Romans, Martin Luther and 1515

Luther personally discovered the powerful gospel of the powerful Christ. And that discovery began, not in 1517, but in 1515, with the book of Romans.

“While many of my colleagues at Reformed Theological Seminary are already thinking about 2017, most of us are not aware of a very important church history anniversary this fall. I’m thinking, of course, of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s lectures on the Book of Romans, which helped pave the way for the Reformation of 1517.”

 

In two years from now, many Christians will be commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Already there are signs of this significant date approaching.  The German toy company PLAYMOBIL has even issued a special, commemorative, limited edition figure of Martin Luther; and it’s already sold out!

While many of my colleagues at Reformed Theological Seminary are already thinking about 2017, most of us are not aware of a very important church history anniversary this fall. I’m thinking, of course, of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s lectures on the Book of Romans, which helped pave the way for the Reformation of 1517.

Let me remind you of the significance of the book of Romans. I am often surprised at how many Christians avoid or are afraid of this powerful letter from Paul to the early church in Rome.

Church history testifies, over and over, to the power of this little letter. Romans is simply a life-changing gospel manifesto—a truly revolutionary book.

Recall that in the early church, Augustine came to faith in Christ after hearing a voice say “take up and read.” What did he take up?  It was part of the book of Romans,

Martin Luther himself was transformed by reading this book. He said Romans “is really the chief part of the New Testament and the purest gospel.  It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. The more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.”[1]

Sometime later, John Calvin was also profoundly moved by his encounter with Romans. Calvin wrote, “When we have gained a true understanding of this Epistle, we have a door opened to us to all the most profound treasures of Scripture.”[2]

John Wesley attributes his conversion to a day in London when he stepped into an Moravian chapel on Aldersgate Street in London and heard someone reading from the preface to Luther’s Commentary—on Romans.

Or think of Swiss theologian Karl Barth. After a failed pastorate, he rediscovered what he called “the goodness of God” through his study of the book—of Romans.  He too wrote a book about this, that people described as a bombshell that hit the liberal theological world of Europe not long after World War I.

Why is this book of Romans so powerful? New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce answers the question when he describes Romans as “a sustained and coherent statement of the gospel.”[3]   Or as I sometimes say, the gospel is as simple as John 3.16, yet it is as deep and profound as the book of Romans.  Continue reading