“Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God…Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all creatures.” Martin Luther, Preface to Romans
It was the reading of this preface that John Wesley heard in May 1738, where he said, “my heart was strangely warmed,” and he was born again. It was the Methodist revival through Wesley that led a young politician named William Wilberforce to the Lord. It was from Wilberforce that slavery was eventually abolished in England. It was the influence of Wilberforce that led to the abolition movement in America in the 1800’s. It was a black Baptist pastor, Michael King, who visited Germany in 1934, who named his son after Martin Luther, who inaugurated the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s.
God’s mighty works flow from our lives as we apprehend the grace of God in our heart. This was the struggle for Martin Luther, who for 12 long years, did everything possible to earn God’s favor—fasting, self-flagellation, crawling up tower steps, confessing sins up to 6 hours at a time, sleep deprivation and the list could go on and on. The Church at the time taught that only through strictly following Catholic Canon Law could one be saved. As Luther said of himself, “If ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery, it was I.”
But in early 1517, a single insight came to Luther, called the Cloaka Tower experience, that illuminated his heart and life forever. He recalls that moment, “At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely…He who through faith the righteous shall live.” (Romans 1:17). “There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely faith…Here if felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”
Outside of the life of Christ, this insight started the greatest revolution in human history. Luther discovered that God bestows grace upon us—as unworthy as we are—the divine blessing of salvation through faith. Because of inward faith, not outward works, we become the righteousness of God!
On the road with Luther,
Steve Holt D.D. MA