Martin Luther had a very intense struggle over guilt in the 16th century. As a student already he began to worry about his relationship with God. How could he as a sinner relate with a righteous God? How could a Holy God except into His presence a sinner like Martin Luther? Luther became so concerned about this issue that he wanted to join a monastery. His father opposed that move, wanting instead of him to become a lawyer- to do something useful with his life. But Luther out of the intensity of his concern about his relationship with God became a monk. There was a saying in the middle ages “doubt makes the monk.” It was not doubt about the existence of God (a kind of modern problem) but it was doubt about how one could relate to God, and out of that doubt many people like Martin Luther became monks worrying about how to save their souls. Worrying about how a sinner can be related to a Holy God. Luther invested himself with great seriousness in the life of a monk. He spent all nights in prayer, he spent days fasting, he even beat his back with whips until he bled, hoping by these disciplines to overcome the sin in his own life. He took with great literalness Paul’s words about beating the body into submission, but in spite of all of his dedication he found that he was still a sinner. He found that he still could not please a Holy God. And he reached a point in his own spiritual journey (he said) where he felt that if “God was alive, I am dead”—what he meant was that if God was really God. If God is the Holy one, then surely I am lost and hopeless, and he came to a point where he would even say “I hated God.” He hated God because God was the one that he could not approach. God was the one that he could not satisfy. God was the one that he could not ever please. And it was out of that wrestling with guilt that Luther came to his great Evangelical breakthrough. It was his realization that when the New Testament talks about the righteousness of God it means not only the righteousness that God demands, but also the righteousness that God gives and in his study of the Scripture Luther came to see that Jesus Christ was indeed his substitute. That Jesus Christ had taken the place of the sinner on the Cross and that therefore in Jesus Christ there was an answer to sin and to guilt and to hopelessness. And Romans chapter 5 verse 1 became a great joy to his heart “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It was through looking to Christ by faith, trusting Christ to be the sinner’s substitute, trusting Christ to be the perfect fulfiller of God’s righteous demands that Luther by faith found peace with God.-W. Robert Godfrey, President and Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary, California.
“This transcription of “Guilt, Grace, Gratitude” is a
broadcast of the White Horse Inn radio program that originally re-aired on May
21, 2006 and is posted with permission. The White Horse Inn exists to equip
Christians to “know what you believe and why you believe it.” For more
information about the White Horse Inn, please visit www.whitehorseinn.org or