What Do You Do For A Living?

What Do You Do For A Living?

“What do you do?”

That question intimidated Joshua Millburn. It wasn’t that he had a bad answer. He enjoyed his job as a regional manager and he liked the people he worked with. He earned a great salary doing something that gave him money, respect, and outlets for his talents.

The problem was the question. “On the surface, it seems like an ordinary question, one we ask each other every day . . . so we have something—anything!—to talk about,” he wrote cynically. But there was more to it than that.

“Sadly, what we’re actually asking . . . is: How do you earn a paycheck? How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status? And based on that status, where do I fall on the socioeconomic ladder compared to you? Am I a rung above you? Below you? How should I judge you? Are you worth my time?”

For Joshua, the question and its implications kept pushing him to compare himself to others and reminding him that he was being judged by others too. To free himself from a deepening depression, he decided that the only solution was to free himself from conventional work. He quit his job, gave away many of his possessions, and became a writer and blogger advocating a minimalist lifestyle.

Maybe you aren’t ready to change everything like Joshua did, but you’ll probably agree that, for better or worse, work is one of the biggest elements in your life. If you have a job you probably spend most of your waking hours working, getting ready for work, or commuting to and from your workplace. The activities you do most often are the ones you do at your job. The people who take up most of your time and attention are probably not your family and friends, but your boss, your clients, or your coworkers.

And the real problem is even more than the amount of time, isn’t it? The question What do you do? is what our culture uses to define ourselves and other people—to determine Who are you? How valuable are you? Many of us see work as a key part of our identity. Our work makes us feel useful—or not, which is why many unemployed and retired people can fall into despair. Our work can make us feel successful or worthwhile, not just in the moment, but in the whole trajectory of our life—or not. In a culture that says you can do anything you set out to do and the door is open to achieve all your dreams, it’s hard not to believe that when things go well, it means you’re really worth something, and when things go wrong, it means something is wrong with you.

As a result, work makes up more of our identity than it was ever meant to—and that is not doing most of us much good. We are offered lots of conflicting advice about how to get the most out of our work life. Some people say that work is straightforward—find a career that will make you a lot of money and climb the corporate ladder. Others say that corporate careers are stifling—real work is about finding your passions. Money doesn’t matter as long as you are in control of your life and enjoy what you’re doing. Advice from Christian sources sometimes draws from one or both of these beliefs, or tells you that your only legitimate work option involves some sort of religious ministry.

What we often fail to see is that God can redeem our understanding of work, whether we’re sitting in an office or picking up the garbage—or even if we can’t find work at all. It is a perspective on work and identity that finds value in work, no matter what kind it is, yet keeps work from having too much power over us as we find our value and identity in Christ. God’s Word gives us a framework to think about what we do for a living and how it relates to him. Even more than that, the Bible shows us how to find our value and identity in Christ rather than in our work.

This is an excerpt from my minibook, What Do You Do for a Living?, which you can get here.

Trinity Sunday: Objects & Agents of Grace

Trinity Sunday: Objects & Agents of Grace

This posts adapted from my sermon on Trinity Sunday (June 15, 2014) at The Cathedral Church of Saint Luke.

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday is one of the principal feast days in The Episcopal Church: Easter Day, Ascension Day, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany. Most feast days are about events connected to God’s redemptive plan (birth of Christ, Magi worship Jesus, crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus Ascension, outpouring of the Holy Spirit). But today is about God specifically.

Rusty Old Switch

Let me tell you a story as an angle in to what we will focus on this morning. Just bought a house and moved in the past few days. Under the break box is a rusty smaller box that looks like a timer or switch or something. I fiddled with it a few days ago, flipping it on and off to find out what it did. It seemed to be a useless old fixture.

The next day as we were moving some things in I noticed that a few things weren’t working. First, I couldn’t get the sprinklers to come on and then the garage door wouldn’t work and then the pool started turning green because the pool filter hadn’t bee running.

I called the couple we bought the house from. They explained that I must have turned off the switch for all these things I needed. That rusty old switch gave power to all these very important functions I needed, especially the pool filter. I had my two little girls coming over the next day and they were excited about the pool. I couldn’t have them swimming in algae.

I now know the significance of that rusty old switch and now I check it all the time. If something goes wrong, I run over to see if it’s related to the switch.

That’s kind of like the doctrine of the Trinity for us. It can be something we take for granted or even dismiss as “rusty” or “old” or “not useful,” but the reality is that the Trinity is the heart of what that we celebrate every Sunday and all the benefits of being adopted into God’s family. That’s why it is the topic of Article 1 of the 39 Articles.

Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity

What is the Trinity and why is the doctrine important? God is one. God has one mind, one plan, one will, one nature, one essence, one Being. God is one and eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and HS. That is the Xn teaching on the nature of God. That is what “trinity” means. It is “tri” “unity”. This is what Tertullian was communicating when he created the word “Trinity”, which isn’t in the Bible but the teaching sure is. He was saying there is tri-unity: which is that God is one but three persons and three persons working together with one will, one nature, one mind. These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature. While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical.

Within God there is both unity and diversity: unity without uniformity, and diversity without division.  The Athanasian Creed (circa. ad 500) says it like this: “We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity; we distinguish among the persons, but we do not divide the substance. … The entire three persons are co-eternal and co-equal with one another, so that … we worship complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”

Our focus on Trinity is not just talking about the metaphysical, eternal understanding of the nature of God. But the Bible also talks about what the Trinity means for us and how we encounter God. Let’s look at two of these.

We are objects of grace and agents of grace. The order matters too. We are first object and then agents. Being an agent doesn’t make you an object.

Objects of Grace

First, we are OBJECTS of the Trinity’s grace The doctrine of the Trinity is most fully realized in the NT where the Father, Son, and Spirit are seen accomplishing redemption. We see this clearly in 1 Peter 1:2: “To those who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, and for obedience to Jesus Christ for sprinkling his blood.” Our salvation is triune in the sense that the Father plans redemption of the world, the Son accomplishes redemption by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and the Holy Spirit applies redemption to us in our hearts and lives.

We worship not only the complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, but we worship because the Triune God was fully active in our rescue and redemption. Redemption of sinful humans is accomplished through the distinct and unified activity of each person of the Godhead. Listen to Heb 9:14: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Or  2 Cor 13: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

This is “grace upon grace.” This is the unconditional overwhelming love of God.

My father taught me the word “unconditional.” I remember him saying, “I love you unconditionally.” I thought he was taking about Air Conditioning. Since we lived in FL, I knew AC was important and figured it as a good thing. But I finally asked what “unconditional” meant. He explained that there was nothing I could do for him to love me any more and nothing I could do for him to love me less…ever.

That’s when I learned that love begets love. You go where you are loved. I was compelled to be around him lots and to obey him. His love for me motivated my loyalty and love for him.

And this applies to us as we relate to God. We are objects of grace and we get to be and are called to be agents of the Trinity’s grace

Agents of Grace

This is what our Gospel reading is about: “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.”

This is the Great Commission to Jesus’ disciples and also a picture of our participation. We get to be agents of the very thing we desperately needed. That’s a high calling. It’s a renewal of the original calling in the Garden of Eden to “multiply and have dominion” except now it is both physical and spiritual.

But notice that the commands to do those three things are in between two promises: Jesus has authority and Jesus is with you. You need to know both of these. These promises give us hope and expectation: “I have authority over everywhere, so go everywhere because it’s mine.” We should expect God to act and that our endeavors to be fruitful.

In addition to having authority, he is with you for solace and strength, for pardon and renewal. He is with you always and forever, no matter what. This is covenantal faithfulness and presence.


On this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate that we who were once enemies of God are now reconciled and objects of his grace…but on top of that we even are commissioned to also be agents of that grace to the world.

Let us pray: “Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth: set up your kingdom in our midst. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God: Have mercy on us, sinners. Holy Spirit, breath of the living God: Renew us and all the world. Amen.”


Why Study the Book of Acts?

Why Study the Book of Acts?

In addition to writing the notes on Acts for the Gospel Transformation Bible, I also wrote Acts: A 12-Week Study.

Author and Purpose

Acts is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Both were written by Luke, a physician who traveled with the apostle Paul. Luke’s purpose for writing his Gospel (see Luke 1:3–4) applies to Acts as well: to give an “orderly” account of the early church after Christ’s resurrection. Acts is a historical account of how the resurrection of Jesus changes everything through the birth of the early church.

Geographical Expansion 

Acts is the story of God’s grace flooding out to the world. Nothing 
is more prominent in Acts than the spread of the gospel. Jesus promises
a geographic expansion at the outset (1:8), and Acts follows the news of his death and resurrection as it spreads from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the faraway capital of Rome.

This is why Acts 1:8 is a key verse to understanding all of Acts: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”


The preaching of Jesus’ death and resurrection is central in Acts. The Greek verb for “preach the gospel” (euangelizo) occurs more in this book than in any other in the New Testament. About a third of the book of Acts consists of speeches, and most of these are speeches of Peter or Paul proclaiming the gospel. The good news of the salvation accomplished in Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit extends to the “ends of the earth” through preaching.

God is central to the gospel’s expansion. He is at the heart of the gospel message, the news that reconciliation with the Father is now possible through Jesus Christ. God the Holy Spirit is responsible for the growth of the church and its remarkable expansion.

God’s Passionate Pursuit

In Acts, “grace” is a parallel for “the gospel” or “salvation.” Jesus’ message is summarized as “the word of his grace,” believers are said to have received “grace” or to be “full of grace,” and they are challenged to continue in “grace.” The missionaries in Acts proclaim the grace of God, and it is through this grace that people are able to respond with faith.

Acts reveals God’s passionate pursuit of his people, beginning with his followers in Jerusalem, expanding to Samaria, then to the rest of the world. By the end of the book we see Paul living in Rome “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).

The gospel draws people in, constitutes them as the church centered on the grace of Jesus, and then sends them out in mission to the world. The new group of believers is marked by the Holy Spirit, who creates such a distinctive community that others are drawn in, experiencing God’s grace. At the same time, they take the gospel message to new people and new lands, making God’s grace known to the ends of the earth.

Barriers, Weakness, Opposition, and Persecution

The gospel spreads despite barriers of geography, ethnicity, culture, gender, and wealth. Many of these barriers appear so inviolable that when the gospel is preached to a new segment of society, riots ensue. But Luke makes clear that no one is beyond the scope of God’s saving power, nor is anyone exempt from the need for God’s redeeming grace.

In Acts, the gospel expands not through human strength, but through weakness, opposition, and persecution. Demonic forces, worldly powers and authorities, governmental opposition, language and cultural barriers, intense suffering and bloody persecution, unjust imprisonment, unbelief, internal disunity, and even shipwrecks and snakes all threaten to slow down the gospel’s advance. But opposition and suffering do not thwart the spread of Jesus’ grace; rather, they only fuel it.

Acts and the Rest of the Bible

Acts shows that the new Christian movement is not a fringe sect, but the culmination of God’s plan of redemption. What was seen only as shadows in the Old Testament, God reveals finally and fully through Jesus Christ. The book of Acts does not primarily provide us with human patterns to emulate or avoid. Instead, it repeatedly calls us to reflect upon the work of God, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, establishing the church by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel’s expansion is the culmination of what God has been doing since the beginning. Acts consistently grounds salvation in the ancient purpose of God, which comes to fruition at God’s own initiative. This reveals God to be the great benefactor who pours out blessings on all people. Even the opportunity to repent is God’s gift.

God’s Hospitality

God’s Hospitality

I was recently a special guest on the White Horse Inn podcast for a four-week series, God’s Hospitality. We explored the them of feasting from Genesis to Revelation. After eating the forbidden fruit, humanity was cast into sin and death. As Scripture unfolds, we discover God’s gracious plan of redemption that culminates in the great feast at the end of the ages. We who were strangers and enemies of God are welcomed to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

  1. God’s Hospitality
  2. Avoiding the Feast
  3. Feasting with God
  4. Sharing in God’s Hospitality
The Church and Women at Risk

The Church and Women at Risk

Lindsey, my wife, wrote this article—“The Church and Women at Risk”— for the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible. This article is relevant for October being designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The entire article can be downloaded, but here is an excerpt:

The Christian church has, at its best, been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful witness for the gospel. By upholding the dignity of all human life as the image of God, and by tangibly expressing the biblical ethic of personhood that flows from it, the church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations by welcoming the weak and powerless to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, many victims who reach out to churches in times of need receive blame, disbelief, suspicious questions, bad advice, platitudes, and shallow theology instead of care and compassion. Rather than pat answers, victims need practical victim advocacy full of biblical and theological depth.

Churches have a great opportunity to offer victims of violence love, safety, patience, and counseling. Caring for and responding to women at risk is an opportunity for Christians to take the gospel to those who are most in need, provide an alternative community centered on Jesus to the marginalized, and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to the epidemic of violence against women is a way the church can follow the charge of James to practice “pure religion” ( James 1:27) by caring for vulnerable women.


Brennan Manning On God’s Love

Brennan Manning On God’s Love

Here is the text:

“The compassion of Jesus is the compassion of Almighty God, and Jesus says to your heart and mind, “Don’t ever be so foolish as to measure my compassion for you in terms of your compassion for one another. Don’t ever be so silly as to compare your thin, pallid, wavering, moody, depending on smooth circumstances human compassion with mine, for I am God, as well as man.” When you read in the Gospels that Jesus was moved with compassion, it is saying that His gut was wrenched, His heart torn open, and the most vulnerable part of his being laid bare.  The ground of all being shook, the source of all life trembled, the heart of all love burst open, and the unfathomable depths of the relentless tenderness was laid bare. Your Christian life and mine don’t make any sense unless in the depth of our beings we believe that Jesus not only knows what hurts us, but knowing, seeks us out whatever our poverty, whatever our pain. His plea to His people is, “Come now, wounded, frightened, angry, lonely, empty, and I’ll meet you where you live. And I’ll love you as you are, not as you should be, because you’re never going to be as you should be.” Do you really believe this? With all the wrong turns you made in your past the mistakes, the moments of selfishness, dishonesty and degraded love? Do you really believe that Jesus Christ loves you? Not the Person next to you, not the church, not the world. But that He loves you—beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity. That he loves you in the morning sun and in the evening rain. Without caution, regret, boundary, limit. No matter what’s gone down, He can’t stop loving you. This is the Jesus of the Gospels.”


Brennan Manning (April 27, 1934 – April 12, 2013) was a writer and speaker who was known mostly for his full-throttle proclamation of the good news of the unconditional love of God. He wrote many popular and influential books, including The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, Signature of Jesus, Ruthless Trust, The Wisdom of Tenderness, and others. His final book, was his memoir, All is Grace.

Ray Rice’s Domestic Abuse Saga: Why Not Leave Him?

Ray Rice’s Domestic Abuse Saga: Why Not Leave Him?

This article originally appeared in Christianity Today.

Questioning the victim takes focus away from the real problem: the abuse.

Football fans turned their attention to the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens on Monday, after TMZ released a video of Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée in a casino elevator. The league ultimately suspended him indefinitely, and the team terminated his contract.

After the incident back in February, Rice was charged with assault, and video from outside the elevator showed him dragging her unconscious body. Without the hard evidence of his attack, though, he had initially only been suspended two games.

This high-profile case provides an opportunity for us to consider our response to domestic violence, which can often seem too little, too late.

Ray Rice’s now-wife Janay Palmer Rice, who did not press charges, says her husband’s punishment and the media attention over the case feels like a horrible nightmare. She hates having “to relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day.”

Like many survivors of domestic abuse, deep down, she may be asking, “Is it my fault?” They assume they did something to spur their abusers on, that they were too passive or too demanding, or that they are somehow to blame for the abuse.

Yet, research on domestic violence reveals that a woman’s behavior actually has no bearing on the abuse. Psychologists Neil Jacobson and John Gottman say it plainly: “There was nothing battered women could do to stop the abuse except get out of the relationship.”

Unfortunately, victims not only blame themselves, but are also blamed by the perpetrator and society. Social psychology researchers have found that we hold prejudices against domestic violence victims. These negative stereotypes make victims feel socially derogated, which can prolong their substantial psychological and emotional distress.

The common question of “If it’s so bad, why don’t you leave?” can further this sense of stigma and victimization, since it often puts the responsibility on the victim, the one experiencing abuse. Countless people have directed that question at Janay Palmer Rice, who married Ray Rice in June and is still with him. The hashtag #WhyIStayed has been trending in response.

This is an important question; however, focusing on the abuser’s behavior—rather than the woman’s response to his behavior—is crucial for survivors to overcome any feelings of guilt for what has happened to them. Our hope is that people will instead begin asking, “Why does he choose to abuse?”

While characteristics vary from person to person, all abusers share one thing in common: they choose to abuse deliberately. They may blame their behavior on their partners, an abusive childhood, stress, alcohol problems, their cultural background, financial problems, or their personalities.

Others aid in this false claim by assuming violence and abuse only happen because the abuser isn’t able to control his behavior. Others believe abusers do what they do because they were abused as a child, or that their behavior is dictated by mental illness. Certainly childhood issues, alcohol, drugs, mental issues, and other health problems may be factors of domestic abuse, but they are not the cause.

The truth is, the only reason an abuser abuses is because he chooses to. Abusers are able to control their behavior—they do it all the time. Just look at how they behave when they are not around their victims.

We know that certain factors intensify an abuser’s desire to abuse, but none of those factors cause abuse. Abusers abuse for one reason: because they want to. Yet, there are no acceptable reasons for a partner to abuse another in an intimate relationship.

That means the abuser is the only one to blame. Of course, he does not want anyone to see it this way. Men who abuse share some common characteristics—and one of these characteristics is to blame-shift. They want others to believe that woman is fault or at least shares some responsibility for the abuse she is receiving. But this is not true.

As Christians react to the pain and suffering of women who are abused, we should meditate on God’s love and care for women revealed on the Bible. But God’s love should do more than just make us feel better—it should lead us to imitate His care for those hurting, take action against evil toward the vulnerable, and pray for God’s peace and salvation to cover the earth.

Those suffering abuse need to know that God sees their suffering and that God cares about them and hears their cries and prayers. He cares for them so much that He wants them safe and delivered from threat and violence. But even beyond physical safety, God wants them to heal from the many ways they’ve been hurt and wounded.

We believe that the deepest message of the ministry of Jesus and the Bible is the grace of God to all of us because we are all broken people in a broken world. Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness.


To Those Suffering Domestic Abuse

If you are experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal abuse from a partner, spouse, family member, etc., you can create a personalized safety plan.

No matter what kind of abuse you have experienced, there is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing you think that makes you deserving of it. There is no mistake you could have made and no sin you could have committed to make you deserving of violence.

You do not deserve this. And it is never your fault.

You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. You are not damaged goods, forgotten or ignored by God, or “getting what you deserve.”

But you are created in the image of God. You should be treated with dignity, love, and respect, but instead you are or were the victim of abuse and violence, and it was wrong. You were sinned against.

God knows and sees you in your experience of violence and abuse, He loves you through it all, and He greatly desires your safety and protection.
God has not forgotten you. He grieves with you. And we hope that knowing this will embolden you to be honest with both Him and others, and know that it is courageous—not shameful—to reach out for support.

God says to you clearly, it is not your fault. You were made for more than this. And it is His great desire to see you safe, healed, and made whole.

Does the Bible Say Women Should Suffer Abuse and Violence?

Does the Bible Say Women Should Suffer Abuse and Violence?


The Bible does not say that a woman must stay in an abusive marriage.

Tragically, at least one in four women experiences abuse from her partner at some point in her adult life. And tragically, that rate is no different in Christian homes. In fact, research shows that Christian women stay longer and suffer more severe abuse than their non-Christian counterparts. Biblical interpretation on the topic of divorce and separation can cause confusion and allow violence and abuse to continue.

Lindsey and I wrote this article for The Journal of Biblical Counseling. It is written both to the women who experience domestic violence and to those who know of the situation and can offer help: ministers, family, and friends.

For more on domestic abuse, check out Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.


Ninety-Five Theses (Free Bonus Chapter)

Ninety-Five Theses (Free Bonus Chapter)

Want a free bonus chapter from my book Know the Creeds and Councils? At the bottom of this post, there is link to download a PDF of a chapter on Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses that includes discussion questions and further reading.

Historical Background

If people know only one thing about the Protestant Reformation, it is the famous event when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of Wittenberg Chapel in protest against the Catholic Church. Within a few years of this event, the church had splintered into not just the church’s camp or Luther’s camp but also the camps of churches led by theologians of all different stripes.

Luther is known mostly for his teachings about scripture and justification. Regarding scripture, Luther argued that scripture alone (sola scriptura) is our ultimate authority for faith and practice. About justification, Luther taught that we are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and Christ’s merit. We are neither saved by our merits nor declared righteous by our good works. Additionally, we need to fully trust in God to save us from our sins, rather than partly relying on our own self-improvement. 


These teachings were radical departures from the Catholic orthodoxy of Luther’s day. But you might be surprised to learn that the Ninety-Five Theses, even though it was the document that sparked the Reformation, was not about these issues. Instead, Luther objected to the fact that the Catholic Church was offering to sell certificates of forgiveness, and that by doing so, it was substituting a false hope—that forgiveness can be earned or purchased—for the true hope of the gospel—that we receive forgiveness according to the riches of God’s grace.

The Roman Catholic Church claimed that it had been placed in charge of a “treasury of merits” of all of the good deeds that saints had done (not to mention the deeds of Christ, who made the treasury infinitely deep). For those who were trapped by their own sinfulness, the church could write a certificate transferring some of the merits of the saints to the sinner. The catch? These “indulgences” had a price tag.

This much needs to be understood to make sense of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses: the selling of indulgences for full remission of sins intersected perfectly with the intense struggle Martin Luther had experienced regarding salvation and assurance for many years. And it is at this point of collision between one man’s hope in the gospel and the Catholic Church’s denial of that hope that the Ninety-Five Theses can be properly understood.

Content of the Ninety-Five Theses

Luther’s official response to indulgences came in the form of an academic document that he addressed to the local archbishop, who happened to be the same Albert of Mainz who had authorized the campaign. Significantly, Luther penned his grievance—titled “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” but known to posterity as the Ninety-Five Theses—in Latin rather than in the common vernacular. That fact combined with the intended audience and the largely academic tone of the writing indicates that Luther did not write his document for mass consumption. Rather, he intended it to spark a scholarly debate. Regardless, the document was translated into the common Germanic language of Saxony and was reportedly posted on the door of the Schlosskirche (the Castle Church of Wittenberg) on October 31, 1517.

Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses focuses on three main issues: selling forgiveness (via indulgences) to build a cathedral, the pope’s claimed power to distribute forgiveness, and the damage indulgences caused to grieving sinners. That his concern was pastoral (rather than trying to push a private agenda) is apparent from the document. He did not believe (at this point) that indulgences were altogether a bad idea; rather, he believed that they were misleading Christians regarding their spiritual state:

 41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.

 As well as their duty to others:

 43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.

 44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties. [Notice that Luther is not yet wholly against the theology of indulgences.]

 And even financial well-being:

46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.

 Luther’s attitude toward the pope in this document is also surprisingly ambivalent. In later years, he called the pope “the Antichrist” and burned his writings, but here his tone is merely cautionary, hoping the pope will come to his senses. For instance, in this passage he appears to be defending the pope against detractors, albeit in a backhanded way:

51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.

Obviously, since Leo X had begun the indulgences campaign in order to build the basilica, he did not “wish to give of his own money” to Tetzel’s victims. However, Luther phrased his criticism to suggest that the pope might be ignorant of the abuses and at any rate should be given the benefit of the doubt. It provided Leo a graceful exit from the indulgences campaign if he wished to take it.

So what made this document so controversial? Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses hit a nerve in the depths of the authority structure of the medieval church. Luther was calling the pope and those in power to repent—on no authority but the convictions he had gained from Scripture—and urged the leaders of the indulgences movement to direct their gaze to Christ, the only one who is able to pay the penalty due for sin.

Of all the portions of the document, Luther’s closing is perhaps the most memorable for its exhortation to look to Christ rather than to the power of the church:

92. Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Peace, peace,” where in there is no peace.

93. Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “The cross, the cross,” where there is no cross.

94. Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.

95. And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.

In the years following his initial posting of the Theses, Luther became emboldened in his resolve, strengthening his arguments with Scripture. At the same time, the church became more and more uncomfortable with the radical Luther, and in the following decades, the spark that he made grew into a flame of reformation that spread across Europe. Luther was ordered by the church to recant in 1520 and was eventually exiled in 1521.


Although the Ninety-Five Theses does not explicitly lay out a Protestant theology or agenda, it contains the seeds of the most important beliefs of the movement, especially the priority of understanding and applying the gospel. Luther developed his critique of the Catholic Church out of his struggle with doubt and guilt as well as his pastoral concern for his parishioners. Luther longed for the hope and security that only the gospel can bring, and he was frustrated with the structures that were using Christ to take advantage of people and prevent them from union with God. Furthermore, Luther’s focus on the teaching of the Bible is significant, because it provided the foundation upon which the great doctrines of the Reformation found their origin.

Indeed, Luther developed a robust notion of justification by faith and rejected even the notion of purgatory as unbiblical; he argued that indulgences and even hierarchical penance cannot lead to salvation; and perhaps most notable, he rebelled against the authority of the pope. All of these critiques were driven by Luther’s commitment, above all else, to Christ and the Scriptures that testify about him.

The courage and outspokenness that Luther demonstrated in writing and publishing the Ninety-Five Theses also spread to other influential leaders of the young Protestant Reformation.

Today, the Ninety-Five Theses may stand as the most well-known document from the Reformation era. Luther’s courage and his willingness to confront what he deemed to be clear error is just as important today as it was then. One of the greatest ways in which Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses affect us today—in addition to the wonderful inheritance of the five Reformation solas—is that it calls us to thoroughly examine the inherited practices of the church against the standard set forth in the Scriptures. Luther saw an abuse, was not afraid to address it, and was exiled as a result of his faithfulness to the Bible in the midst of harsh opposition.


For more on Ninety-Five These, download this free bonus chapter from Justin S. Holcomb, Know the Creeds and Councils (Zondervan, 2014).