Almost thirty years ago I stood in Martin Luther’s study room, high in the Wartburg Castle, in the German state of Thuringia. On the wall was the famous ink stain, said to have been caused when Luther threw his overflowing inkwell at the Devil to chase his tormentor away. A passage from Romans, including today’s text about Abraham’s faith in God being reckoned as righteousness, had driven Luther to that remote castle refuge. Those words became the key to the historic reformer’s revolutionary doctrine of “Justification by Faith Alone,” an idea that tore apart Europe and the Christian faith.
Martin Luther taught that we are justified, set right with God, not by any works but by the fundamental act of putting all our trust in God and living out of that trust—just as Abraham had done many centuries before. Absolutely nothing we can do by our own efforts, no ritual acts—circumcision for Paul, donations to the church for Luther—can set us right with God. Only faith, trust in the God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection, can save us.
We get caught up in doing things, often good things—visiting the sick, feeding the hungry—but we must never lose sight of why we do such things. It is not for the sake of some heavenly reward or to avoid some ultimate punishment but out of gratitude to God, in whom we place all our faith and all our trust.
Faithful God, teach us to trust you—to place our days, our lives, our eternal souls firm in your forgiving hands. Fearing for nothing, may we serve you in gladness and joy. Amen.
The readings for this week provide an overview of the history of God’s people. Genesis recounts the story of Abraham, who because of his great faith leaves his home and goes to a land that God has promised to show him. The psalmist speaks for the descendants of Abraham, who trust in the Lord to watch over them and be their helper. Paul in Romans argues against those who believe that God’s grace is a result of correctly following religious law. It is Abraham’s faith (for there is no law in Abraham’s time) that prompts him to follow God, and for this he is commended. Both Gospel passages (John and Matthew) emphasize that the story of Jesus is the continuation of a relationship with God’s faithful people that began with Abraham.
Read Genesis 12:1-4a. Recall a major and a minor crossroads in your life. How did you listen for God’s call during each time?
Read Psalm 121. Reflect on the times in your life when this psalm has most strongly resonated with you. How do your strongest emotions point you to God’s presence?
Read Romans 4:1-5, 13-17. What motivates you to do good works? How do you balance “faith alone” and the action to which God calls you?
Read John 3:1-17. How do you hear again the powerful words of verses so familiar they permeate culture? What makes these words fresh for you?
Respond by posting a prayer.
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