I originally published this article on October 23, 2015 — two years before the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. A few minor points are therefore outdated, and would distract from the overall message unless I acknowledged their presence. That said, I pray this throwback will aid your understanding of why I celebrate Reformation Day.
The world may celebrate on October 31st for unholy reasons, but I see it as a day of rejoicing. On that day, 498 years ago, a little German monk changed world history simply because he believed the Bible.
As a young law student, Martin Luther abruptly changed course and entered a monastery, believing that St. Anne had protected him from a near-fatal lightening strike. Once he’d become an Augustinian priest, however, he found himself continually struggling to find assurance of salvation. He flung himself into fasting, penitence, and ritual, agonizing in his efforts to appease God. One of his mentors encouraged him to look to Christ alone. That, Luther could not do. He’d been taught, by the Church of Rome, that God’s favor must be earned (just as he had earned St. Anne’s protection in the storm by vowing to become a monk).
Seeing Luther’s bright intellect, his superiors sent him to Rome, where he began noticing that the vibrant faith of early Christians had been replaced by the dead rituals of Catholicism. Disturbed by this observation, he felt further alienation from God, though he continued his priestly duties.
Upon arriving at the monastery in Whittenberg, Germany, Luther earned his doctorate in theology. This degree brought him into a teaching position at the University of Whittenberg. His preparations for his course on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans revolutionized his relationship with the Lord by convincing him that faith was the only criterion for salvation. He wrote:
My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement ‘the just shall live by faith.’ 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. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning…This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.
Once Luther experienced the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, he grew even more troubled by the Roman church’s practices–particularly the practice of selling indulgences.
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