Oct29SunOctober 29, 2017
Tuesday October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of an event that changed the course of world history. Like many important days history, it was an small, ordinary action performed by a relatively normal person that made all the difference because it happened at just the right time. On October 31, 1517, God used the actions of a German monk named Martin Luther to spark the Protestant Reformation and reintroduce to the world the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther was a miserable monk. He hated himself and was terrified of God. He knew that God was holy and punished sin, and he knew that he was a sinner. One of his least favourite verses in the Bible was Romans 1:17, which ends with the phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Martin Luther wanted to live by faith and please God, but in order to do that, he thought, he had to be righteous. So he spent hours every day praying, fasting, studying the Bible, making himself endure physical pain and discomfort, all in an effort to purge himself from sin and become righteous. But nothing worked. He was not righteous and he knew God was not pleased with him.
But one day, after years of this, God opened Luther’s eyes as he was again meditating on Romans 1:17. He realized for the first time that he had been understanding the verse backwards. The point is not that being righteous allows you to live by faith, but the opposite, it is through faith that we are righteous in God’s eyes. Luther finally understood that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his sins were paid for and the righteousness of Christ was credited to him as a free gift, as grace. In his own words (translated from German), "At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I ... began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith… Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”
As Luther continued to grow in his understanding of this salvation by grace through faith in Christ, it brought him into conflict with the Roman Catholic church that taught salvation through religious works. This is what led him, on October 31, 1517 to nail a list of grievances (which he called the 95 theses) onto the door of his church in Wittenberg Germany. Luther only intended to open up a discussion in his local parish, but with the help of the relatively new invention known as the printing press, Luther’s 95 theses were distributed and read all over Europe. Luther’s grievances struck a chord with Europeans who were fed up with the hypocrisy and abuses of the Medieval Roman Catholic church and who did not know the true gospel of Jesus and who were therefore spiritually starved.
This, of course brought him into more conflict with the pope and the Roman Catholic church, who branded him a heretic. This only strengthened Luther’s resolve and helped him understand that he must believe what God’s Word says - not the teachings of any church - and that he must do this all for God’s glory, and not for the glory of the pope, himself, or anyone else.
Martin Luther was far from a perfect man. He was known for being hard to get along with and for his prejudice against those who differed from him. But God used him to reawaken the world to the true gospel of Jesus Christ, which brings salvation to sinners like Martin Luther, you, and me. This gospel is summarized in the five key doctrines of the Reformation, known as the solas, which means the “alones”: salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone to the Glory of God alone. Thanks be to God for so great a salvation and for those who have boldly taught it and lived by it through history.