celebration of Lutheranism or even Protestantism.

It is a celebration, remembrance, and public confession of what the Reformation has always been and still is about – Jesus!


Heavenly Father, thank you for raising up powerful and abundant voices in every age that proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. Thank you for Martin Luther who would not be silent but shared with everyone the Gospel. I pray that as I remember this 500th anniversary of the Reformation that I will never forget – and will always live – a life that is still about Jesus! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

© 2017 True Men Ministries

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