We are approaching 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses (statements of belief) to the door of the Wittenberg Church in Germany–October 31, 1517. Luther had been studying the Scriptures and the more he read, the more he began to understand that “the just shall live by faith.”
The ancient prophet Habakkuk had said it (Hab. 2:4), and the apostle Paul repeated it, both as a doctrine: “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) and as a personal testimony: “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NIV).
What Paul emphasized in his writings is that we do not get to heaven based on our good works. It seems to be a common thought in America that if we do enough good things, compile enough good works, and try to be good persons–and especially if God grades on the curve–we will make it into heaven.
Perhaps you heard about the man who, as the story goes, met St. Peter at the pearly gates. Peter told him, “It takes a hundred points to get into heaven. So what have you done to enter?”
The man said, “Well, I attended church faithfully throughout my life.”
“Great!” said Peter, “Five points.”
“Five points? What about the fact that I read my Bible faithfully almost every day and I prayed regularly?”
“Excellent!” said Peter, “Good for another five points.”
“Well, but wait, I really tried to be a good person and treat other people the way I wanted to be treated.”
“Fantastic! Another five points.”
“Really?” said the man. “At this rate, the only way I will ever get into heaven is by the grace of God!”
“Terrific!” said Peter. “That’s 100 points!”
That’s the only way any of us can get into heaven–as God graciously extends his forgiveness to us and we respond in faith. Paul said it this way, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV).
Luther came to understand this and staked his life on this fact. We celebrate the courage and conviction of Martin Luther.