“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” – John Newton
October 31, 2017 is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In honor of this important date, I offer these devotional thoughts on “Grace Alone.”
Roman Catholic dogma, to this day, teaches the doctrine of the Treasury of Merit. It basically works like this: in heaven there is a balance sheet and all your sins are on the debit side of the sheet and your good works are on the credit side. When you die you have to go to purgatory until the sheet is balanced in favor of credits. Because sins are so grave a debit, it will take a long time in purgatory to purge your sins and open the door to heaven. Saints, however, go straight to heaven because of their lack of sin and abundance of good works. Because they don’t need all the credit they’ve built up, it’s deposited into this Treasury of Merit, where the credits can be drawn upon for oneself or one’s dead relatives. Prayers for the dead and masses said for the dead can shorten a person’s time in purgatory, drawing on this Treasury.
Martin Luther saw it differently. Salvation is by grace through faith, not by works of merit. Grace, itself, means “unmerited love.” Grace is available to us, not based on our prayers or the prayers of others, nor on our giving to the church or someone else giving to the church on our behalf. Grace is available because of the merit of Christ and Christ alone. The Church does not function as a grace dispenser.
God the Father, because of God the Son, through God the Spirit, ministers his grace to us. Our decision is about whether or not we receive and cooperate with the work of God’s grace in our lives. We do this through faith. We absolutely do good works, but not as a means of earning extra credit. We perform good works out of the overflow of gratitude and thanksgiving we have for God’s goodness.
As we celebrate the Reformation, let’s be open to God’s continued reformation project of reforming and conforming us to the image of his Son by the power of his Spirit.