Who Was Martin Luther? Part 6

Rev. Donavon Riley

Later in life, Martin Luther remarked that he had entered the monastery in search of a gracious God. He was driven, he said, "by trembling and fidgeting." He was worried, after two near-death experiences, that God would not allow him to enter into Paradise.

Reflecting on his time in the monastery, Martin said, "I did not think about women, money, or possessions; instead my heart trembled and fidgeted about whether God would bestow his grace on me... for I had strayed from faith and could not but imagine that I had angered God, whom I in turn had to appease by doing good works."

Luther was taught that his sanctification, his holiness in relation to God, came by works. On the one hand, all monks believed their entry into a monastic life was a divine call and they had been ushered into the monastery by God's grace. On the other hand, they believed if they didn't fight the good fight of faith they would never achieve the prize of forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation. For Luther, and all monks, grace was both gift and obligation.

But Luther was also taught it was not his responsibility to walk alone into the Last Judgment. On the way, he would receive help from the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary and St. Augustine, and other saints. All of them who had gone ahead of Luther into heavenly glory were always ready to help him in his fight against temptation, sin, and the devil. The only question for him was, "Will you accept their offer and rely on them to direct you to your final, heavenly goal?"

It wasn't until later, after he'd been shown the Gospel, that Luther recognized the devil's pre-occupation with good works. But, for Martin, the devil, by attacking him in this way, had actually helped the young monk to rediscover the Gospel. Luther said, "I became a monk by driving my head through the wall: against the will of my father, my mother, of God, and of the devil."

This "driving his head through the wall," for Luther, is what eventually caused him to collide with the practice of selling indulgences. Also, after wearing the monk's cowl for fifteen years, Martin was prepared to speak knowledgeably and articulately about life for a generation of monks and nuns. As he was drawn closer and closer to Gospel freedom, the burden placed on himself and his fellow monastics became an unbearable weight. It broke his back, and caused him to cry out, not to St. Anne this time, but to God, and in that he received the answer he had long searched for: good news about a merciful God—a God who was for him and was the One who led him to confess: "Christ is different than Moses, the pope, and the whole world. He is not just different, he is far more than our conscience...When the conscience attacks you, he says, 'Believe!'"

Next time, we will look more at Luther's life in the monastery, his trip to Rome, and his increasing conflict with the sale of indulgences.

Rev. Donavon Riley is the pastor of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Webster, Minnesota. He is also the online content manager for Higher Things.

Created: September 24th, 2016