This week marks the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses. But who was Luther and what were the problems in the church of his day that he was seeking to address?
On this program, the hosts will read and discuss excerpts from the Ninety-Five Theses and will also interact with Luther’s account of his own conversion to a theology rooted in the work of Christ alone, received through faith alone, all by grace alone, to the glory of God alone. Join us on this edition of the White Horse Inn.
“Martin Luther was driven by the guilt of his sin, and in that age, the best counsel was to become a monk. Go to the religious life. So, against the wishes of his father, who wanted him to go into law and even bought law books for him, he appeared at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt as a novice. It was the weight of sin and trying to find a God out of Christ who could be gracious to him, a sinner, that drove him.
“So Luther ‘monked,’ he said, better than any of his brothers in the cloister. Driven by guilt, his father confessor said, ‘Just confess every sin, Luther.’ He took it literally and wore out two or three confessors a day because he’d be in there for two hours, and of course, underneath this was the false promise that you’ll be forgiven for every sin you confess – if you do what lies within you, God will not deny his grace.
“You just have to sort of imagine what would it be like to be under the burden of your sin all the time, but also, every counsel you try to follow bottoms out on you. When his superiors said, ‘Try this,’ he did. Von Staupitz said, ‘Forget confessing, Luther. Just love God,’ to which his answer was, ‘Love God? Sometimes, I hate him!’ So what you have here with Luther is a gradual, painful process coming to what the gospel is. When it happened he says, ‘It was as if the gates of heaven opened to me,’ as he read Romans.”
Term to Learn
“True Saving Faith”
Q. 21 What is true faith? A. True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.
Q. 61 Why do you say that by faith alone you are right with God? A. It is not because of any value my faith has that God is pleased with me. Only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me right with God. And I can receive this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone.
Q. 62 Why can’t the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with him? A. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.
Q. 65 It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all his blessings: where then does that faith come from? A. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the sacraments.
(The Heidelberg Catechism)