Luther Is My Homeboy: The Life of Luther (Part 2)

Rome, the great city! When Luther arrived in the winter of 1510-1511, the house of the church had become a den of evil. The humanitarian Erasmus when he visited Rome took great delight in the learning and the culture. But when Luther got into town he not only found the religious rituals empty but saw only lax morality and general depravity among the people and the clergy. The young monk who was tormented by the thoughts of God’s justice took no comfort in the church’s primary HQ. In fact it was not until he was forced to study diligently the Scriptures that Luther came to peace with God!

In Luther’s theology later in life he would stake his life on the foundation of the Word of God. The Bible was his source and standard of ultimate truth. Justo Gonzalez is surely right when he states:

Protestant folklore has it that as a friar Luther did not know the Bible, and that it was only at the time of his conversion or shortly before, that he began to study it. This is false. As a monk who had to follow the traditional hour of prayer, Luther knew the Psalter by heart (The Story of Christianity vol. 2, p. 18).

Nonetheless, Luther’s knowledge of Scripture was limited and his understanding of the gospel was malnourished at best. It was during his doctoral studies that Luther really began to pour over the Scriptures, and there he found life and peace.

Upon completion of his doctorate, Luther took the position of Chair of Biblical Studies at Wittenberg, “taking an oath to protect and expound the Word of God to the best of his ability” (Spitz, The Renaissance and Reformation Movements vol. 2, 332). He started lecturing through the Psalms and then in 1515-1516 turned to the book of Romans. It was the content of this book which changed his life. In reading through Romans in order to teach it, Luther discovered that the Justice of God is not always condemning in Scripture, it is not always wrathful. But that “righteousness of God is also a gift, springing from His mercy and made ours by faith in Christ” (Packer, The Bondage of the Will, 22). From here is where Luther’s important theological contribution on the doctrine of justification stems. Of this moment Luther wrote:

Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.

Romans changed Luther forever. What resulted was not simply a man who taught the Bible well, or who fought for purity in the church, who (inadvertently) started a renewed branch of Christianity. What resulted, rather, was a Christian. A man at peace with God.

Like Luther we ignore the power and truth of Scripture to our detriment. There is no hope for salvation, no hope for transformation, no hope for growth apart from God’s Holy Word. Like Luther we must all turn to Scripture. As we will see, Luther’s life was forever changed and this one key doctrine shaped the rest of his ministry and all of his confrontations. The Word of God shaped Luther’s life, does it shape yours?

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