Happy Reformation Day! 15 Lessons From Martin Luther

“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

-Martin Luther


In honor of tomorrow being Halloween, or as us reformed-type say, Reformation Day, I wanted to share a little from the life of Martin Luther. On October 31st, 1517, he nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the castle church at Wittenburg. As it is presently the year 2015, here are 15 lessons from Luther’s life:

15. Don’t Follow Others in Immorality

While a monk, Luther observed many priests partaking in sinful behavior. Despite its acceptance, he chose not to follow in their sinful ways and sought to obey God despite his own shortcomings (Psalm 1:1-2).

14. Confess Your Sins

While serving as an Augustinian monk, Luther was increasingly burdened by his own shortcomings. It was reported that he spent a great deal of time confessing his sins. We should do likewise (James 5:16).

13. Be a Man/Woman of Your Word

When the young Luther almost died in a thunderstorm he vowed that he would become a monk if he lived through it. He followed through on this vow (James 5:12).

12. Take Your Sin Seriously

When Luther was asked to give communion for the first time he trembled at the thought of coming into contact with a living God due to his recognition of his own indwelling sin (Romans 7:13).

11. Take God More Seriously

Despite his recognition of how sinful he was, it was the even more terrifying recognition of how holy God was that almost made him faint at the opportunity to serve communion (Leviticus 11:45).

10. Put God Before Family

Martin Luther’s father believed he was squandering his education by pursuing the monastery. Nonetheless, Luther would not be diverted from the task he believed God was calling him to. While we must honor our mother and father, if this conflicts with following our Heavenly Father, we must choose Him (Matthew 12:48-50).

9. Put God Before Spouse

Luther’s wife, Katharina was a great encourager and support to him. Nonetheless, his desire to marry her was less “romantic” than strategic. He famously said he’d marry her “to spite the devil.”

8. Obey Scripture and Bring Your Conscience into Accord With it

When on trial for “heresy” within the Roman Catholic church Luther famously declared:

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures 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 recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen”

7. Follow God Despite Opposition

On the heels of the above quote, we can learn that despite great opposition it is detrimental to allow men to talk us out of following God’s clear teaching in Scripture (Acts 5:29).

6. God’s Words Are More Important Than Man’s

Again, following on the above words of Luther, we should remember to elevate God’s Word above the words of others, even ourselves. Luther also said:

“I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything”

(Matthew 24:35)

Closely related,

5. Rest in the Sovereignty of God

Like the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was betrayed, Luther slept while God accomplished things on his behalf. Luther did nothing to earn his salvation, he also did not take credit for the ripple he caused in history. God sovereignly raised him up for a great work (Luke 3:8).

4. Rescue Others From the Trappings of Legalism

Luther was tormented by his own sinfulness and a lack of salvation offered to him by the corporate church of his day. When he was finally freed from this by understanding the writing of the Apostle Paul he had to share this freedom with others. Perhaps one of the more famous acts of this was his aid in setting free 16 nuns who had been enslaved by the Roman Catholic church’s insistence that they be celibate. Because this teaching was nowhere found in the Bible, Luther helped them escape in fish barrels on the eve of Easter (Galatians 5:1).

3. Work at Ministry of Reconciliation

One of the last things Luther had the privilege of partaking in was reconciling two feuding brothers, the counts of Mansfield. This ministry of reconciliation is mandated for us today as well (Matthew 5:9; 2 Corinthians 5:18).

2. Make God’s Word Accessible to the Commoner

Part of the catalyst of the Reformation was that the Papists did not believe Scripture should be placed in the hands of the commoner. Luther and the other reformers were appalled by this. He worked to translate the Scriptures in German for his people to have access to the teachings of Scripture.

1. Rest in Jesus’ Finished Work and Not Your Own

The most important contribution Luther has had upon history was his restoration of the doctrine of justification by faith. The teaching of Paul in the New Testament that “the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) was what set Luther free from a life of asceticism and works where he tried to please God by his own actions. Luther came to realize that salvation was a gift for the guilty, not a reward for the righteous. He was used by God to recover the clear teaching of Scripture that Jesus’ work on the cross was sufficient to secure salvation for all who would place their faith in it. We do well to follow Luther as he points us to Christ in faith.

Happy Reformation Day!


[Photo Credit: Nick in exsilio via Compfight cc]

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