Martin Luther lived from November 10, 1483 to February 18, 1546.  He was a German professor of theology and a Roman Catholic priest.  He is probably most well-known writing the “Ninety-five Theses”, which stood against the contemporary practice of the Roman Catholic Church with respect to indulgences. In the Catholic Church, indulgences are part of the means of salvation. In this system, when a Christian sin and then confesses that sin, he is forgiven and will not receive eternal punishment in hell.  However, he may still be liable to ‘temporal punishment’. This punishment could be satisfied by doing penance (performing works of mercy). If the temporal punishment is not satisfied during his lifetime, it would need to be satisfied in purgatory.  By others doing indulgences on his behalf, this temporal punishment could be shortened and he would advance to Heaven sooner.  Under this system of indulgences, the clergy could benefit personally by selling indulgences.  The pope gave official sanction in exchange for a fee.  Luther’s writings listed 95 proposals that this system was wrong and against the clear teachings of scripture.

Luther began to teach that salvation is not earned by good deeds (indulgences) but is received only as the free gift of God’s grace through the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ as his redeemer from sin.  He challenged the authority of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only true source of knowledge and divinely inspired doctrine from God for the believer.  Let’s look at Luther’s thesis #68.  That says, “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”  This type of abuse of power and desire for wealth is certainly not limited to the Roman Catholic church.  Today, we see so many so-called ministers of God getting richer and richer off the backs of poor people who give them money in desperation of a needed healing or to increase their own financial standing.  How sad; how dishonoring this is to the Lord.

Martin began to teach that salvation is a gift of God’s grace, achievable only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  He wrote, “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”  This is such an important and critical truth to grasp.  Salvation comes only through faith in the Lord.  No amount of works, or penance, could save a soul.  This truth is born out so clearly in verses such as Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Luther was particularly drawn to and confused by Romans 1:17, which says, “The just shall live by faith.”  He had no problem considering the life of faith, but he was troubled over how one could be called ‘just’ or ‘righteous’, for he struggled to obey God’s commands that he might be righteous.  It was while meditating upon this verse in the tower of the Black Cloister in Wittenberg that Martin was finally able to see and understand this valuable truth.  Martin would say that when he finally understood that God gives us His righteousness as a gift to those who believe he “was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates . . . that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.”

Martin Luther is considered the founder of the Protestant movement.  In 1520, he was warned by the pope to recant most of his teachings, including most of his 95 Theses.  It was Pope Leo X that declared that there were 41 errors found in Luther’s writings.  The Diet of Worms, which was a meeting of the Diet (or, assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire was held at Worms, Germany, in 1521 to address these teachings of Luther.  After being told to recant his teachings, his reply was incredible.  He said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”  Afterwards, he was ex-communicated from the Roman Catholic Church.  There is so much more that can be said of Martin Luther as a true servant of God.  I encourage you to spend time reading more of this man.  (225.6)