In 16th century Germany, the Roman Catholic practice of offering indulgences was in full swing. Put simply, indulgences were offerings given to the church with the expectation that the giver or their loved ones would be given less time in purgatory (a not-quite-hell, place of suffering after death where Catholics believed they could atone for their sin before going to heaven). It is rumored that Johann Tetzel, a monk who preached in favor of indulgences in those days would often use the rhyme, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
Abuses of the custom of indulgences and even the practice itself gained the ire of a certain Augustinian monk named Martin Luther. Around 1513 Luther had been confronted by the words from Romans 1:17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” His eyes were opened; he was convinced that this word was true; and Luther believed that faith in Christ trumped works by man in gaining righteousness. Many believe that at this moment Luther’s heart was unalterably transformed and he was saved.
When the heart is truly changed by Jesus Christ, there will be a corresponding action to serve Him. On October 31, 1517, Luther approached the chapel door of the Wittenburg Castle – which doubled as a bulletin board of the day – and nailed his 95 Theses. This list of 95 points consisted of questions and statements challenging the abuses and value of selling indulgences for the forgiveness of sins.
On that day, 500 years ago this October 31, Protestantism was born and is known the world over as the Protestant Reformation.
In the Theses, Luther claimed that the repentance required by Christ in order for sins to be forgiven involves inner spiritual repentance rather than merely external sacramental confession. He argued that indulgences led Christians to avoid true repentance and sorrow for sin, believing that they can forgo it by purchasing an indulgence. -Wikipedia
We should consider another reformation: a personal reformation where assumptions about faith and church and salvation are reconsidered in light of the Word of God. It’s so easy to silently wander away from God’s revealed Truth. It’s easy to believe all kinds of things about Christianity which are usually summarized in the belief that the good I do and the frequency I do it will somehow get the Lord’s attention and He will give me a break regarding my personal sin and bring me to heaven just on my merits. What difference is there between that assumption and the purchase of indulgences?
Paul wrote, “In Him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)
This year, even today, I encourage you to repent of all known sin, and trust in the very Person of Jesus Christ, and then live your life knowing, loving and serving Him. Now, that is reformation!