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“Luther could not get around this rediscovered truth of the Scriptures. His teachers in the monastery tried to explain the passage in light of the works-based salvation that they taught, but this all-too-honest monk could not believe what they told him over what he clearly perceived in the word of God.”
He hit the nail on the head. It was the good year of 1517, and Martin Luther was posting his soon-to-be famous 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. The purpose of this document was to challenge a number of morally questionable practices such as the sale of indulgences (a remission of punishment for sin), and the belief that a person could be saved at least in part by doing good works. There is no doubt that once this list was circulated, it became the spark that lit the fire of the Reformation.
The man who authored this disruptive document was born in Eisleben, Germany in the year 1483 to Hans and Margarethe Luther. In his early twenties, when he was well on his way to becoming an excellent lawyer, Martin was caught in a thunderstorm and nearly struck by lightning. As he was knocked to the ground by the bolt of electricity, he made an oath to St. Anne, the saint said to protect from storms, that if she would save him from this storm he would become a monk. After surviving that terror-filled night, he made good on his promise and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, Germany.
Luther was incredibly devout as a monk, practicing extreme bodily disciplines like fasting for days on end and sleeping in freezing temperatures--all because he was intensely aware of his own inferiority compared to the Almighty God that he worshiped. Although his teachers attempted to assuage his feelings of worthlessness and inability to satisfy God’s moral requirements for salvation, he would not be convinced because he was far too honest about his innermost desires and nature.
It wasn’t until 1515, ten years after becoming a monk, that Luther was able to solve his dilemma. He was meditating on Romans 1:17 when he realized that salvation was bestowed through faith and faith alone. He had tried everything he could think of to make himself clean before God, but nothing had worked. As he read this passage, the Holy Spirit helped him to understand that his salvation was not about any good work that he could perform, but it was solely about his faith in the work that God had already finished (through Jesus’ death on the cross). Luther could not get around this rediscovered truth of the Scriptures. His teachers in the monastery tried to explain the passage in light of the works-based salvation that they taught, but this all-too-honest monk could not believe what they told him over what he clearly perceived in the word of God.
Luther’s historic nailing of his 95 theses to a large wooden door was an occasion that would drive the movement of Reformation in the church. He gave all of God’s people the courage to question what men taught and look first to what God Himself spoke. This loyalty to God’s word above all else was what marked Martin Luther and changed the landscape of the church forever.
To listen to the audio from the Church History seminar, which covered the events leading up to this pivotal time period, click here.
Dustin is a non-vocational elder at Cornerstone and serves the church through the counseling ministry.
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