Desiring God is offering a free copy of John Piper’s biographical message on Martin Luther in commemoration of the anniversary of Luther’s death.
In Germany 467 years ago, in a small, backwater town called Eisleben, the shaking hand of a dying man scribbled this simple line: We are beggars. This is true.
Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546. These last words of weakness echoed the life-changing truth he’d unearthed in the Scriptures: we don’t bring anything to the table of our justification. Jesus truly died for the ungodly.
Luther came to understand that if we are to be accepted by God, we need a perfect righteousness we can’t produce — we need an alien righteousness given to us by Another.
But this discovery didn’t just happen. It came after hours of the painstaking study of Scripture. Luther gave himself to the Book, which he later explained as the primary actor in the Protestant Reformation. And a great movement of God in our day won’t happen apart from that same ingredient. Pastors and Christian leaders must be devoted to God’s word.
So we have much to learn from Luther, says John Piper.
Luther was the subject of Piper’s biographical message at the 1995 Conference for Pastors. We’ve since reformatted that message into a five-chapter ebook, which presents a sketch of Luther’s life and distills relevant lessons for not only pastors and leaders, but all Christians.
Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him, and say, ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You have become what you were not so that I might become what I was not.’
—Martin Luther Quoted by J.I. Packer in Growing in Christ
O gracious God, I am fully aware that I am unworthy. I deserve to be a brother of Satan and not of Christ. But Christ, your dear Son died and rose for me. I am his brother. He earnestly desires that I should believe in him, without doubt and fear.
I need no longer regard myself as unworthy and full of sin. For this I love and thank him from my heart.
Praise be to the faithful Savior, for he is so gracious and merciful as are you and the Holy Spirit in eternity. Amen.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, provoking what later became the Protestant Reformation. In April of 1521, Luther was summoned before the Imperial Diet of Worms and asked to recant of his writings. His response was recorded for the ages:
Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scripture 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 I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.
Ligonier Ministries posted the following short article on their blog in honor of Luther’s legacy and role in the Protestant Reformation:
At the time, few would have suspected that the sound of a hammer striking the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany, would soon be heard around the world and lead ultimately to the greatest transformation of Western society since the apostles first preached the Gospel throughout the Roman empire. Martin Luther’s nailing of his ninety-five theses to the church door on October 31, 1517, provoked a debate that culminated finally in what we now call the Protestant Reformation.
An heir of Bishop Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther is one of the most significant figures God has raised up since that time. This law student turned Augustinian monk became the center of a great controversy after his theses were copied and distributed throughout Europe. Initially protesting the pope’s attempt to sell salvation, Luther’s study of Scripture soon led him to oppose the church of Rome on issues including the primacy of the Bible over church tradition and the means by which we are found righteous in the sight of God.
This last issue is probably Luther’s most significant contribution to Christian theology. Though preached clearly in the New Testament and found in the writings of many of the church fathers, the medieval bishops and priests had largely forgotten the truth that our own good works can by no means merit God’s favor. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and good works result from our faith, they are not added to it as the grounds for our right standing in the Lord’s eyes (Ephesians 2:8–10). Justification, God’s declaration that we are not guilty, forgiven of sin, and righteous in His sight comes because through our faith alone the Father imputes, or reckons to our account, the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Martin Luther’s rediscovery of this truth led to a whole host of other church and societal reforms and much of what we take for granted in the West would have likely been impossible had he never graced the scene. Luther’s translation of the Bible into German put the Word of God in the hands of the people, and today Scripture is available in the vernacular language of many countries, enabling lay people to study it with profit. He reformed the Latin mass by putting the liturgy in the common tongue so that non-scholars could hear and understand the preached word of God and worship the Lord with clarity. Luther lifted the unbiblical ban on marriage for the clergy and by his own teaching and example radically transformed the institution itself. He recaptured the biblical view of the priesthood of all believers, showing all people that their work had purpose and dignity because in it they can serve their Creator.
Today, Luther’s legacy lives on in the creeds and confessions of Protestant bodies worldwide. As we consider his importance this Reformation Day, let us equip ourselves to be knowledgeable proclaimers and defenders of biblical truth. May we be eager to preach the Gospel of God to the world and thereby spark a new reformation of church and culture.
Pastor Nicholas Batzig posted this wonderful article in honor of Martin Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The entire article is edifying and worth reading, but I particularly loved the ending: “May we learn to be Christians of courage and conviction for the name and fame of our Savior Jesus Christ. Who knows what our God will do with even a single day’s actions if we remain faithful to Him.”
The Scriptures are clear that the actions of One unique individual affected His people for time and eternity. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Christ, “by Himself, made purification for our sins,” through the one offering up of Himself on the cross. But, the Bible is equally clear about how the actions of his people can have a ripple out effect on the lives of the church throughout the centuries. Such was the case with Martin Luther. On October 31, 1517 (493 years ago), Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Acting on the persuasions of his conscience, and a desire to defend the Gospel of grace, the Augustinian monk single single-handedly set fuel to one of the greatest and most influential movements the world has ever seen. Every Protestant minister throughout the world has been – whether they are conscious of it or not – effected by the actions of this one man. The difficulty of what he endured for the sake of Christ must not to be underestimated. Only one year after posting the ninety-five theses Luther wrote a dear friend these words:
I am expecting the curses of Rome any day. I have everything in readiness. When they come, I am girded like Abraham to go I know not where, but sure of this, that God is everywhere.
In response to this letter, Luther’s mentor and friend Johann Von Staupitz wrote him with these telling words:
The world hates the truth. By such hate was Christ crucified, and I do not know what there is in store for you if not the cross. You have few friends, and would that they were not hidden for fear of the adversary . Leave Wittenberg and come to me that we may live and die together. The prince [Frederick] is in accord. Deserted let us follow the deserted Christ.
Had Luther feared man, rather than God, the Reformation might not have had the impact it did. The Western world, as we know it, might not have seen the missionary advances of the Gospel, and we may not be in the place we are today. While we recognize that it is Christ – not Luther – that turned the world upside down, we must also acknowledge that it was through faithful men like him that the world was turned upside down by the Gospel. May we learn to be Christians of courage and conviction for the name and fame of our Savior Jesus Christ. Who knows what our God will do with even a single day’s actions if we remain faithful to Him.
Ligonier Ministries has posted a collection of Reformation Day resources that includes several articles and free MP3 lecture downloads by Dr. R.C. Sproul.
If we want reformation, we have to start with ourselves. We have to start bringing the gospel itself out of darkness, so that the motto of every reformation becomes post tenebras lux — “after darkness, light.” Luther declared that every generation must declare freshly the gospel of the New Testament. He also said that anytime the gospel is clearly and boldly proclaimed, it will bring about conflict, and those of us who are inherently adverse to conflict will find it tempting to submerge the gospel, dilute the gospel, or obscure the gospel in order to avoid conflict. We, of course, are able to add offense to the gospel by our own ill-mannered attempts to proclaim it. But there is no way to remove the offense that is inherent to the gospel message, because it is a stumbling block, a scandal to a fallen world. It will inevitably bring conflict. If we want reformation, we must be prepared to endure such conflict to the glory of God.
If I profess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
—Martin Luther quoted by Francis Schaeffer in The God Who Is There