How the Reformation Radically Reshapes Our View of Grace

Is Grace Like Medicine?

Most Christians at the time of the Reformation thought grace was a kind of medicine. God gives it to us to help us get better from our sickness of sin. After taking the medicine, we are able to do good works that can earn us some favor with God.  

After translating the Psalms and Romans, Martin Luther realized that God’s grace is not like medicine at all. Instead, God’s grace is declaring ungodly people to be “righteous.”

A holy God declares unrighteous people righteous. In other words, we give Jesus our rags and he gives us his riches in a marvelous exchange of sin for holiness. “Grace,” according to the Bible (in the Psalms and Romans), is God’s forgiveness and salvation offered to sinful humanity for free through Jesus Christ. We don’t look within for righteousness; we look outside ourselves—clinging to Jesus Christ through faith.

This marvelous exchange became the heart and soul of Reformation preaching. 

Is Jesus a Judge or a Loving Mediator?

The medieval understanding of Jesus was that he was a distant and fearful judge. People were taught that they received forgiveness from the church. The church and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were the mediators between God and man. Mary took the role of intimacy and was co-mediator with God.

What the Reformation brought back into focus was that Jesus Christ is the loving gift of a loving Father who is our only mediator. Neither the church nor Mary can be the mediator between God and mankind. We can come before God freely and joyfully because Jesus sacrificed himself for us on the altar of the cross. We are no longer separated from God but can come before him through the mediation and intercession of Jesus Christ alone. It’s only through Jesus that we can come before the throne of God to find grace in our hour of greatest need (Heb. 4:16). 

The Reformation re-discovered the loving and Fatherly relationship between God and believers and this relationship radically altered the landscape of church and cultural life afterward. People could go out and fulfill their daily activities and callings in a way that honored God without having to become monks or nuns in the church. All vocations and aspects of daily life could be lived for the glory of God and the love of neighbor.

Photo of Michael Horton

Michael Horton

Michael Horton (@MichaelHorton_) is the Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. The author of many books, including Core Christianity. He lives with his wife Lisa and four children in Escondido, California.

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