Before Martin Luther studied the Bible for himself, the Church taught that salvation is to be bought by our money given to the Church, our good works, and the ‘holy’ sights seen on pilgrimages. Basically it was a big, spiritual board game; making an effort to see a sight so you can buy your way into heaven, or working hard to earn double points. When Martin Luther intentionally read the Bible to see what God really wrote, he found a different story. The story turned Luther’s life upside down and inside out, but because of Luther’s work the effect rippled down throughout history.
As a young man, Martin Luther quit his studies and work as a lawyer and entered the priesthood. Eventually he became a priest, and was able to administer what the Catholics believed to be the literal flesh and blood of Christ. No matter how hard he tried however, he could not see God as a loving father, abounding in mercy, but as an angry judge, who demanded good works to forgive the sins Luther knew could never be justified for. Growing concerned for the young monk, the head bishop instructed Luther to dedicate himself to studying scripture, which Luther readily did, and shortly after he was sent to Rome, where Luther visited many sights, including Peter and Paul’s relics, which claimed to reduce time in purgatory, known as ‘indulgences’. Still Luther carried heavy burdens. During his Bible studies, he began to realise some of the faults in what the Church asserted to be true. After several years of leading a Church and teaching his new beliefs, the bishop denounced Luther of his position of monk and freed him of his vows. From here on the lawyer-turned-priest’s journey took a very different path from many.
One of the areas Luther promoted was forgiveness of sins through our faith alone (sola fide) and by the grace of God alone – sola gratia. Fervently he preached that we must choose God’s forgiveness with a step of faith, and it is God’s grace – his undeserving love – that will save us, not our own works or the Churches’ demands. Because of this, Luther also taught that no amount of praying to, bowing before, or kissing the feet of any historic figure or object idolized by the Church would take away sins or save time in purgatory before reaching heaven. Despite the Churches’ practices, Luther instructed that you cannot buy a certificate that claims your forgiveness, but was a free gift from God. Disproving the principle of forgiveness through works by using the scriptures caused Luther a lot of trouble from the Church, but also changed many people of different classes throughout Germany.
When Luther was still part of the Church but discovering contrary beliefs he participated in a debate with Dr. John Eck, who continued to disagree and argue with Luther. Even though Luther honestly did not want to create a split in the Church, his strong beliefs caused him to be called a heretic, excommunicated by the Pope and because of his refusal to recant, declared an outlaw by the Emperor, which forced Luther into hiding for his own safety’s sake. While hiding Luther wrote profusely. Since his good friend, Prince Frederick of Wittenberg, saw Luther as a man of God, Luther was able to come out and preach again and yet with the protection he needed. Eventually many German Princes joined together and outnumbered the holy Roman Emperor who wanted Martin Luther, and his growing faith, dead. Combining forces forced the Emperor, for the sake of unity and peace with the Turks, to allow each Prince to decide for his own province whichever religion – Protestant or Catholic – they wished. Because of this Martin Luther was safe and his teachings spread freely.
Martin Luther, who died in 1546 at age 63, went through a lot. Although his convictions were so blatantly opposite the controlling Churches, he stuck to them, regardless of being called a heretic and an outlaw. Without his boldness, the Church would not be where it is today; a conviction that we are free from sins; personally able to read and live out God’s Word, and putting trust in the faith alone that secures God’s grace and place in heaven. God has no plan in us striving for our salvation; he did it all for us. His love gift. No strings attached. No condemnation forever. Because of Martin Luther’s faith in God, he played a part in awakening Germany and the world beyond, to the truths of God.