As part of the lead-up to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, an ecumenical working party of Lutherans and Catholics has been planning a program of projects and events in order to jointly commemorate the occasion. One project is a series of articles about the significance of the Reformation, written by Lutheran and Catholic authors from around Australia, to be published in both Lutheran and Catholic publications. The first in our series of six is by Pastor Fraser Pearce, a member of the LCA’s Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations, and the parish senior pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Adelaide.
Luther wrote and spoke powerfully because he wrote and spoke about Jesus. He wrote and spoke about Jesus not simply as a guide or an example for us, but as the Saviour, who rescues us from death, from sin, and from hell itself. And it’s because Jesus, who died to take away the sin of the world, now lives that the Reformation message about Jesus still has power in our world.
Early in his career (in 1520) Luther wrote a short book called The Freedom of a Christian. In this book, he explained the joy that comes through trusting in Jesus as our Saviour: ‘The Christian ought to think, “Although I am an unworthy and condemned person, my God has given me in Christ all the riches of righteousness and salvation, without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes it is true”.’
Luther could write these words joyfully, because he knew that God gives us the gift of faith through his gracious word, winning our trust in Jesus, and freeing us from self-centred living. Because we have Jesus as our Saviour, we no longer need to focus inwardly and become anxious about what we lack, whether that is goodness, peace or strength for daily life. Instead we are free to look to Jesus, to trust that, in him, God gives us all that we need. And we are free to respond with simple gratitude.
This is how Luther put it: ‘Why should I not therefore freely, joyfully, and with all my heart, and with an eager will do all things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to such a Father who has overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches?’
This response of gratitude is one that overflows in love for our neighbour. Since in Christ we freely have all good gifts from God, in thankfulness we can share the gifts Christ gives us with the people God brings into our lives. Luther wrote boldly, ‘I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbour, just as Christ offered himself to me. I will do nothing in this life except what I see is necessary, profitable, and salutary to my neighbour, since through faith I have an abundance of all good things in Christ’.
Faith in Jesus gives us freedom to love our neighbour: It’s in Jesus that love comes to life. Luther wrote and spoke about Jesus the Saviour, about Jesus who loves us and who frees us to love each other. This is the message of the Reformation – it’s all about Jesus.