So, what were you all up to this past October 31st? Anything special? Most people that I know were doing things like buying candy, eating candy, passing out candy, dreaming about candy…
But I just learned that there was actually something else going on that day too: a celebration of a guy named Martin Luther and what he did in 1517. After all, he did do a very earth shaking thing.
Here’s the summary:
Martin Luther was born in Germany and was soon sent off to some very good schools, full of plans for his future. One day, however, while taking a long and peaceful walk, monstrous, black storm clouds began to gather. He rushed home as fast as he could, but it was already too late. A storm greater and more terrifying than any he had ever seen was crashing all around him. Fearful for his life, Martin Luther cried out to God, promising that if he could only live, he would dedicate his life to being a monk.
When the storm was over and he realized his life was safe, Martin Luther perhaps regretted this panicked promise, but nevertheless, he kept it and went off to join a monastery.
Once there, Martin Luther threw himself into his work and his study of the Bible. He was certain that he would come to be closer to God through this life of work and study, but, strangely, he just didn’t. Instead, he felt himself getting more and more frustrated. So many things the Catholic Church was teaching did not line up with what he was reading in the Bible.
As he heard the Catholic Church teach more and more about the good things (or sometimes just church-prospering things) that you supposedly needed to do to gain grace in the sight of God, he realized more and more how much the Bible said the exact opposite. Ephesians 2:8-9, for example, say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Finally, he committed the act for which he is most celebrated. He sat down one night and wrote what are known as the 95 theses, a list of all the things the church was doing that he said were unbiblical. And boy, did that cause some outrage! (You have to remember how very powerful the Catholic Church was in the 16th century.)
Throughout the rest of his life, Martin Luther fought passionately to teach people that salvation can only be attained through faith in God, period. Romans 5:1 says we are “justified by faith” and Romans 10:9 tells us simply that, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” There is nothing we can do to earn it or to pay for it because it was a free gift, like Ephesians 2:8 says. He also fought to give people the opportunity to read and study the Bible for themselves, something the majority of the people at the time had never dreamed of being able to do.
So, what can we learn from the life of Martin Luther? Why bring him up at all?
When I listen to his story (one I’ve heard dozens of times), I am always challenged in three ways, and I hope you are too.
First, I am amazed again at God’s grace. The way people were going at the time is the way people today are still often going. It is so easy to start feeling as if we need to do something to earn our salvation, but that’s impossible. How wonderful that we have a God who chose to save us even though we are such sinners it’s literally impossible for us to save ourselves!
Second, I am challenged in my need to be comparing everything I see, hear, or read to the Scriptures. We are not supposed to take anything for granted. No matter how trustworthy a person seems, if what they say does not line up with the Bible, we are supposed to toss it out unhesitatingly. We are supposed to be like the Bereans who Paul praised for comparing everything he told them (Paul! Talk about a trustworthy person!) to the Scriptures. Acts 17:11 says that they “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
Third, I am challenged to challenge. Martin Luther stood up to some powerful people to bring to them the truth of the Scripture. In this way, Martin Luther lived like Paul did. They both unapologetically ignored tradition, ignored what was accepted, and prayerfully followed God in telling people what the truth was. Both of those men I mentioned show that that is not an easy road to take (Martin Luther was hunted by authorities for his whole life and hated by many, Paul was beaten, thrown in prison, etc.), but both of them also show the impact we can have if we are willing to put God and His Word before anyone or anything. We need to really believe, like Peter did, that, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Martin Luther is not perfect. He definitely didn’t get everything right and there are still a few parts of the Bible that he did not fully understand, but his story provides some fundamental truths that I need to apply more constantly in my own life.
Now… where did I put that candy…?