Luther Completes His Most Important Work

Luther Completes His Most Important Workby Charles Fry /


Luther Completes His Most Important Work


After leaving Worms to return to Wittenberg, Luther was kidnapped under a ruse by his friends and taken to a German castle called the Wartburg.

Hidden away in the Wartburg, Luther could not be found by a Roman Church that was likely inclined to kill him for his very public and uncompromising stand on God’s Word. It also gave him an ideal opportunity to begin translating the Bible into German, something that had never before been done. Church historian Philip Schaff notes the importance of Luther’s translation:

The richest fruit of Luther’s leisure in the Wartburg, and the most important and useful work of his whole life, is the translation of the New Testament, by which he brought the teaching and example of Christ and the Apostles to the mind and heart of the Germans in life-like reproduction. It was a republication of the gospel. He made the Bible the people’s book in church, school, and house. If he had done nothing else, he would be one of the greatest benefactors of the German-speaking race.[i]

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Luther: Peace with God, War with the World

Luther: Peace with God, War with the Worldby Charles Fry /


Peace with God, War with the World

During the period 1513–1516, Luther was lecturing through Paul’s epistles and the Psalms and beginning to understand the gospel. Meanwhile, in Rome, Pope Leo X was continuing to build Saint Peter’s Cathedral, a project begun in 1506 by Pope Julius II. To help fund that work, a priest named Johann Tetzel was in Germany selling indulgences. For the right price, a person could buy an indulgence that would supposedly guarantee that the purchaser would go to heaven, skipping purgatory entirely. Optionally, the purchase could be used to release a presently tormented soul out of purgatory.

When Luther became aware of Tetzel’s practice, he was furious. One result of his outrage was his 95 Theses, which carry the formal title, “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Reading this document, it’s clear that Luther still believed in purgatory and found some value in indulgences. He was essentially respectful of the Pope and the authority of the Roman Church. He simply thought that Tetzel’s methods were trivializing the grace and forgiveness that a “proper” use of indulgences was supposed to produce. He saw Tetzel’s approach as the abuse of a valid doctrine by Rome for the sake of financial gain.

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Luther and the Gospel: Peace with God

Luther and the Gospel: Peace with Godby Charles Fry /


Luther and the Gospel: Peace with God

The entire time that Luther sought to please God through his own actions, he was conscious of the fact that he actually hated the righteousness and justice of God, for they require perfect obedience to the Law of God. He knew that even his best performance could never measure up—despite fasting, sacrificing, trying to fully surrender to God (the mystic way), and confessing his sins to Staupitz for up to six hours at a time.

Luther said of this time in his life, “I was myself driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”[i]

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Martin Luther Stumbles Toward the Gospel

Martin Luther Stumbles Toward the Gospelby Charles Fry


Early Years

Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. This would also be the place of his death after a life of unexpected turbulence and joy—a life that would turn the world upside down with the announcement of the good news of God’s gospel.

He was born to Hans and Margaretta Luther. Like the times in which Martin was born, his parents, by today’s standards, were rough, harsh, and stern. Yet they were also religious to a degree and wanted the best for their son. Hans, a copper miner, sacrificed greatly to earn enough money for Martin to study law, the profession of choice and prestige. In 1505, Hans’ dream came true: Luther began his study of law at the University of Erfurt.


The dream would not last long. On July 2 of his first year at Erfurt, a bolt of lightning knocked Luther to the ground as he returned to school following a visit to his home in Mansfeld. His conscience had already been greatly troubling him with the sense that he was not right with God, nor good enough to be accepted by a holy God. He would later write that the soul whose conscience is sensitive, yet dirty and guilty before the justice of God, is driven by fear to the point where the rustling of a leaf would put one to flight. As Proverbs 28:1 (NASB) notes, “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing.”

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The World of Martin Luther’s Birth

The World of Martin Luther's Birthby Charles Fry


The wicked flee when no one is pursuing,
But the righteous are bold as a lion.
Proverbs 28:1, NASB

On January 12, 1519, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Maximilian I, came to the end of his days and his earthly power. To prepare for the life to come, he gave orders for “his body to be scourged, his hair shorn, his teeth broken out,”[i] hoping to appear before God as a penitent. Such instructions revealed the religious thought of his day: man was guilty before God, but if he could demonstrate through suffering, sacrifice, and acts of penance that he was remorseful enough over his sin and earnest in giving God something of his own merit, he might fare better in the afterlife.

Such was the religion that dripped from a medieval and Renaissance Europe saturated with fear and religious superstition. It was in this atmosphere that Martin Luther lived his days. In order to understand Luther, it is important to first consider the context in which he lived, particularly this merit-based religion that permeated society.

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Luther Clung to Christ Alone

Luther Clung to Christ Aloneby Charles Fry /


Here in the second post in this series, we pause to look ahead, summarizing the content yet to come.   

When Lightning Struck: A Brief Life of Martin Luther (Posts 3-8)

These posts will present a brief biography of Luther. To understand Luther’s beliefs, it is important to know the context in which he lived and the religion he knew from first-hand experience. Accordingly, these posts focus on Luther’s life in relationship to the gospel and the religion of merit that was pervasive in his day. Because of this focus, many events of Luther’s life are omitted, such as his marriage to Katherine and their six children (one of whom died as an infant and another who died in her teens). While these events are important to study, for the sake of brevity and focus, such aspects of Luther’s story are not found in this narrative.

Timeline (Post 9)

A simplified timeline will be presented of the main events and writings of Luther’s life as discussed in these posts. This will help the reader more clearly understand how the details of Luther’s life fit into his overarching story and that of the Reformation.

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We Are All Beggars

We Are All BeggarsBy Charles Fry /


Shortly before Martin Luther died, a piece of paper containing his handwriting was found in his pocket. Among other words on the paper were these: “This is true. We are all beggars.”[i]

During his lifetime, Luther had come to see the holiness and justice of God. He realized he had no righteousness whatsoever to declare him acceptable to God. Luther only had Christ. Yet, in having Christ, he had everything: assurance of heaven, peace with God, and a calm heart before the Law of God. Simply clinging to Christ alone, Martin Luther inadvertently turned 1500s Europe upside down.

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