We are quickly coming up on the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. There were a number of people who played important roles in the reformation, but one of the key figures, maybe even the key figure, was Martin Luther.
After his conversion, this German monk became passionate about two big theological truths. One being sola scriptura, meaning that the Bible is the supreme authority regarding salvation and our spiritual life. The second theological truth was sola fide, which teaches that salvation is not by faith plus works, but by faith, in the work of Christ, alone.
This new understanding, that justification is by faith alone, threw Luther’s whole world upside down and his excitement could not be contained. His awe and love for this God who saves freely, and who forgives out of His pure goodness and love, fueled Luther’s writings. It also filled him with the confidence to stand up to the leadership of his time, no matter the cost (which is pretty amazing for one who was once terrified of a thunderstorm, don’t you think).
In his Treatise on Christian Liberty, Luther tells a beautiful parable of justification. Here is a retelling of his story.
There once was a King who chose for himself a bride who was a poor, deformed, harlot. She had no loveliness of her own and yet the King wanted her. As their wedding day arrived the King gave to his bride a “wedding-ring of faith” and the very second he placed that ring on her finger she became his Queen and they were forever united. They became “one” and all that was his became hers. His love, his blessings, his possessions even his kingdom now belonged to her.
Her bridegroom provided her with “all his good things”. He washed her with the water of his word, dressed her with “eternal righteousness” and presented her, despite her character, as a “glorious bride, without spot or wrinkle”.
This also meant that all that was hers became his. In the intimacy of this union the King took on himself all of his bride’s transgressions and debts. He “takes a share in the sins, death, and hell of His wife, nay, makes them His own, and deals with them no otherwise than as if they were His, and as if He Himself had sinned”.
Now this fallen woman was Queen, but she had lived all of her life as a prostitute and so she did not know how to act as Queen. Though she was freed from her condemnations and showered with all of her husband’s blessings, though she could be “fearless of death [and] safe from hell” her character was still that of a harlot. But, through her union with the King, her character no longer defined her. Her status of Queen defined her, and the longer she lived with her King the more her character changed.
“It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her Husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, "If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine," as it is written, "My beloved is mine, and I am His"
Some, during Luther’s time, thought this to be a disgusting story. They couldn’t wrap their brains around the fact that the King would choose for himself a defiled woman and that he would value faith above virtue. But they were wrong. There is infinite beauty in the doctrine of justification and, what should really give us pause, is that this is our story. The King of Heaven has chosen us to be His bride and with the ring of faith on our finger, we are now His forever. While we are still sinners, sin no longer defines us. We are defined by our status as the Bride of Christ and we can, with all confidence, say with Luther, “My beloved is mine, and I am His.”