Luther – The Centrality of Grace


Whilst there are many truths revealed in scripture, there are two of particular note. The first is that God is righteous, holy, and just. The second is that we are not, we are sinners.

The Bible tells us that all mankind falls short of the glory of God and have transgressed God’s laws. This is because we are sinful, and as it is is part of our ‘nature’, we by consequence, become objects of God’s divine wrath.

This leads, I think, to one of the most important questions there is for humanity:


Now, there are at least two errors one can make in trying to answer this question:

  • Firstly, one can deny the reality and gravity of sin; Either by denying sin altogether or reducing its importance.
  • Or secondly, one can acknowledge that they are sinful, but then attempt to remove the sin themselves.

Today is the 31st of October. It is known as Halloween and All Saints Day, but it is also known as Reformation Day.

It is on this day that we remember Martin Luther, the man who is, armed with his hammer and 95 theses, most known for triggering the Reformation.

Born in 1483 in Germany, Luther’s life was radically changed when, at the age of twenty-one, he was nearly struck by lightning during a severe thunderstorm. Taking it as a sign from God, and fearful of the storm, he cried out, “I will become a monk.”

Yet, even as a Catholic monk, Luther lived in terror of the wrath of God and sought every available means to make himself righteous in God’s sight. This included a life of prayer, severe fasting[1], sleepless nights, freezing cold, and even the beating of his own body to the point of considerable pain.

All of these were done in an effort to pay God back for his sin. However, they were all a result of poor teaching. You see, Luther had been told that the world was filled with good people and bad people, and that God lovingly saved those who were good, and damned those who were bad. Therefore, the only hope a person had was to save themselves by doing righteous things in order to make themselves holy.

Luther later recounted:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously… I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law…without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel…threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.[2]

Luther had no trouble at all acknowledging his sinfulness, it was an inescapable reality. He was troubled, however, with working out how to remove it. For him the means was not faith, not through trusting, but through trying.  Luther sincerely struggled with the question How is a sinner justified before a holy, righteous, and just God? 

But by God’s grace through the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, Luther rightly came to see that a sinner was not declared righteous before a Holy God due to their own merits, but rather, that righteousness itself was a gift that God gave to those who simply trusted in Jesus alone for salvation. In other words, Luther rediscovered the great Biblical truth that the church had unfortunately lost – that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone, and by grace alone!

God in his mercy and grace, enabled Martin Luther to see the reality of the gospel – that because of Jesus’, sin-paying, death on the cross, a sinner is reconciled to God through faith alone. Here is how Luther put it:

 At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night… I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel… Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.[3]

Luther was liberated from the idea of meriting salvation, and this ‘radical’ idea — the heart of the Gospel — was unleashed to reform the church and it did. This message that we are justified by faith alone had wide-ranging impact, and is something that still has wonderful implications today! After all, this scriptural truth proves to us that it is not by our works nor by our merit that God accepts us. Rather, it is by the completed work of Christ on the cross.

Yet, despite this great truth being rediscovered, we see that mankind is still beholden to the idea that salvation depends on us. It is part of our own, foolish, nature to think that we need to bring something to God in order to be acceptable, or even the prospect that we canbring something to God in order to make us acceptable.

Entertaining such a belief lead to these type of thoughts:

  • God will accept me if I am good;
  • God will accept me if I go to church;
  • God will accept me if I take Holy Communion every week;
  • God will accept me if I put money on plate;
  • God will accept me if I have been baptised;
  • God will accept me if I have been confirmed;
  • God will accept me if…

Living such a way is torturous, because there is no assurance whatsoever. One can only hope to be saved and hope that their virtues outweigh their sins — and in the end, it is for naught. Luther rediscovered that we have nothing that God needs, that we can bring nothing to the table, and that there is nothing we can do for God to accept us.

Instead, rather than coming through trying, salvation comes through trusting.

You see, whilst there was nothing we could do to bring salvation, there was one who could and did. That was Jesus. He took our punishment upon the cross, and as such any — any — who trust in Christ are recipients of his substitutionary atonement. When we believe in the Jesus, when we trust in him as Lord and Saviour, when we respond to the person of Jesus with faith and repentance, we are forgiven. We are forgiven not because of anything we do, but because of what Christ has done

That is the gospel.

Luther encountered the grace of God in Christ and his whole life was transformed by it! Luther came to know that he was justified by faith alone in Christ alone and not through works — and as such, he became free from the tyranny of fear and doubt, and he was able to live life the way God intended. His whole life became an expression of his salvation. Luther enjoyed his wife, his kids, his food, the birds in his garden, and the dog that begged for scraps under the family table.

Luther was free, from slavery to sin, free knowing that his sin was forgiven, and therefore he was free to take hold of the truth of Scripture which says that all of life is to be lived as worship of God.

This is the freedom that comes to those who understand the the centrality of grace, which lies at the heart of the Christian faith.

There is a song by Slim Dusty and it goes like this:

I love to have a beer with Duncan

 I love to have a beer with Dunc.

 We drink in moderation

 And we never ever ever get rollin’ drunk

 We drink at the Town and Country

 Where the atmosphere is great

 I love to have a beer with Duncan

 ‘Cause Duncan’s me mate, yeah


Luther was God’s instrument to Reform the church, to restore what had been lost, that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone, by grace alone. Luther loved beer, and although I don’t drink beer, I would love to have a beer with Martin, and my song would say this:

I love to have a beer with Martin

 I love to have a beer with Mart.

 We drink in moderation

 And we never ever ever get rollin’ drunk

 We’ll drink at the Lord’s own table

 Where the atmosphere is great

 I love to have a beer with Martin

 ‘Cause Martin’s me mate, yeah



1. Luther’s fasting during this time was to caused him intestinal problems later in life.
2. Preface to Martin Luther’s the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Writings, Vol. 34, ed. by Lweis W. Spitz (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1960), p. 336-337.
3. Ibid.

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