Luther’s Story: Threatened by a Thunderstorm, Gripped by the Gospel
Martin Luther is arguably one of the most well-known, gospel-impacting people to have lived in the last five hundred years. Even if you don’t realize it, his fingerprints are everywhere in our modern world--they might just be seen in your life through the Baptist church down the street or in the dusty Bible you saw in your last hotel room’s bedside table. Yes, Martin Luther has certainly left an indelible mark.
However, you might be surprised to hear how it all began for young Martin. Take a quick look:
It’s hard to fathom that the acts and life trajectory of such an important figure in our world was determined by such a “random” event. Thankfully, we trust completely in the sovereignty of God and can be sure that there was nothing random about that severe summer thunderstorm in July 1505.
A Monk's Life
That single event literally changed the course of history as 22-year old Martin became an Augustinian monk. He simply thought he would perform menial tasks of washing dishes and scrubbing floors in order that the other brothers could perform the duties of ministry (specifically preaching). However, the lawyer-turned-monk had significant intelligence and communication skills. These were clearly evident to his superiors and they quickly allowed him to function and minister in his gifts. Luther was known and praised for his deep knowledge of the Scriptures and was even referenced as “the living concordance.”
To the outsider looking into Luther’s life, it would seem that he experienced great success as a young monk. His ministry was valued by his peers, superiors, and those whom he served. However, Martin’s heart was filled with significant (if not overwhelming) angst toward this God whom he served wholeheartedly.
The Torment of Holiness
Luther was internally and mentally terrorized because he had a right and biblical understanding of his wretchedness before a holy God. It is recorded that Luther would spend hours upon hours in the confessional obsessing over every little sin and error. At one point, he was rebuked and told not to bother returning to the confessional until he had done something worth confessing. He was desperate to feel God’s love and forgiveness in the midst his humanity’s unrighteousness. Above all else, Luther wanted to know that his salvation was secure. Here he describes his quest for righteousness:
Fearful to Hateful
Martin’s fear of God and his reverence for God’s holiness was a constant torment in light of his awareness of his sin. He wanted to please God but the standard set in the Scriptures was simply too high. He knew that God demanded perfection in order to have fellowship with him. And perfection was simply out of Luther’s grasp. His fear of God turned into self-admitted hatred for this just and seemingly cruel tyrant of a Creator who punished sinners.
Peace at Last: The Embrace of Grace
This peace of heart and mind that Luther so desperately craved came after more than a dozen years of poring over the Bible. The Holy Spirit graciously opened and enlightened the eyes of his heart through the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:
Martin, now in his thirties, experienced the freedom that comes when a soul understands that righteousness is not earned by our works, but rather that it is gifted by a gracious God based on the substitutionary work of his perfect Son Jesus.
Posting of the 95 Theses
In the midst of Luther’s personal wrestlings with God, he had also been thrown into the public spotlight with the posting of his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church in 1517. Unbeknownst to Luther, they had been translated into German (from Latin), reproduced, and distributed. Within two weeks of their posting, his theses had spread like wildfire throughout all of Germany.
And those 95 simple declarations caused quite an uproar.
Convinced and Unmoved
The German reformer stood his ground during every single one of the confrontations with his former church. He never recanted. He had become convinced--even to the point of death--that the Scriptures were true and that they alone were the standard for every human being...even the Pope.
The Protestant Church
After years of exile and study, Martin went on to start a new church, one that was based in the Scriptures: the Protestant Church. Most notably, he held three things in highest esteem: the Bible and the public preaching and hearing of it, the community aspect of church, and using music to praise and worship God.
Not a Perfect Man
While God obviously and unquestioningly used Martin Luther to change the world, this did not preclude his humanity and sinfulness. Scholars and biographers note several areas of struggle and sin in Luther’s life that arose time and time again. Do these hinder God’s work of the gospel through this man? Does his struggle with sin cause irreparable damage to the work of Christ in the world? Be sure to check out our next post in this series on Luther: the Life and Legacy of the German Reformer.
Courtney Cherest currently resides outside of Washington, D.C. and serves as the Communications Director at a local church in the area. She earned her bachelor's degree in biblical studies in 2003.
By God's grace, Courtney has been able to work in communications and leadership with incredible ministries and organizations across the country.