“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
Last night we went to see the uncut version of the Luther film, “Return to Grace. I watched the film on PBS, which was abridged, but many of the historical events and results of the reformation were highlighted.
As I watched poor Martin, observing a puppet show depicting the battle of good and evil, I couldn’t help recalling some similar events from my own childhood. Luther became obsessed with his sin and inability to do anything about it. His conscience convicted him and his frustration haunted him, causing him to beat himself and take to an austere lifestyle. Nothing he could do was sufficient.
My early experiences in church came back to haunt me as well. I grew up in a conservative Lutheran church – one that believed in all the teachings of scripture. We had a beautiful altar, complete with statuary of Jesus ascending into heaven with cherubs surrounding Him. The altar itself was in the Gothic style, complete with spires, edged in gold, that stretched to heaven. The pulpit rose above the congregation and the pastor would climb several steps to deliver his sermon. Above the pulpit there was a cross adorned dome. The church was full of beautiful stained glass windows and paintings on the ceiling – many distractions for little eyes.
I couldn’t have been more than six or seven when the words began to resonate in my brain. The Law was preached from that domed enclosure in full fire and brimstone style. The pastor would spew words of God’s wrath for what seemed an eternity, making me feel totally incapable of ever reaching heaven. It would take me many more years to hear the voice of the Gospel.
Apparently Martin Luther struggled much like I did. I never resorted to his drastic measures, but I was convinced that I was on a fast train to hell. My conscience would not let me rest. My sins seemed insurmountable.
Luther confessed his sins to another priest. How many sins could a Catholic monk have? He was confined to the severe lifestyle of the monastery, with every second filled with prayer and supplication along with hard physical labor. Yet his confession ran for hours.
As he dug further into the scriptures he finally realized that it was by grace that his sins were forgiven. No amount of works, prayers, money or repentance would salve his broken, spirit. When that fact sunk deeply into his brain, all the rest fell into place. Salvation is a gift from God. We can only be saved through faith in that wonderful knowledge. That truth comes from God’s Word to us – the Bible and is administered by Christ alone.
The rest is history. Martin Luther changed the way people viewed God – not as a fearful judge, but as One who loved them so much, He gave His own Son as the perfect sacrifice. He used the tools at hand to spread God’s Word through the printing press. He changed the politics that infected the church of the day. He made it possible for the common man to read the scriptures through the printed Word.
He was the rock star of his day, but would be the first to chastise those who made him one. He was simply a man struggling with his conscience – feeling the pangs of the law and not knowing the beauty of the Gospel.