Thursday, October 31, 2013

Martin Luther's Conversion: Born Again Into Amazing Grace

We were just ministering out in the High Desert area where we experienced an outpouring of the Spirit, the Lord touching even eight- to twelve-year-old kids with His presence, while tears streamed down their faces.  It is such a demonstration of God’s unearned and unmerited grace available to all of us, when you see the Holy Spirit minister the love and power of God upon even little children such as these.

As we come upon another October 31st  (Reformation Day), we look back and remember the grace that Martin Luther experienced and the stand of faith he took for the truth:

Martin Luther’s Conversion: Born Again Into Amazing Grace

Martin Luther's Conversion Video:

We often hear of powerful revivals of the past like “The Great Awakening," “Cane Ridge,” or “The Finney Revivals” and how awesomely God moved.  Something largely forgotten though, is the foundation that needed to be laid early on before these moves of God could take place.  They did not come about in a vacuum, and it was not the endless fasting or prayer of some super holy dude in a cave somewhere that brought them about either. The foundation was laid through that little event called “The Reformation” which became the platform from which these moves of God sprung forth:

It is important to understand the connections since those that were used in the later revivals had foundations which can be directly linked back to the Reformation!

How one of the main figures of the Reformation, Martin Luther, came to saving faith in Christ, is a story that needs to be understood, if one wants to understand how God used the later revivalists:

Having spent an inordinate amount of time as a Catholic monk repeatedly performing every ritual stipulated by the church, Martin Luther still found no peace before the Almighty.  Having understood he was a sinner, he faced the following dilemma:  How much sin needs to be confessed, or how much fasting performed, or how many Hail Mary’s recited, or prescribed ritualistic prayers repeated?  If we are sinners, can we ever really do enough works to pay for our own sins?  And if that be the case, how much is enough?  There is always a sin one may forget to confess or a prayer that one might have recited incorrectly—if one really needs to say required prayers as the Church dictated—and on and on!

God’s providence saw Luther forced into the Scriptures to face his dilemma.  He was doing so much confessing that his superior in the monastery, Staupitz, sent him away to study the Scriptures.  In fact, frustrated with Luther, Staupitz said to him in jest: “Go out and commit some real sins and then come back when you have something actually to confess!”
Luther was very earnestly trying to find salvation while most monks grew weary with endless rituals.  They would actually mock while performing the so-called sacraments. In fact, while in Rome, Luther was taken aback at the brazen attitude of the priests who ridiculed out loud: “Bread you are and bread you shall remain!” mocking the very idea of the strongly held Catholic tenet of transubstantiation while they yet performed it. The loose morals of the priests in Rome who had harems of both boys and girls also shocked him as he saw debauchery everywhere including amongst the clergy.

Having been sent away by his superiors to rid the monastery of this troubled soul, Luther was forced into the Bible, a Bible that was only in Latin back then. 

Lest one thinks this was a normal turn of events it must be understood: Reading the Bible wasn’t the order of the day at that time because the church since the 1200’s had forbidden the laity to read the Bible. Only church clergy, i.e. priests, cardinals, bishops, were allowed to read it and they could do so only in Latin.  Most, however, weren’t familiar with Latin, except the smattering of highly educated. 

Unlike most people, Martin Luther could actually read Latin, and  do so quite well since he was a former law student who had dropped out of law school in order to join the monastery.

So, forced into the Scriptures, Luther there sought to find an answer to his dilemma: 

If God be just and holy and I be a sinner then how much good works can actually ever be enough?  There is always something I fall short in and always a sin I overlook in confession… The way of the Church if truly followed was obvious: Man relying upon his own works or confession or rituals or sacraments could never really satisfy the justice of God and assuredly receive salvation; relying on one’s own works was an empty hope set to fail in the end.

Also ordered to love God as a tenet of Catholicism, Luther says: “I hated him instead since the justice of God means we are surely condemned. Although I was an impeccable monk I still stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience and had no confidence that my merit would assuage him.  Therefore I did not love a just God…but hated him and murmured against him.”

This was until the light broke. Luther pondered and meditated over Paul’s letters in the New Testament until he saw the connection:  The justice of God brought forth by Christ in the New Covenant is that justice by where which Christ on the Cross took on our sins and satisfied God’s justice, paying for our sins once for all. He did the work of salvation for us we couldn’t do for ourselves:  On the cross, wrath and mercy were fused, and God Himself in the person of Christ paid for our sin, taking on the punishment for sin upon Himself.  The One who knew no sin, nor had committed any, actually became sin (2 Cor. 5:21) when he went to the cross and paid the price for us that we might become children of God.
In his own words he explains how the light of revelation broke over him: “Night and day I pondered Paul’s letter to the Romans… Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us by faith.  Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors to paradise.  The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning and whereas before the justice of God filled me with hate it now became so inexpressibly sweet in greater love.  This passage of Paul [Rom. 1:17] became a gate to heaven…”
“If you have a true faith in Christ as your savior, then at once [you should understand] that you have a gracious God.  For faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will that you should see pure grace and overflowing love…to behold God in faith you should look upon his fatherly friendly heart in which there is no ungraciousness…”

In the New Covenant instituted in Christ we are no longer under judgment or wrath or condemnation of any kind, yet there are those believers that still live under those things and the accompanying guilt and shame that come with it. They live as though they are still under the Old Covenant and thus feel the force and sting of the law. Christ, however,  has fulfilled the law for us at the cross and brought us into a relationship of grace and love in Him, and the price has been paid once for all on the cross by Jesus.

He wiped out the written Law with its rules. The Law was against us. It opposed us. He took it away and nailed it to the cross. Colossians 2:14

“Where sin abounded grace abounded all the more.” Romans 5:20 

Grace is a greater force than sin, and thus overcomes it when a person will but put their faith in the one who went to the cross and fulfilled the law and the prophets and paid the price once for all for us.  Grace overcomes sin and vanquished it through the cross, not through human effort but through the sacrifice made by Christ where the grace of God flows to us.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it; the light overcomes the darkness!

This conversion where Martin Luther was born again changed not only Martin Luther’s life, but set forth a chain of events that would later be known as the Reformation.  On October 31st—the eve before All Saints Day—Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the Castle church door in Wittenberg in a response of protest to the Church’s sale of indulgences—forgiveness tendered for payment rendered which would reduce the amount of time in purgatory (a manmade place created by Catholicism between heaven and hell where one must suffer still for sins)—which lit the flames that fanned into the Reformation.

Luther’s subsequent writings, preaching, and outspoken efforts on the grace of God carried the message throughout Europe and the world, and indeed it was the Reformation and at times Luther’s actual message itself, derived from Paul’s words in Scripture, that set many revivalists aflame:         

*John Wesley was converted when his brother dragged him to church one evening.  The message had Luther’s preface to his commentary on Romans being read.  It was during this message from Luther’s commentary that Wesley was converted.  The Spirit of God warmed his heart setting him aflame to preach the Gospel all over the British Isles and bringing forth revival! 

*The Hernhut Revival which birthed the first Protestant missions movement came about when a group of Lutherans and Moravians (spiritual descendants of Reformer John Hus, from Bohemia—modern day Czech Republic—whose teaching mirrored Luther’s) experienced an outpouring in Hernhutt, Germany.

*Revivalist George Whitfield, prince of preachers from The Great Awakening, was converted when he was given a reformer’s book that told him fasting and praying didn’t save him.  He became so angry that he was ready to throw the book in the fire, until he searched the Scriptures and found the grace that sets captives free. “What a burden was lifted off my shoulders,” he cried as he brought forth revival fires!

*Jonathan Edwards experienced the flames that would fan into revival when he saw that the Early American colonies must get back to the Gospel: “During a message on Salvation by grace through faith there came a great acceleration of the Spirit.  This would later explode into full revival when Whitfield poured gasoline on those flames by preaching on “The Righteousness that is by Faith!”

*Charles Finney experienced a radical conversion and baptism in the Holy Spirit. He says: “It was shown me that justification by faith through grace is a present experience to be received and known now.”

*Amazing grace continued to sweep up many a poor and unexpected soul into the loving arms of a merciful God for those that would turn to Him in repentance and faith, including an old slave trader by the name of John Newton who turned to Christ and found mercy for his hideous deeds, later penning the very words to the song “Amazing Grace” that have been some of the most famous in all of history.

We’ve been blessed to walk the very streets in Germany in the towns of Wittenberg and Eisenach and Eisleben and Worms, and to feel the cold damp sting of a winter’s frost in the Wartburg Castle, the very places where some of the pivotal events of the Reformation took place. We have peeked into, and even felt ourselves, something of an understanding of the price paid for preaching the Gospel when every force seems mounted against you, and our earnest desire is that you also should understand this Amazing Grace given in Christ the Savior who paid it all for us.

Video: Martin Luther and the Reformation--

Martin Luther: The Priesthood of all Believers Video--

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