Many years ago on this day there was an obscure monk that had some issues with the church, and nailed 95 statements that challenged that doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Which started a fire that brought back the light of the Gospel to a darkened world that had gone too long without hearing the Gospel in its truest form for many years. We owe a great debt to the reformers for reclaiming the Gospel that was once lost. It wasn’t until the reformers started reading their Bibles that attention was brought to the truth and the corruption of the church. Though Martin Luther was not the first to attempt to address the issues of the Roman Catholic church, he is the most famous. He was the catalyst of the Reformation, but did not intend to start it.
Martin Luther was a local professor in the town of Wittenberg, Germany. If any of the professors wanted to engage in a dialogue they would post the issues they had upon the door of the Church, then the other professors would come and discuss the things that were mentioned. Instead of discussing it, some people took the 95 Thesis and with the help of the printing press, distributed copies to everyone, and the Reformation started and brought the end of the dark ages.
So, what was Martin Luther arguing against? It was a Rome’s use of indulgences. An indulgence is an payment that one would give the Roman Catholic Church so that either one of their relatives or themselves would be able to get out of purgatory and into Heaven. The biggest problem with this, beside the complete unbiblical and anti-biblical teaching, is that the Church was taking from the poorest peasants that eagerly wanted to get their loved ones or themselves to heaven. This is the epitome of the defacing and twisting of the Gospel that shows the deep errors in the Catholic system.
So, let’s consider first what the evident problem is with this teaching. Salvation is not for sale. There is no way that we can buy our salvation or bribe God to let us into heaven. In fact, to get to the heart of what is wrong with indulgences we need to get to the heart of what Purgatory is. Once we get there we will understand that indulgences make sense in light of the unbiblical teaching that is Purgatory.
Rome has at its core a works-righteous system. In Rome, you need to cooperate with the righteousness that was infused in you to produce merit so when you die, if you have enough merit, God will declare you righteous and bring you into heaven. Also in Rome, if you do not cooperate or commit a mortal sin, then you can effectively kill the righteousness in you and then you lose your salvation. If your faith has been shipwrecked, then through confession and doing penance, you can then regain a good standing and develop more merit. Now there is a natural question that all works- righteous systems must answer: what if I don’t do enough to be declared righteous and get into heaven? Will someone do all that work for nothing? What about those that are killed early in life and unable to do enough? All these questions and others like it are answered in the doctrine of Purgatory.
Purgatory is a place that those who die in faith, if they have not died with enough merit, have all that is still sinful in them purged out of them. For someone that thinks that they can earn their way to heaven this would be a welcomed teaching. The problem is that the bible is clear that we are unable to please God, or be righteous enough on our own, to do such a thing. Not only that but as Paul says, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” (Romans 4) You see, if we can work our way to heaven then we would not need grace, and the death and resurrection of Christ is for nothing. On top of that but we are no longer owing anything to God but He owes us a debt for what we have done. We then become over God in that we can demand from Him to recognize our righteousness. Instead of God being that standard we become that standard. On top of that but then we boast in ourselves before a perfect and holy God.
I want us to think about the fact that we are not able to bribe our way into the kingdom. We are not able to make a deal to get ourselves into the kingdom. We can only rely on Christ and what he has done for us. There is nothing that we can do in of ourselves to merit the kind of righteousness that is required to be accepted into heaven. Our faith must be in Christ and what he has done for us. If we add anything to the gospel we take away all its power. We tell God that the sacrifice of His son is not good enough for us. We call Jesus a liar by saying that it wasn’t finished when he declared from the Cross that it was finished.
If you are reading this and you have not put your faith in Christ alone, I call to you to stop living in rebellion to God, repent of your sin and self-righteousness, and put your faith in God’s Son, the lamb that takes away the sin of the world, and be reconciled to God today. This is what the Reformers proclaimed and defended it with their lives. It is the only Gospel that can save and today, while it is called today, you can be saved.