Luther's Tower Experience

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” –Romans 1:17

This is the famous verse that led Martin Luther to rediscover the true nature of the Gospel; that we are declared righteous before God by faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ, which He won for us in His perfect life, sacrificial death and victorious resurrection on our behalf. Sometime after 1508, Luther was staying in the Black Cloister Tower in Wittenberg, Germany studying the Bible (pictured above). The exact date is not clear, but it was there that the Holy Spirit revealed to Luther that God has pronounced mankind righteous apart from the works of the Law. Sadly, the Gospel had been corrupted in Luther’s day and salvation was purchased for the price of an indulgence. Luther, himself was led to believe that the righteousness of God was the active good works that needed to be accomplished by each individual before God. When Luther read the words in Romans 1:17 he felt condemned by God. In fact, Luther later wrote how he hated those words at first, “the righteousness of God.” Luther knew that when he examined his own life and the depths of his own heart that there was only wickedness and evil there. If we are honest with ourselves we all come to the same conclusion, for no one can be completely righteous before God by their works.

These words and Martin Luther’s insights into the righteousness of God are important for us today! This passage and Martin Luther’s rediscovery of the Gospel is what separates Christianity from all other religions and philosophies in the world. The Bible doesn’t give us a self-help guide to be a better person! There is no seven-fold path in Christianity like there is in Buddhism to be a good person. There are no five pillars to submit to and please God. The Bible is clear that we are not good people in need of some magic fairy dust grace to make us better. The fact is that we are completely sinful people in need of a Savior to RESCUE us from our sin, not coach us to a better life. And that is exactly what God did, He saved us by a passive righteousness that we receive by faith. He sent His Son to pay the penalty of our sin on the Cross and conquer death through His resurrection and all this for us! You are righteous by faith and you are free! It was this freedom by faith that drove Martin Luther to work so fervently for God. He discovered that serving God was not a matter of fear, but joy. He no longer worried about earning God’s salvation through penance, but was free to serve God and serve others with his true talents. God has freed you by faith for a purpose. Serve him and others, with joy and not fear.

The following is a small excerpt from Luther’s own writings about his discovery of the Gospel many years later.

“For a long time I went astray [in the monastery] and didn’t know what I was about. To be sure, I knew something, but I didn’t know what it was until I came to the text in Romans 1:17, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ That text helped me. There I saw what righteousness Paul was talking about. Earlier in the text I read ‘righteousness.’ I related the abstract ‘righteousness’ with the concrete ‘the righteous One’ and became sure of my cause. I learned to distinguish between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of the gospel. I lacked nothing before this except that I made no distinction between the law and the gospel. I regarded both as the same thing and held that there was no difference between Christ and Moses except the times in which they lived and their degrees of perfection. But when I discovered the proper distinction—namely, that the law is one thing and the gospel is another—I made myself free.” (Luther's Works, Volume 54, P442).

God Bless,

Pastor Joel