Introduction: It is said, “Every hero has a hero.” I think that is true. We are all blessed by those who have gone before and set us an example of what it takes to be “more than conquerors” in the midst of life’s greatest struggles. Even the apostle Paul wrote, “I urge you to imitate me;” [1 Cor 4:16] and, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” [1 Cor 11:1] Hebrews 11 is the Hall of Fame for heroes of faith. No one with an ounce of biblical wisdom would ever suggest that there was something inherent in these men and women that made them worthy of adulation. Paul says it like this, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” [1 Cor 15:10-11]
God has given us these examples to show us how his grace can make any man or woman into a conquering hero, to the glory of God. I want to be used by the Lord to glorify his name in the midst of faith’s greatest battles. That is why I chose to make Martin Luther my focus of study this year. I want to know what transformed this fearful recluse into a fearless reformer. What discovery gave him the motivation and determination to take on the greatest institution of his day and win? What was the source of his inner strength that enabled him to work with joy even though he was constantly targeted for death by men who were convinced they were doing God’s bidding? God is calling men and women to be like Martin Luther today. The battle still rages but sadly the church is largely made up of civilians and spectators. I don’t want to be with that safe and secure crowd. I want to be at the front where King Jesus leads the way. I am not there yet, but I have enlisted. It is my prayer that this study will motivate you to join me by getting off the couch, turning off the TV, by dropping the Wii and picking up the sword of the Spirit. Perhaps God will use the life and faith of Martin Luther to recruit you into his army. I pray that will happen.
Martin Luther: Part One: A Man Captured By the Word of God
“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 will live by faith.” [Rom 1:17]
The early days of Martin Luther gave no clue as to how his latter days would end. The son of a copper miner, he had set out to be a lawyer because of the wishes of his father. In 1502, at the age of 19 he received his Bachelors degree, ranking unimpressively, 30th out of 57 in his class. In January of 1505, he received his Master of Arts at Erfurt and ranked second among 17 candidates. His life took a dramatic turn when he was caught in a thunderstorm and thrown to the ground by a bolt of lightning. In fear he cried, “Help me St. Anne; I will become a monk.”
So, five days later he entered the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits of Erfurt. Years later he would call that decision a flagrant sin- “not worth a farthling,” because it was done out of fear and against his father’s wishes. His father made those feelings clear, saying, “God grant that you may not have taken for a sign from heaven what was merely a delusion of the devil.” But, given his great fear of God and his feeling of sinfulness at the time, it was the only thing he could do. Luther’s decision is an illustration of how God can use our worst “mistakes” and, by his sovereign grace, turn them around for our good and his glory.
He spent his days in the monastery in a desperate attempt to appease an angry God with his good works. He once said, “If I could believe that God was not angry with me, I would stand on my head for joy.” He went to his cell and practiced the harshest of disciplines to try and earn the righteousness this great and powerful God demanded. He later confessed, “If ever a monk could attain heaven by his monkish works I should certainly have been entitled to it.”
Everything changed when Luther began to study the Bible. There were not many Bibles in his day because they were produced by hand. The places of higher learning were captured by scholasticism and the influence of Aristotle. The head of Luther’s monastery had never even read a Bible. The Church was ordered more by the traditions of men and lust for power and money than by a passion to honor Christ and his word. Salvation was made the exclusive possession of the Church to be doled out for a price. There never was a time when salvation was secure. There was always more works to perform.
That is why Luther suffered. He did the works but found no satisfaction or relief. “I tortured myself almost to death,” he said, “in order to procure peace with God for my troubled heart and agitated conscience, but surrounded with thick darkness, I found peace nowhere.” Luther was familiar with Paul’s declaration, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” [Rom 1:18] One phrase hung over his head like the sword of Damocles: “the righteousness of God.” He wrote later: “I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry at God.”
In desperation, he determined to “beat upon Paul” until he might understand what Paul was demanding. Day and night he meditated upon this key text: “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 will live by faith.” [Rom 1:17] Then, by the mercy of God, he suddenly understood the glorious truth. He wrote later. “I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, ‘In it righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Salvation did not come by penance or sacraments or indulgences or decrees of the Pope. Righteousness was a gift from God that was offered to sinners through the atoning death of Jesus Christ upon the cross. The righteousness of God was received by faith, not works.
That one verse became the foundation of the Reformation. Martin Luther recovered the good news that had been covered over by the pride of men. God does by grace what man cannot do. That truth freed Martin and the whole Church of Jesus Christ from the fruitless burden of endless and worthless strivings. From the moment the Spirit made it clear to his heart, it became a precious truth that Luther loved, declared and was willing to die to protect. Although it appeared that he stood alone, he did not. God had called him for such a time as this.
If “justification by faith” was the truth that restored precious liberty, it was Luther’s dependency on “Scripture alone” that restored ultimate authority. God spoke clearly and powerfully in his Book. For Luther, it stood alone in judgment over church councils and papal decrees. In 1545, the year before he died, Luther declared his unqualified trust in God’s “external Word”: “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.”
It was just one passage from that Book that broke the power of the Enemy and set Christianity free. If you are bound by sin and the traditions of men, just one passage from that Book can set you free too. “Let the man or woman who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.” Pound upon its truth until it yields its truth to your soul. It will make you into a man or woman of faith, of confidence and boldness. Christ Jesus Himself will speak and give you freedom, the freedom to know him, love him and declare him to the world. Who knows what great reformation will begin because you heard Jesus Christ speak a word to you in his precious, authoritative Word!
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