This is part 3 of our series of columns based on the idea that if Jesus were to walk on this earth today, What Would Jesus Undo (WWJU)? Today, I’m contending that Jesus would undo religion.
Imagine that! During a week when we’re celebrating the Reformation, we’re belittling religion? No. We’re not belittling it; we’re redefining it.
The Reformation of nearly 500 years ago is an event that resulted in the most important undoing of “religiosity” in the history of the Christian Church. It was that moment in time when the perception of God was changed from being only an angry, powerful and judging God – to a God of love, mercy and grace.
That perception of a loving God had been lost in the 16th century church and been replaced with fear, superstition and human works as the means to salvation. Then God, as He’s been known to do, raised up someone to change all that: a man by the name of Martin Luther.
So, who is this Luther guy, anyway?
In the year 1483, a boy by the name of Martin was born in Germany. This boy was very bright. His parents placed him in a school for advanced education at the age of four. In his first year he learned Latin. Though the language of the people was German, Latin was the language of the church. Martin’s father wanted him to become a lawyer, but Martin fell in love with God’s Word. He loved trying to figure out what it was God was saying to him.
In the year 1505— at 21 years old—Martin signed on as a monk with the Hermits of St. Augustine. He was then ordained into the Catholic priesthood in 1507. But 10 years later—in 1517—he took on the very church into which he’d been ordained. It was time to undo religion.
Here’s why. Martin Luther was taught that it was up to him to “get right with God!” That he had to live a life - do enough “good works” - to be acceptable to God and assured of his salvation.
For Luther, this was a problem. No matter how hard he tried to “get right with God”, he couldn’t. Every time he looked in his heart he saw what you and I see when we look in our hearts: what’s really behind the things we do - our motivations. Not real pretty. It terrified Luther. He believed his salvation—his eternal life—was directly related to how free from sin he was. But when Luther looked in his heart - he didn’t see freedom. He saw guilt.
And that guilt - we all have - raises probably the most important question of our lives. The question that was at the heart of the Reformation - the question Luther, himself, couldn’t answer and it nearly pushed him over the edge: “How can I get right with God? How can I ever be good enough for Him? I might look pretty good on the outside, but I know what’s on the inside!”
That’s exactly why King David prayed the prayer he did: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:10).
Luther had no peace until God led him to this answer in Romans 3:21: Getting right with God has nothing to do with me.
Getting right with God has everything to do with Jesus.
Luther suddenly realized that any righteousness he’d had with God, wasn’t his. His righteousness was Christ’s—He’s the perfect One—He’s the worthy One.
That’s why God came down here in the person of Jesus, because He knew we’d never get it right. So, He came to “get it right” for us. That’s why He put up with what He did. The mocking, the beating, the bleeding, the dying, not only to pay for our sins—but to cover you and me with His blood - His
Luther didn’t set out to split or undermine the church, he just wanted to bring back the teaching of God’s unconditional love - His grace - to the Church.
Luther was surrounded by a religious culture in which people placed “religiosity” - the proper practice of man-made ideas and traditions in their religion - as the means to their
While the undoing of “religiosity” – the Reformation – was a specific moment in time – in reality it’s an ever-continuing process. If not, we risk falling into the error Luther had to undo in his day: the turning of man-made ideas and traditions into false “teachings of God.”
Jesus isn’t looking for those who have “religion.” He’s looking for those who want a relationship.
And that’s what He wants with you.
Live a Life that BEGS the question.
Rev. Dr. Martin J. Brauer is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 700 W. Whitestone Blvd., Cedar Park, TX. He lives with his wife, Leona, and dog, Tica, in Leander. Contact him at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.