Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, the One who has been born among us!
With the season of Christmas coming to an end we begin to look to the year ahead. As so many do, we look for the new year to bring about changes in our lives through resolutions. Many are resolving to live a healthier life: eating better and exercising more. Others are making resolutions to focus more on their relationships with family and friends, while still others are resolving to right wrongs within their life. With the start of the New Year people all over the world are getting a chance to start over.
Coincidentally, starting over is the core Lutheran theme that ushers us into this new year in our series of what it means to be Lutheran. One of the most central teachings of the Lutheran Reformation was centered on this idea of starting over; the idea of justification. Before the Reformation the church taught that justification came to people through penance and through the purchase of indulgences. However, for Luther, this form of justification was contrary to what he found in Scripture, specifically Romans 3 & 4. And so Luther began to teach justification by grace through faith. The difference being the emphasis on what God has and is continuing to do over against what we as humans try but fail to do. As the reformers wrote in the fourth article of the Augsburg Confession, that is the document by which the churches of the reformation interpreted scripture, “Also [the churches of the reformation] teach that [humanity] cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.”
The point Luther and the other reformers were making here was that nothing a person does can justify us before God; we are helpless in trying to start a new on our own. Instead we are given a new start through God’s grace bestowed on us by Christ. We come to know this through faith, a faith that does not come from within us but again has been bestowed on us by God. We are justified by grace, through faith, for the sake of Christ.
As we begin this New Year, with all our so called resolutions, let us never forget how, why, and for whom we are given our true new starts; by grace, through faith, because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Praise be to God!