If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that question, I'd have at least $4.85. OK, I realize that that isn't exactly how the saying goes, but I hear that question a lot. "What is a Lutheran?" The answer to that could be as concise as, "A Lutheran is someone who trusts in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection for their salvation and doesn't back down or make excuses for anything God's word says." Or the answer could take way more words than I'm allowed on this page.
I write about this question today because this Sunday was Reformation Sunday, the day we remember Martin Luther's stand for God's word against the corruption of the church of which he had been a faithful son. At least he was until they told him they didn't want to discuss God's word with him anymore and kicked him out. You see, he wouldn't budge. He couldn't support things like selling the forgiveness of sins (no matter how much cash it brought in) until he was shown where the Bible taught that. It doesn't, so he didn't. And because of that commitment to God's word no matter what - I'm a Lutheran.
So what does it mean to not back down from the Bible? Well, what we call the "Watchwords" of the Reformation might help answer that. In Latin, they are "Sola Gratia. Sola Fide. Sola Scriptura." For us, that's "Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone." In other words, when it comes to what we do, we're agreeing with what Paul says in our text, and what God says throughout scripture: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
You see, our natural inclination, our heart's desire is to find some way to take credit for our status with God, whether it was a choice we made or a goodness we had. No. God's word is clear. We are saved by grace (that free, undeserved gift from God) alone.
And our natural inclination, our human pride wants to add some of the good things we've done to the equation, somehow, even if it is just a certain quota after we've come to faith. No. Paul says it is "not by works, so that no one can boast." Our salvation comes to us through faith alone.
Then, of course, we humans like to stand up and try to figure out how we think things would go better for us, and we naturally want to find a way to say what we want to hear. But no. Our confidence, our salvation, and our guide in life is purely what we find in scripture alone.
Because of those three "alones," we have confidence. I don't have to depend on me. We can depend on God, our mighty fortress, who sent his son to take our place in punishment. Let's rely on him alone.