In 1537, a reformer by the name of Philip Melanchthon wrote a document to confront the religious and political power in Rome during the Middle Ages. Melanchthon understood that the power of the pope—who claimed to be a divinely appointed mediator between God and man—was a threat to the Gospel.
In Melanchthon’s “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope,” he boldly wrote, “The marks of Antichrist plainly agree with the kingdom of the pope and his followers…. This being the case, all Christians should beware of participating in the godless doctrine, blasphemies, and unjust cruelty of the pope.” The challenge of Melanchthon remains in our day—Christians are called not to cave to the religious institutions that threaten the message of grace.
This doesn’t mean that the Law is bad. It’s the abuse and misuse of the Law in the Church that’s bad. And it’s not only bad but also widespread. Christians are fleeing from churches because they’ve become victims of an abusive, graceless system. Under the facade of biblical teaching, preachers have found a way to inflate their egos by beating up those already wounded by their sin.
The Law is a powerful word. The Law has the power to kill. The Law has the power to condemn and break down. The Law has the power to crush. And all of those powers are necessary—without the power of the Law, we’d never bear witness to the power of the Gospel.
But, again, for what end does the Law exist? The Law exposes us so that we might find the remedy in the person and work of Jesus. The Law exposes us so that Jesus’ death and resurrection might set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
But instead of being brought to life and set free, people are walking out of churches bloodied, bruised, and crushed by the weight of an impossible to-do list and the repeated exhortation to “just do it.”
In his message “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church,” Dr. Rod Rosenbladt talks about the burden often felt by those who’ve given up on the Church: “Many times the law has already done its work on them. Boy, has it ever done its work on them! They need more law like they need a hole in the head.”
Paul in Romans writes,
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1–5)
Luther described this Gospel as “the spiritual peace of which all the prophets sing.”
The apostle joins together these two expressions, “through Christ” and “by faith,” as he did … in the expression “since we are justified by faith … through our Lord, etc.” In the first place, the statement is directed against those who are so presumptuous as to believe that they can approach God without Christ, as if it were sufficient for them to have believed, as if thus by faith alone, but not through Christ, but beside Christ, as if beyond Christ they no longer needed Him after accepting the grace of justification. And now there are many people who from the works of faith make for themselves works of the Law and of the letter.
The hypocrites and legalists swell up with horrifying pride and think that they are now saved and sufficiently righteous because they believe in Christ, but they are unwilling to be considered unrighteous or regarded as fools. And what is this except the rejection of Christ’s protection and a desire to approach God only from faith but not through Christ?
We don’t need more churches that use their power and their platform to leave people dead in their sins. We need churches that use the power of the Gospel to bring people life.
This post is an excerpt from Reading Romans with Luther.