It's So Much Bigger Than "Trick or Treat"

The righteous shall live by faith.
— Romans 1:17

Tonight, children will pound on our door in search of "Trick or Treat." We'll be prepared. There will be plenty of goodies for all the kiddies.

The presence of our costumed friends calls to mind "a pounding" on a different door on an earlier day, October 31, 1517.

The man doing the pounding was Martin Luther. Luther was an Augustinian monk in search of peace with God, a peace he hoped to find through his good works. But that strategy wasn't working. Luther said,

I kept the rule so strictly, that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his sheer monkery, it was I. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading and other work.

Luther was living in personal misery until he read and understood Romans 1:17,

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.

God opened Luther's eyes to see that it is grace, not good works, that makes one right before God. Christ went to the cross. He paid the sacrifice. Salvation comes by faith in the merit of Christ's work, not by one's own efforts to please God.

Luther's new-found faith led to a clash with church authorities. They were peddle salvation like a bushel of apples and Luther knew it had to stop. He "promptly drew up 95 propositions (or theses) for theological debate and on 31 October 1517, following university custom, he posted them on the Castle Church door at Wittenberg."

This was no small matter. Luther's actions and future writings would brand him a heretic. They would make him an outlaw. Fast forward to June 1521. Luther stood before an imperial assembly in Worms, Germany. His audience was powerful and hostile. Emperor Charles V called upon Luther to recant his writings, which were highly critical of papal authority.

In Church History In Plain Language, Bruce Shelley writes,

Before the assembly Luther once again insisted that only biblical authority would sway him. ‘My conscience is captive to the Word of God,’ he told the court. ‘I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither honest nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.’”

Luther believed what the writer of Proverbs proclaimed:

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
— Proverbs 30:5 ESV

The Word of God was Luther’s foundation, his touchstone, his ultimate line in the sand. Did God say it? That settled it. Game, set, match!

Today, millions of people will celebrate Halloween, but this day is so much more than "Trick or Treat." It is Reformation Day, a time for Christians to thank God for a man and a movement that changed history. God used Luther to:

  1. Assert the authority of the Bible over tradition.
  2. Proclaim that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.
  3. Help put Scripture in the hands of everyday people.
  4. Put church liturgy in the common language of the day.
  5. Recapture "the biblical view of the priesthood of all believers, showing all people that their work had purpose and dignity because in it they can serve their Creator."

Hey, enjoy the Halloween candy, but give thanks to God for the Reformation! Here are two great resources to help you dig a little deeper:

  • "What Is Reformation Day All About?" by Robert Rothwell for Ligonier Ministries. Click here to get it.
  • "Here I Stand!" by Justin Taylor for The Gospel Coalition (includes video clips). Click here to get it.

Notes:

  1. "I kept the rule so strictly . . ." from Bruce L. Shelley (1982), Church History In Plain Language, p.  256.
  2. "Luther's new found faith ..." from "What is Reformation Day All About?" by Robert Rothwell. Ligioneer Ministries, October 10, 2001. www.ligonier.org
  3. "He promptly drew up ..." from Shelley, page 258.
  4. "Before the assembly . . ." from Shelley, page 260.
  5. "God used Luther to . . ." the list is derived from "What Is Reformation Day All About" linked above.