Each year on Reformation Sunday we are reminded by the apostle Paul that our salvation is a gift from God. Romans 3:24-25 say that we are made right with God when we believe that Jesus sacrificed his life for our salvation. If we connect the dots in these two verses, we can see that we are justified by faith; there is nothing we can do in order to acquire this gift of salvation other than, simply, to have faith.
Faith in God’s ability to give this gift.
Faith in the reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Faith in the power of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to bring us into right relationship with God.
Faith in God’s ability and desire to affect real change in the messy lives of real people, like you and me.
Now, let’s be clear: Our faith doesn’t make it so – God’s gift of grace is real whether I choose to believe it’s real or not. Our faith simply receives this gift with open arms.
The message we find in Romans 3:28 reveals the fact that humans throughout time have had great difficulty accepting this gift of God on faith alone; there has to be a catch! Right? The skeptic would say that gifts always come with strings attached. The Catholic church in Martin Luther’s day, much like the Pharisees Jesus encountered, preached the necessity of doing the right things and following all the rules in order to be right with God. In order to somehow “deserve” or “earn” salvation. Yet Paul proclaims “that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”
And Martin Luther picked up where Paul left off, carrying this word and this truth into his own time; through the doors of the churches where he worshiped and into the streets of the places he called home. Martin Luther knew that the work of Jesus’ first followers was only the beginning; this work was To Be Continued – and that’s just what Luther did.
And that’s just what Jesus meant when He “said to the Jews who had believed in him: If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). To continue assumes the start of something; and that something for Jesus’ original disciples was a relationship with Him. Jesus’ first followers spent days and months along dusty roads, listening to Him talk, watching Him care for others, learning about God firsthand from the Master. We may not have Jesus’ physical presence, but we listen to Him speak through Scripture, which is amplified by His Spirit’s confirming presence in our hearts. When Jesus tells us, then, to continue in His word, it is clear that He didn’t mean “follow all the rules” in some legalistic way – that was never the spirit of His teaching.
Likewise, to continue in Jesus’ word does not mean resting on the laurels of our salvation, getting fat and happy on His good graces. To continue in Jesus’ word does not mean hanging up a shingle or putting down a stake, as if to say “here is where God acted – let’s set up camp forever,” as if the story has ended and all that’s left is for it to be retold.
Martin Luther and his fellow reformers did what they did as a continuation of Jesus’ word. We celebrate their efforts today! The problem, though, is that many who followed the reformers failed to take up the standard and march on. Instead of raising the rallying cry “To Be Continued!” we label ourselves “Lutheran.” We institutionalize the words of the reformers, and we repeat them again and again, as if the story has ended and all that’s left is for it to be retold, making the church of today look strikingly similar to the unmovable institution that Luther leveraged his life to reform.
But, if we listen to Jesus, and if we consider what the reformers did to continue in Jesus’ word, we can’t help but see our calling as a continuation of the Gospel, as a continuation of the Reformation, as a work of the Holy Spirit To Be Continued in our lives on this day. That’s why we wear red, which represents the Spirit who is moving through the church like wildfire, creating heat and burning off the selfish and complacent chaff.
What begins for each of us as pure gift – grace and salvation and forgiveness in Christ – is To Be Continued as we seek to be true to His word in this church where we worship, and on the streets of the places we call home.
Believing is only the beginning! The life of Christ is To Be Continued in us.