Unable To Satisfy God: Martin Luther’s Story

Note: This post and three to follow share a dramatic reading of Martin Luther telling his story of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. 

Reformation Sunday

People know this Sunday by at least three names: Halloween, the Eve of All Saints Day, and Reformation Sunday. They call it “Reformation Sunday” because on October 31, 1517, a thirty-three year old man dressed as a monk strolled to the door of the Castle Church in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany not to cry out, “Trick or Treat,” but to nail to that door a parchment listing his deeply held theological convictions. 

Convictions that on that Halloween would scare Satan to death. Convictions that on that Halloween—the Eve of All Saints Day—would tell all sinners to exchange their filthy clothes for the spotless garments of Christ. Convictions that would erupt into and inspire the Protestant Reformation. 

I am that man. My name is Martin Luther. And this is my story. 

No. This is Christ’s story. The story of how He died and rose again to change a sinner like me into a saint like Him. The story of how He showed me that there was nothing that I could do to earn God’s favor, no price that I could pay to buy God’s forgiveness, no works that I could perform to merit God’s acceptance. 

This morning may a costumed character on Halloween Sunday teach us the true significance of All Saints Day: that all saints are made saints by faith in Christ, not by faith in self. The truth is that we can dress ourselves up, we can fool others, but we can’t fool God. He always sees what’s on the inside. And without Christ, our insides are scarier than any Halloween costume. Without Christ, our insides are filthy rags. 

Through faith in Christ, we gain not a new costume, but a new heart. Through faith in Christ, we do not have to knock on the door of God’s heavenly home wondering whether we’ll receive a trick or a treat. God’s door is wide open, as are His arms, welcoming for all eternity all those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. God’s gift is eternal life through faith in His eternal Son. 

Introduction: Luther’s Lightning and Longing

On a sultry day in July 1505, I trudged over a parched road on the outskirts of the Saxon village of Stotterheim. Wearing the dress of a university law student, I approached the village as the sky became overcast. Suddenly a shower erupted, then a crashing storm. A bolt of lightning displaced the gloom and knocked me to the ground. Struggling to rise, I cried in terror, “Saint Anne help me and I will become a monk!” 

Calling upon a saint, I later repudiated the cult of the saints. Vowing to become a monk, I later renounced monasticism. A loyal son of the Church, I later shattered the structure of medieval Catholicism. A devoted servant of the Pope, I later identified the Popes with Antichrist. 

I.    Here I Stand: Naked before All-Holy God

Living as you do almost five centuries later, you may marvel at my fear of death prompted by that thunderstorm. However, you must recall that the Church of my day had largely forgotten the mercy of God. We pictured God as our angry Judge and Christ as our relentless Prosecutor. We stood in constant dread of a furious Deity. We stood before a holy God naked and afraid. 

A.  Standing before God Naked and Afraid

Toward God, I was at once attracted and repelled. I knew that only in harmony with the Ultimate could I find peace. But how could a pygmy stand before Divine Majesty? How could a sinner face Divine Holiness? Before God the high and holy, I was stupefied. 

I knew in my conscience that God designed me to live face-to-face in a peaceful relationship with Him. However, I also knew, due to my sin and God’s holiness, that I lived in separation from Him. My awareness of my distance from God terrified me. 

I longed to know how I could find a gracious God. I longed for rest for my troubled soul. More than life itself, I wanted to be sure that I was acceptable to God. However, I was convinced that God was incensed with me. Angry with me. I was sure that He hated me. 

The thunderstorm I experienced in Stotterheim was nothing compared to the thunderstorm I was experiencing in my soul. My conscience was terrified. My spirit despaired. I was unable to satisfy God at any point. What could I do? 

The Rest of the Story

I invite you to return tomorrow as we learn Martin Luther’s answer to the question, “What can we do when we are unable to satisfy God at any point? 

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When and how did you first come to realize that you were unable to satisfy God at any point?

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