The center about which all the petals clustered was the affirmation of the forgiveness of sins through the utterly unmerited grace of God made possible by the cross of Christ, which reconciled wrath and mercy, routed the hosts of hell, triumphed over sin and death, and by the resurrection manifested that power which enables man to die to sin and rise to newness of life. This was of course the theology of Paul, heightened, intensified, and clarified. Beyond these cardinal tenets, Luther was never to go. Richard H. Bainton
Prepare your minds for action. 1 Peter 1:13
Reason, discourse and debate are all natural and necessary components of theology. There will always be those who disdain theology and doctrine, saying such mental exercise only leads to division and confusion, but they will never find support for their view in scripture. The Lord himself says, “Come now, let us reason together.” [Isa 1:18] The psalmist prays for understanding. [Psalm 119:34] Peter challenges his hearers to prepare their minds for action. [1 Peter 1:13] Paul exhorts his readers to separate themselves from the ways of the world by allowing their minds to be transformed. [Rom 12:2] In describing the nature of spiritual conflict Paul writes, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” [2 Cor 10:5] The gospel we love has been delivered to us in an orderly and reasonable form. [Luke 1:1-4] Its truth was delivered in historical events and messages to be known and believed. [1 Cor 15:1-8] The content of that faith has been given to us once and for all in the Bible and we must be diligent in defending it and contending for it against all enemies. [Jude 3]
The mind is not the end; the heart is. But the heart is not changed without hearing and believing the gospel, the word of Christ. [Romans 10:17] We have been trying to show how thinking rightly about God is crucial for right and glorious living. Man’s ways are not God’s ways. [Is 55:11] Only when we think God’s thoughts after him will our lives be blessed by his gracious hand.
The Reformation was birthed and built upon the correction of one man’s idea about God and his ways. Martin Luther was a man tormented by fear. He knew the perfect holiness of God and the abject sinfulness of his heart. Few men or women have ever felt the weight of sinfulness like this one man. By man’s thoughts he sank into the depth of despair. By God’s thoughts he rose to the heights of delight.
The church of his day offered a variety of escapes. First, there was penance and absolution. The point was to remember all of one’s sins and then confess them. But to do this, the soul had to be ransacked and every motive probed. Luther spent six hours on one occasion before a confessor who grew weary and finally exclaimed, “Man, God is not angry at you. You are angry at God. Don’t you know that God commands you to hope?” Whether they were big or small was not the issue. Even the slightest sin forgotten would mean all was lost. His friend and mentor Staupitz, once advised, “Look here, if you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive- parricide, blasphemy, adultery- instead of all these peccadilloes.”
But, Luther knew that not only was his memory weak, his nature was corrupt. Like Adam and Eve, fallen men do not admit their sins and when they are pointed out they blame others. The system was flawed in that it was designed to focus upon particular sins, not change the inner man. Luther found no peace.
Second, there was the mystic way. Because man was weak, he should stop striving and surrender to the love of God. He must stop assertiveness of the “I,” the “me” and the “my.” Instead of striving he should yield and let himself sink into the love of God. The end of the mystic way is the absorption of the creature in the creator, of the drop into the ocean, of the candle flame in the glare of the son. Lost in the vastness of God, striving would cease and peace would come. Luther tried this, and had moments of relief, but eventually, the alienation would return. He was counseled to wait until the feelings returned, but Luther discovered that they would not stay. The enmity between this God and his sinful heart was too great. God was holy, majestic and devastating, a consuming fire.
His friend Staupitz, stepped in to help him. He told Luther he was making Christianity too hard. All he had to do was love God. But Luther thought: How could you love a God who was a consuming fire? How could you love a God who is angry, judging and condemning? Didn’t the psalmist command, “Serve the Lord with fear?” Every time he saw the crucifix he cringed.
The most devastating thought that entered Luther’s mind was that somehow God himself was not just. This view took two avenues. The first, said that God was too distant and removed to be involved or moved by man’s condition. God was arbitrary and bound by no rules and so under no compulsion to reward the meritorious acts of men. The second was like it. Man’s destiny was set and nothing he could do would change it. Some vessels were created for honor, some for dishonor. Luther felt that he was in the latter. He expressed his response to this concept of God by writing: “This appears iniquitous, cruel and intolerable in God, by which very many have been offended in all ages. And who would not be? I was myself more than once driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”
Thank God for godly mentors, who come alongside to help us. Again, Staupitz stepped in. Recognizing in Luther a genuine moral earnestness, religious sensitivity, and unusual gifts, he informed him that he should become the professor of preaching and the Bible at the university. He knew that the best cure for Martin’s dilemma was to study what God said about Himself in the Word. Luther protested saying, the demands of such an endeavor would kill him. Staupitz responded, “Quite all right, God has plenty of work for clever men in heaven.”
Luther gave himself over to the study of the Psalms, then Romans and then Galatians. He discovered in the scriptures a God who was not only just, but one who justifies. One who is not only holy, but one who makes men holy, at a great cost to himself. He saw the Son, who cried, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” Here was the pure one, cut off from God like Luther was. How could that be? The only answer was that in the cross of Christ, God’s anger and God’s love were fused. God could not and would not overlook sin. Instead, in one act of unbelievable mercy and grace, he came and died so that Luther might be made holy and live eternally.
Through the truth received by faith, Luther’s chains flew off. By the study of God’s word and the work of the Spirit in his heart, hope broke in. God was not a fiend but his Friend. Jesus Christ had sealed Luther’s fate upon the cross. Could Luther fully grasp the mystery of salvation? No, but, one thing was sure. A miracle had taken place in Luther’s heart. When by faith his mind and heart lined up with God’s glorious revelation, everything changed. The battle was over. He was safe. The words of his hymn express it: “Thus spoke the Son, ‘Hold thou to me, from now on thou will make it. I gave my very life for thee and for thee I will stake it. For I am thine and though art mine, and where I am our lives entwine, the Old Fiend cannot shake it.”
If you want to know that same kind of glorious liberty, don’t listen to your feelings or man’s opinions. Go to the Source. Open God’s Word. Pray and struggle and think on God’s truth until the light breaks through. It will. You have God’s word on it.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Dr. Gary Rieben. © Give Me That Book. Email: Grieben@aol.com. Website: www.GiveMeThatBook.org. Postal: GMTB | P.O. Box 1045| La Quinta, CA 92247 USA | 619.829.2390
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