Martin Luther was born into a wealthy family in Germany. His parents expected him to follow in their footsteps of pursuing wealth and prestige, but God had a different plan for his life. When caught in a terrifying electrical storm, Luther pleaded with God to save his life promising to give his life to God if he were to survive. That's a pretty bold thing to do, bargaining with God and all, but the Lord honored his vow, and shortly thereafter Luther entered a monastery.
For much of Luther's life as a Catholic monk he struggled with the realization that the corrupt church could not offer him salvation. He had witnessed the degradation of the church, especially in the selling of indulgences to the poor. The people were told that indulgences would save them from the torment of hell, or would save a deceased loved-one from purgatory. After coming face to face with this kind of evil corruption, Luther lost hope in the church and turned to the pages of scripture for guidance. It was in Paul's letter to the Romans that he found hope of redemption. Romans 1:16-17 says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" These words resonated with Martin Luther, and his eyes were open to the beauty and grace of God. By faith alone are we saved, not through legalistic moralism or corrupt rituals.
Having been renewed in God's love and grace, the actions of the clergy were that much more appalling, and something had to be done. Reform was the only answer. Luther set about writing his grievances against the church, and thus was born his 95 Theses. He nailed the pages to the cathedral door in the small German town of Wittenberg, a moment that would alter the path of the church forever.
The corrupt Catholic officials were not about to take Luther's defiance lightly, and he was brought before the clergy at the Diet of Worms during which he was asked to recant his writing. It was during this hearing that Luther spoke his famous words,
“Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear and distinct grounds and reasoning—and my conscience is captive to the Word of God—then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”
Luther's reliance on the grace of God brought on a reformation whose effects have lasted for centuries. Not only did Luther spur on the reformation, but he also translated the Bible from Latin into German, the common language of the people. For the first time, the Word of God was in the hands of people who were desperate to hear the story of redemption.
Though the work Luther did was revolutionary, the church is far from being completely aligned with God's will. There is still false teaching in the church, and there are still people who are led astray by false doctrine; people who sit in pews week after week thinking they are saved. In some churches, reform is still needed, and it will be the Christians who hold fast to the Word of God who will make it happen.