Although I disagree that Justification was the main concern, this is a good article.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered that launching point for the Protestant Reformation.
The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. It was, to use Calvin’s language, the main hinge on which religion turns.” And the doctrine of justification is no less important today than it was 500 years ago.
There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.
First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).
Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. Alien doesn’t refer to an E.T. spirituality. It means we are justified because of a righteousness that is not our own. I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die” wrote August Toplady in the old hymn. We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).
Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.
Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. In fact, the Council of Trent from the 16th century Catholic counter-reformation declared anathema those who believe in either justification by imputation or justification by faith alone. But evangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.
Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. In other words, faith is not what God finds acceptable in us. In fact, strictly speaking, faith itself does not justify. Faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, have communion with him, and share in all his benefits. It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved.”
God Almighty owns everything. This is the biblical view: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1); God says, “[E]very beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains (Psa. 50:9-12).
God created mankind in His own image. Man reflects God’s character and order. Just as God owns everything, God delegated the stewardship and dominion of property to His image, mankind (Gen. 1:26-28), and thus humans have the capacity and calling to act as private owners. God planted a special garden—the Garden of Eden—and placed man in it to till it, and to guard its boundaries (Gen. 2:8, 15). When Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s law-order, God kicked them outside of those boundaries, and placed a “no-trespassing” sign in the form of an angelic guardian at their gates (Gen. 3:23-24). Adam and Eve very quickly learned the ins and outs of private property.
This doctrine continued as God’s way of ordering and prospering society, and we see this in the fact that God’s fundamental laws for living—the Ten Commandments—include the prohibition of theft (Ex. 20:15). No man or group of men can take another man’s property—by individual act, legislation, petition, conspiracy, or appeal to the “common good”—in disregard for God’s law. The Old Testament frequently refers to the moving of a neighbor’s landmark (a property corner) in order to increase one’s own property (Deut. 19:14; 27:17; Job 24:2; Prov. 22:28; 23:10; Hos. 5:10). The references forbid or condemn the act as an attack on inheritance and possession (Deut. 19:14).
The same doctrine holds in the New Testament. In the early Church in Acts 5, as many Christians voluntarily sold their goods and gave to the poor among them, one couple sold some land and laid only a portion at the apostles’ feet pretending they had given all. Nevertheless, even for these corrupt-hearted individuals, Peter up-held the doctrine of private property: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” (Acts 5:4). God punished them, not for not giving all, but for lying about what they gave.
Other apostles upheld the doctrine as well: Paul preached against theft (Eph. 4:28), as did Peter (1 Pet. 4:15) and James (Jam. 5:4). Not to mention that Jesus saw the command as quite relevant as well (Matt. 19:18).
The biblical witness is clear: God believes in private property, and He not only desires us but commands us to live by that rule as well. Under this system, our rights and freedoms come from God. No man can take them away. He who tries must answer to the law, and ultimately to God.
Socialism is the belief that individual private property is a bad idea. It is thus an anti-Christian and anti-biblical belief. Socialists believe that governments should own most or all property and distribute it out as government experts, scientists, politicians, or occasionally voters see fit. Under socialism, the State puts itself in the place of God and says, “The earth is the State’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” Under this view, the individual has no protection from his neighbor if his neighbor is in the majority, or if the State somehow deems his neighbor as needful in some way; the State simply uses force to take that individual’s property and give it to someone else. In this sense, the State moves landmarks every day. In this view, the State determines our rights, and gives us our freedoms; here there is no appeal beyond the State.
Socialism is the belief, therefore, that stealing is acceptable as long as another man or group of men says so. Socialism believes in theft by majority vote, or theft by a majority of representatives’ votes in Congress. Socialism is the belief that armed robbery is OK as long as you do it through proxy of the government’s gun. Socialism places man, and ultimately the State, in the place of God. Man becomes owned by other men, instead of by his Maker. Socialism is an entirely humanistic, God-denying, God-usurping belief.
Between these two beliefs—private property and socialism— there exists fundamental conflict. They represent contradictory views of sovereignty, man, law, society, and inheritance. They are fundamentally rival religious systems. Choosing one, you reject the other; service and honor to God, or servitude to fellow men. Either God commands and judges man, or man commands and judges man.”