Martin Luther (1483–1546)
Still doubting himself and his faith (how can a righteous God accept a sinful man), Luther was encouraged to visit Rome, where due to its majesty, his faith might be restored. but It was during this trip to Rome that Luther became disillusioned with the Roman Catholic church. It was due to the corruption he saw there that he began to question the Roman church’s authority. He returned to Wittenberg to teach, and through his study of Romans, particularly Rom. 1:17 (For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith) Luther came to the knowledge of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.
How sinful man can be justified before a holy God, became the foundation of Luther’s teaching, as well as the foundation of his opposition to the Roman Catholic church, and on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. These 95 statements were not intended for public distribution, but were instead, intended solely for academic and theological debate. They were, unfortunately, not received as intended. A major element of conflict between Luther and the Roman Church was primarily due to his public stand against the abuse of indulgences (the buying and selling of God’s grace). Luther also denied the supremacy of the pope as well as the infallibility of general councils, and instead, stressed sola scriptura—Scripture alone as the authority for Christian Faith and practice.
In 1520 Luther wrote three treatises, a mission statement for reform (ISBN: 0800616391). The Freedom of the Christian: justification should effect one’s existence in society. Christians should not only serve their neighbors, but they should do so out of love and gratitude for Christ. Luther was “Missional” before being missional was cool. The Appeal to the German Nobility: this dealt with the wealth and power of the Roman church. The Babylonian Captivity: in this, Luther discussed the Roman sacramental system, showing that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only valid sacraments of the church as instituted by Christ. In response, Pope Leo X issued a Bull of Excommunication against Luther accusing him of heresy. In April of 1521 Martin Luther stood before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and other political and religious leaders, at the Diet of Worms. Luther was tricked into thinking this would be a debate, based on differences in the interpretation of Scripture, but was instead an inquisition to answer charges of heresy. During the trial, when demanded that he recant his teachings and writings, Luther declared, “I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Luther understood that the Bible was the only infallible and inspired authority regarding Christian faith, practice, and salvation, and because of this reality, he said, “The Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel” (see Gal. 1:6-9).
The major turning point in Luther life was his understanding that God justifies sinners by imputing to them the righteousness of Christ, and that man’s righteousness, as based on his own works, are at best filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Justification is God’s declaration and promise of righteousness, reconciliation, and the forgiveness of sins because of the person and work of Christ. Jesus earned for us the favor of God, and defeated sin, death, and the devil. Therefore, in Christ, we may be confident in our standing with the Father, even though we still sin. Luther defined this as simul iustus et peccator, “at once justified and a sinner.”
Martin Luther once recounted a dream he had. In the dream there was a book where all Luther’s sins were written. The devil spoke to Luther, “Martin, here is one of your sins, here is another,” pointing to the writing in the book. Then Luther said to the devil, “Take a pen and write, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.’ ” See 1 John 1:7 (Water, M. (2001). Bible Promises made easy. The Made Easy Series (23). Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.). Toward the end of Luther’s life, his lecturing and writing only increased, and in God’s sovereignty, his itinerary brought him back to the place of his birth. It was in Eisleben that Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546.
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