Who was Martin Luther? Well, these things could be said about Martin.
He was born of Christian parents. Because of his many writings, several of which were viewed as heretical by the Church of his time, he was excommunicated and a death sentence was placed on his life.
During his lifetime he accomplished many things; foremost in his own estimation was the translation of the Scriptures into the German language, along with writing two very significant books: the Small and Large Catechisms and The Bondage of the Will.
Most interesting, though, was the life of Martin Luther and his spiritual journey.
From my perspective, the Reformation began with a thunderstorm back in July 1505. Luther was studying to be a lawyer and one day, as he was approaching a village in Saxony Germany, a lightning bolt knocked him to the ground. As he tried to get up, he cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners (Luther's father was a miner and even owned a couple of mines), "St. Anne, help me and I will become a monk!"
He who called upon a saint for help was later to denounce praying to saints; he who vowed to become a monk would later reject monasticism; he who was a devoted servant of the pope would come to accuse the papacy of being the "anti-christ" for it robbed people of the Gospel through its false teachings. His followers would call him "Elijah, the prophet of God" to the people of Germany; his opponents would call him the "son of the devil" and the destroyer of Christendom.
So who was Martin Luther…he was a man who lived in FEAR, especially as he lived in fear of Jesus -- only knowing and believing Jesus to be the great JUDGE who would condemn to hell all those who were not holy in His sight.
Like the other people who were trying to get to heaven, Luther laid hold of every help that the church offered: to be baptized; to take the Lord's Supper often, daily if possible; to do penance, that is, to confess every wrongdoing and to seek His forgiveness; to make pilgrimages to holy places and to view sacred relics; to pray to the saints (Luther turned to twenty-one different saints for help with his sins, three different saints for each day of the week); to purchase a letter of indulgence so that one could be granted the remission of all sins and be restored to the state of innocence that one received at the moment of one's baptism and be relieved from the pains of purgatory; and finally, to live the life of a monk with its vows of poverty, chastity and humility.
Yet, "who can ever do enough" became the resolve of Martin Luther...for no matter how much Luther sought out the help of the church, he still did not have peace inside. HOW CAN ANYONE BE SURE THAT THEY HAVE DONE ENOUGH TO EARN GOD’S GRACE AND FAVOR?
But on one lonely night…a breakthrough occurred. Luther was preparing for a lecture on the Psalms and he came across the phrase: "in Your righteousness, O Lord, deliver me!" Luther was puzzled because he had always understood "righteousness" to be something that God demanded of us -- something that we must do. So Luther began to search the Scriptures for every passage that spoke of "the righteousness of God" and this lead him to Romans 1:16-17:
For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: the righteous shall live by faith.
It was in that text that Luther realized what God was saying to him and to all people. God does not demand this righteousness from the sinner; instead, God gives this righteousness to the sinner by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ. As a result of Luther's faith in this promise, he no longer saw God as an angry judge but as a loving and gracious God.
The indulgence controversy strengthened his belief that the righteous are those who are saved by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone; since how can salvation be purchased by a piece of paper sold by the church?
And it was Luther's theological reflection upon Scripture that caused him to write these selected theses (from the 95 Theses) posted on October 31, 1517:
"When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said "repent," He called for the entire life of a person to be one of repentance!" (Thesis 1)
"Any Christian who is truly repentant enjoys remission of sin and this is given to him or her without letters of indulgences" (Thesis 36)
"The true treasure of the church is the holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God" (Thesis 62)
As a result of that posting, an amazing thing happened: within 30 days all of Germany of was talking about these things...within 90 days all of Europe...and the indulgence revenue was reduced by 80%.
As we move toward our remembrance of October 31, 1517, and the posting of the 95 Theses on the door at Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany, we celebrate and embrace these Reformation "solas":
BY GRACE ALONE...we are saved by grace alone, not of works
BY CHRIST ALONE...for He is the world's only Savior and Redeemer
BY FAITH ALONE...as faith lays hold of the promises of God that the Son has set us free from sin, death and the evil one and that we have eternal life in Him
BY SCRIPTURE ALONE...for God has revealed to us the Good News of our salvation in Jesus Christ in the Sacred Scriptures so that we might know His heart and His love
May you all enjoy a blessed Reformation celebration as we remember His grace and goodness in our lives. May this eternal Gospel be proclaimed "to those who dwell on the earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people" (Revelation 14:6) so that they might believe in Him who is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6).
[Personal note: On October 29th, I will be preaching at a Lutheran Church in South Africa; finally returning to Botswana and South Africa after seventeen years in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa and the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation with our brothers and sisters in Christ there]