Tomorrow marks the 489th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of a building at the University of Wittenberg where he taught. Although not intended as the start of a new religious movement, Luther’s theses set fire to the brush fire that became the Protestant Reformation. But before that fateful day it was his study of Romans that unlocked the mystery of the gospel, and it was Rom 1:17 (“For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”). Here are Luther’s own words on his struggle with that text:
“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the justice (righteousness) of God’, because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what He meant.” “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice (righteousness) of God and the statement that ‘the just (righteous) shall live by his faith’. Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas the ‘justice (righteousness) of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.”
May we who are Protestants be good stewards of this rediscovery of the gospel in our own day and work for reformation in the church for the glory of God and the advance of the kingdom.