The Key That Set Martin Luther Free

By October 18, 2017 blog, History

October 31st will mark the 500th anniversary of the day that a priest named Martin Luther nailed his now famous Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg. This was the spark that ignited the ecclesiastical, cultural and political explosion we now refer to as the Reformation.  The Reformation was not the work of one man; there were many causes that led to this upheaval, and for many reasons its legacy has endured.  Yet what shook the foundations of Europe arguably began when a guilt-ridden young man opened the Bible and read it, and experienced a reformation in his own heart that set his soul free.  Here’s how it happened.

Luther’s original plans to study law were railroaded when he was nearly struck by lightning in a terrific thunderstorm.  In his great fear he promised Saint Anne that if she helped him, he would become a monk.  Luther survived, and much to his father’s dismay, he kept his word.  Taking monastic vows, however, did not alleviate the growing guilt and dread of God that Luther felt.  If anything, his hyper-religious life now exacerbated the problem. The Roman Catholic Church taught that sin could be counteracted with enough good works, and the plain truth of the gospel had been obscured by man-made traditions.

But how good was good enough?  For Luther, “my conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, ‘you didn’t do that right.  You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.’  The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more daily I found it more uncertain, weaker and more troubled.”

Fortunately for Luther and the world, he was by now a trained Bible scholar.  And in his desperate search for peace with God he landed on Romans 1:17: “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’”  Luther had been taught that this righteousness referred to God’s perfect holiness which he had tried and failed to live up to.  The key for Luther was recognizing that the righteousness God requires is given to believers by faith.  In other words, it is an alien righteousness.  It isn’t earned by us, it was earned by Christ in his perfect life on earth.  Our sin is imputed (credited) to Christ.  His righteousness is imputed to us.  This is justification by faith.

As Martin Luther later reflected, when the truth of this dawned on him, “I was born again of the Holy Ghost.  And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”  The reason he felt himself born again at this point is because justification by faith is the gospel.  We don’t merely have a tally of sins, we are sinners at our core.  This cannot be overcome by any quantity of good works.  The righteous standard that God requires of us is so high that he had to provide for it Himself, and He did when He sent Jesus.  And the righteousness that Jesus earned can be yours, undeservedly, but completely, the moment you believe in Him!  Because God declares it so!

This truth changed not only Martin Luther’s heart, it changed Wittenberg, Zurich, Geneva, London and the world.  God’s Word still has the power to change your life today.  The key that set Martin Luther free, that enabled him to walk into paradise, is available to you.  Will you take it?