“The just shall live by faith” – Romans 1:17
October 31st is a day we should remember and celebrate so much more than an unholy day like Halloween. October 31st, 1517, marks the beginning of the historical Reformation of the Church. On this day the German pastor and scholar Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of his Wittenberg church. The 95 Theses were 95 areas of departure from scripture by the Roman Catholic Church. Martin had been struggling mightily with trying to be righteous before God by his own works. He would literally beat his body with whips to crucify his flesh. He would spend hours confessing his sins to priests in the confessional. He was a picture of Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior about sin. But no matter what he did, he could find no assurance of any lasting righteous standing before God. He felt doomed to a destiny of hell. He could find no peace by his efforts, no matter how extreme. Instead, the more he did, the less peace he found. His was a life of torment which was ruining his life.
But then one day, while studying the opening verses of the Book of Romans, he came across the inspired words of the Apostle Paul, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). When he came upon those wonderful words, a light went on in his head and a fire was ignited in his heart. The truth that the just and righteous person lives by faith liberated Martin from his religious drudgery and depression. The words of faith Martin found in scripture enlivened his spirit and changed his life. What he had been so struggling to attain in his own strength, was offered freely by God’s grace and received by simply faith.
Martin’s newfound faith and its liberating message caused him to rejoice. Martin, the pastor, began to share with his congregation what the Lord had revealed to him. It began to change their lives too. Martin began sharing the message of “The just shall live by faith” far and wide. Most importantly, as far as the Church and history are concerned, Martin began to share his new spiritual insight with his Catholic colleagues and superiors. As Martin began living out his newfound faith, he began questioning some of the practices and teachings of the Church. So much of what the Church had degenerated into doing had no scriptural basis. Indulgences, purgatory, and so much more just weren’t based on scripture. So much of what the Church was imposing on its people was more extortion than edifying. Martin began pointing out the scriptural inconsistencies of the Catholic Church, its past pontiffs and priests and present Pope. The religious establishment didn’t receive well what Martin was telling them. Martin wanted revival and correction and adherence to scripture. The Catholic Church wanted power, and buildings, and control of the masses of people. In retrospect, Martin went up against an age-old issue in the Church. That issue was one of whether God and His word or people and their words of tradition were going to be the center and control of the Church.
This conflict and confrontation between Martin and the Roman Catholic Church came to a head at the assembly known as The Diet of Worms (April 17th, 1521). This was not a meal of worms, but an arranged meeting aimed at confronting Martin and demanding he recant what he had been teaching about the just living by faith. Martin was lured to the meeting thinking he would be given an opportunity to debate his position before the Church. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The lead spokesperson for the Church and establishment was Johann von Eck, an assistant to the Archbishop of Trier and spokesperson for Emperor Charles V. When Luther arrived, on a table in front of the entire assembly were copies of his writings piled high. He was asked if he still agreed with what he had written against the Church. He was confronted for his “heresy,” and given twenty-four hours to recant. Luther took seriously his place in the Church and what God had called him to do. He spent the night in prayer and consulting with others about his position. It was a night not of doubt, but of surrender to God and His word.
The next day when Luther came before the assembly he apologized for his harsh tone and hard words found in some of his writings. But as far as the content was concerned, Luther could not and would not recant. With respect but strong courageous faith, on May 25th, 1521, Martin Luther made his historic stand with the words, “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can not and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Luther was able to escape and from this point on Martin Luther was taken in and protected by those who agreed with his inspired cause. The Lord protected him. The Church did split. Sometimes splits in the Church are necessary to maintain the Church as the “Pillar and ground of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For there must be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19). The Bible states, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). At this point in history, it wasn’t Martin Luther who was causing the division in the Church, it was those in the Church who had strayed from God’s word. Truly the Church had degenerated into a self-serving carnal stupor perfectly described with the words, “For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18). Martin Luther was God’s instrument to confront this and try to correct this. When the Church and its hierarchy of corrupt officials refused to repent and return to God’s word, a decision presented itself to everyone. After that meeting, everyone had to choose, like Luther, to either side with the Spirit-inspired Holy Scripture or a Church administered by religious politicians seeking to build their own empires. The rest is history. Where do you stand?
A disclaimer. I would be remis if I didn’t include in my words a disclaimer regarding Martin Luther. Martin Luther was greatly used by God to bring reformation to a church that had strayed far away from the word of God. He was instrumental in reestablishing through Five Solas or fundamental foundation stones of the Church (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratias, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria). Martin Luther was indeed a man with a steel backbone and heart full of faith, boldness, and courage. But these same characteristics of forcefulness and boldness led to Luther making indefensibly harsh and unloving statements toward Jews later in his life.
I mention this here especially considering the October 7th terror attack on Israel. Yes, Martin Luther was greatly used by God to bring reformation to the Church, but later in life he let prejudice and frustration drive him to unloving words. We are to speak God’s truth, but always in love (Ephesians 4;15). Anything done separate from love is worthless. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Toward the end of his life, the loveless words penned and spoken by Luther became a terrible counterweight to his earlier achievements. The loveless Words spoken by Luther against Jews were later used as canon fodder for the likes of Hitler and the Nazis and others in history who used those words to justify and paint Church approval on their attempts to exterminate Jews through the Final Solution and genocide.
God’s imperfect instruments. Martin Luther’s persecution and targeting of Jews later in his life was itself contrary to scripture (e.g. Jeremiah 31; Romans 11). What do we do with such a contradiction? We learn a mighty lesson through this contrast. We learn Martin Luther was an imperfect man. But being imperfect does not disqualify a person from being used by God. We are all imperfect. “All fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But the fact is, our imperfections are one of the qualifications for being used by God. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were imperfect (e.g. Genesis 14-50). Gideon was imperfect (e.g. Judges 6). David was imperfect (e.g. 2 Samuel 11-12). Peter was imperfect (e.g. Galatians 2). Paul and Barnabus were imperfect (Acts 15:36-41). They and we, all of us, are imperfect. God works out His perfect plans through imperfect people. And that’s alright. Why is it alright? Because when God works out His perfect plans through imperfect people, He gets the glory, not us. “Neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:7). You can stand on that truth.
“Here I Stand” are famous words spoken by Martin Luther as he stood against a wayward Church that had strayed far from scripture. These words should cause us to consider Where do I stand? Where do you stand? Will we settle for imperfect wallowing in the mire of our own efforts in life? Will we settle for seeking God on our terms or will we submit to His terms? Will we settle for the insecurity of religion and self-efforts? Or will we receive through faith the gift of God’s secure salvation and eternal life by His gracious gospel provision? I pray this teaching helps you answer those questions and settle your salvation once and for all.
Martin Luther was greatly influenced by the short letter of Paul to the Galatians. Luther referred to it endearingly as “My Katie von Bora,” a reference to his beloved wife. Luther loved his wife. He was a family man who had three sons and three daughters. For him to refer to Galatians in terms relating to his cherished wife tells us he cherished its contents. If we want to know where he stood and where we should stand, that is a good place to start. So I invite you to consider an overview of the main points of Galatians as a challenge to stand on its truth.
First, Paul’s message in Galatians was inspired; supernaturally received from God. Paul opened his letter and emphasized the point that the message in Galatians was from God not people:
Galatians 1:1 (NKJV) – Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead),
Galatians 1:11–12 (NKJV) – 11 But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
When we consider the contents of this letter, we are considering God’s truth. These are heaven sent words filled with heaven sent truth. This truth can set us free from the self-flagellations of religion. This truth can open the door to an assurance of your eternal destination and life in the Spirit now. Pay attention, these words of Galatians are from God’s heart to yours.
Second, Galatians is a letter about the gospel. This letter is about the “Gospel.” The word “gospel” means good news. The gospel is clearly laid out in the opening verses of the letter when Paul writes:
Galatians 1:3–5 (NKJV) – 3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Gospel is good news because by a gift of God’s grace we can have peace with God. God’s “grace” (Greek charis) is best understood by the acronym God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense or God’s Resources At Christ’s Expense. All we need to know we are heaven bound and secure in our eternal destiny, is provided by God’s GRACE and received by faith in Jesus. Faith is not a “work” (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is simply our use of God’s image in us in that He gives each person the capacity to reason and make decisions (cf. Genesis 1:26; Isiah 1:18).
Good news implies there is some bad news to be saved from. The bad news is that “our sins” separate us from God. In the Old Testament it states:
Isaiah 59:1–2 (NKJV) – Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. 2But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.
Sin separates us from God who is Holy. How do we deal with our sins then? In Galatians it states:
Galatians 3:10–13 (NKJV) – 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),
We are not saved by our own efforts but by faith in the singular stupendous effort of Jesus on the cross. Sin brings a curse and because we are sinners, we are under a curse. But salvation from this curse doesn’t come by our hard labor. Salvation was justly purchased for us by Jesus who paid our debt of death for our sins (Romans 6:23). Jesus was made sin for us that when we trust Him as Savior His righteousness can be put to our account. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Glory! Can you stand by faith in that truth? I sure can and do.
Third, we are saved by faith not our works. In Galatians Paul is addressing a problem that was infiltrating the churches in the Galatian region. That problem was Judaizers or religionists who were infiltrating the churches and teaching a false doctrine that a person was saved by their works or own efforts. They were teaching a person is saved by the work of circumcision. They taught that to be forgiven for your sins, you had to do good works or keep laws, to balance out against your bad sins. Works-based salvation directly opposes grace-based salvation. Paul said this was contrary to the gospel and he refuted it with very strong words. He said:
Galatians 1:6–10 (NKJV) – 6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. 10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
There is only one gospel, and it is critically important we stand by it. That gospel is a gospel of grace, not keeping laws. Legalism must be put to death in the light of the cross of Jesus:
Galatians 2:16–21 (NKJV) – 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. 17 “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
Fourth, the Law of God wasn’t given to save us but to lead us to Jesus. You might wonder as did some of Paul’s audience, “Then why did God give us the Law?” God gave the Law to help us see, by our inability to keep the Law, that we could only be saved or forgiven our sins through faith in Jesus:
Galatians 3:22–25 (NKJV) – 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
The Law exposes our utter sinfulness. The Law does this by revealing it impossible for us to keep that Law. Go ahead, try to perfectly keep the Law, any law, you just can’t do it, not in your own strength. The Law helps us to recognize our utter sinfulness, and in that state of sin God reveals to us His gracious provision in Jesus who paid our debt of sin by dying for us on the cross.
Fifth, once we are forgiven for our sins, we aren’t to live by legalistically keeping the Law. If we aren’t saved by keeping the Law, then how do we live after we have been saved from our sins, by keeping the Law? No! The Law is holy, good, spiritual, but we are not (Romans 7:12-14). The problem isn’t with God’s Law. The problem is with us. We aren’t saved by keeping the Law, and we aren’t sustained in our life in Christ by keeping the Law. Once we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, we are given spiritual life by the Holy Spirit who indwells us (Romans 8:11). This is regeneration, spiritual life, eternal life. We live in the Spirit or follow the leading and provision of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
This is what Paul said to some people who tried to live by keeping the Law after they had trusted Jesus as their Savior:
Galatians 3:1–3 (NKJV) – O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?—3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
With these words Paul reminds the Galatians, and us, that we are a product of the work of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Titus 3:4-7). What does life in the Spirit look like?
Sixth, we are to live by the Holy Spirit. When a person repents of their sins and asks God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus, God forgives them, and the Holy Spirit indwells them to give them spiritual life. You see, prior to this the sinner is spiritually dead (i.e. Eph. 2:1-3). But when the sinner repents and trusts Jesus as Savior by faith, they are forgiven their sins, and the Holy Spirit indwells them which is regeneration or spiritual life. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “You must be born again” (John 3).
How do we know if we have been forgiven for our sins, the Spirit is in us, and we have spiritual life? When we are given spiritual life by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are set free from trying to make ourselves righteous by keeping a set of rules or the Law. The two worldviews are diametrically opposed. This is what Paul says at the end of his letter:
Galatians 5:1–15 (NKJV) – Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
7 You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is.
We can’t even let a little bit of this works-righteousness mentality into our life because it will spread like cancer.
11 And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. 12 I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!
The solution to keeping the Law. As we will see in a moment, the Holy Spirit in us bears spiritual fruit in us. This fruit is “love.” It is love produced by the Holy Spirit in and through us that is the way the Law is kept.
13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
If you look at the Ten Commandments through the lens of the love of the Spirit, no one living in such love would break those laws. Live in the love of the Spirit and you will fulfill the Law of God. Love fulfills the Law!
The love of the Spirit is the greatest indication and evidence of genuine salvation. Living in the love of the Spirit leads to fulfilling the Law in life (cf. also Romans 13:10). But more importantly, the love of the Spirit is evidence of our genuine conversion and saved status with God. if the Holy Spirit is in you, you will love. A “loveless” Christian is an oxymoron. Jesus said His disciples would be known by their love for one another (John 13:35).
What is this love like? The love we are speaking of here is not the self-love of the world. This isn’t a love that condones and justifies anything we want to do. Jesus connected His true love with obedience saying, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus said, “How who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).
Later in the New Testament Paul writes, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Notice, it states specifically, “His own love.” God’s love, the love He gives us, is characterized not be self-indulgence but self-sacrifice. God’s love is totally different from the world brand of “love.” And that love of God is poured out into our heart when the Holy Spirit is given to us. “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out int our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). The love of the Holy Spirit is the love of God, and that is in the genuine and true born-again Christian.
The contrast of life is between life in the flesh versus life in the Spirit. Paul described the unrighteous works of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit like this:
Galatians 5:16–25 (NKJV) 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
There is a battle inside us to want to go back and rely on our own strength to keep laws rather than rely on the Holy Spirit. It is a struggle between legalism and life.
The signs of living without the Spirit are “works of the flesh” which are:
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Our human problem is living on our own separate from God. Our problem is one of exalting self and rejecting God. The works of our flesh are brutally sinful. But the person living in the Holy Spirit (or when the Holy Spirit lives in us) will bear fruit of the Spirit which is:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
Notice, in verse twenty-two, “fruit” is singular, not plural. It does not say “fruits” of the Spirit, but “fruit” of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is “love,” and that love is characterized by what follows in that passage.
So that is the truth of God. That is where we should stand. Where do you stand? I know where I stand. I stand by faith in Jesus and His glorious gospel of grace. I live to love in the Spirit. I’m not perfect, but I am being perfected. I pray you will stand there with me and the countless others who stand by faith in Jesus.
The most important decision of your life. It’s important we take these truths to heart. Understand too that indecision is decision. Jesus said, “he who is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30a). Such heaven-sent truth cannot be disregarded or procrastinated on without dire consequences. Paul ends his epistle with some sobering words:
Galatians 6:7–9 (NKJV) – 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
Where will you plant your feet? Will you stand on your own fleshly achievements or trust in Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through you? I ask you, Where do you stand?
Where you stand and with Whom you stand is important. Jesus said:
Matthew 10:32–33 – 32 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.
If you have been moved by God to leave your religious or “good” works efforts to be acceptable to Him, and now want to trust in Jesus and Him alone for forgiveness of sin and eternal life, then here are three simple steps to follow:
- ADMIT/AGREE – Admit you are a sinner and separated from God (Isaiah 59:2; Rom. 3:23). Agree no good works or efforts of yours can save you, but only the grace of God in Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross can (Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:8-9). Agree to turn from your sin to God.
- ASK/ACCEPT – Ask God to forgive your sins; to give you eternal and spiritual life (Acts 2:21). Accept by faith Jesus as your Savior and Lord by the Holy Spirit who will dwell in you (Rom. 8:9; 10:8-9; Jn.1:12; 3; 4:14 Acts 8:37).
- APPLY/ADVANCE – Advance in your walk with the Lord. Bear spiritual fruit (Jn. 7:37-39; 15; Gal. 5). Live out the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17).
 The Church began to refer to itself as “The Roman Catholic Church” around 1208 AD after the Schism or break between “Roman” and Easter Orthodox” segments. Such a designation is an oxymoron since it contradicts the definition of “catholic” which means universal.
 This statement is not limited to the New Testament but is quoted from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk (2:4) and quoted in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38. Justification by faith in Christ is the heart of the gospel of God’s grace.
 Claude T. Stauffer, Stay the Course and Stick with the True Gospel (USA; Xulon Press, 2009 / Amazon Kindle Direct Pub., 2023) p, 34.