Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Monk Who Learned to Stop Hating God

Leslie Basham: He became a monk to fulfill a vow he had made and because he wanted to please God. But by the year 1517, Martin Luther was frustrated.

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: There’s no peace. The question is, “How do you love God?” Luther said, “I hate Him! And I hate Him because His standards are so high. How do you meet the standards of a holy God?”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of A Place of Quiet Rest, for Wednesday, October 25, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, it’s a great joy and a great privilege to have Pastor Erwin Lutzer with us here on Revive Our Hearts this week. Over several days we’re talking about Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation.

Pastor Lutzer has written a book with that title, and I have been spellbound over the last weeks as I have been immersed in this story. Pastor Lutzer is a great storyteller, and these things that happened 500 years ago, you’d think they might be dry and boring, but they’re anything but that. They’re things that we need to understand as we deal with the implications of the gospel in our day.

Pastor Lutzer is an author. For many years he was the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. He’s the primary Bible teacher on a radio program called Running to Win, which you may have heard. Pastor Lutzer, welcome back to Revive Our Hearts. Thank you for being with us today.

Pastor Lutzer: Nancy, I’m so excited about being here. Thank you for inviting me, and I can hardly wait to get to the discussion today.

Nancy: Let me say that if you didn’t catch the last couple of days in this series, you’ll want to do that because we laid some ground work, some foundation, that will help you in your understanding of the Reformation.

Today we come to one of the most significant figures, probably the most significant figure, in the Protestant Reformation. I heard you say, Pastor Lutzer, that there had been more books written on Luther than any person except . . .

Pastor Lutzer: . . . Jesus and Paul.

Nancy: Jesus and the apostle Paul. You’d think everybody would know all about Martin Luther.

Pastor Lutzer: You’d think that Christians especially would have read a biography of him, and many of them know very little about him. Of course, there’s plenty of negative stuff out there about Luther, and much of it is true.

I’m sometimes asked this question: Who from the past would you like to have dinner with other than Jesus and Paul and the apostles? I would choose Martin Luther. I mean, imagine this: He has his table talks, and he’s holding court every night at dinner. Students are taking notes.

Nancy: In his home.

Pastor Lutzer: In his home. And, by the way, Nancy, if you come with me on a tour, we can actually see the table. You can touch it. You can lean across the rope and touch the table.

Nancy: Wow.

Pastor Lutzer: But here’s the point: He’s making all of these witty remarks. Students are writing it down. And in six small volumes, just of his tischgespräche—in German—table talks. They discuss everything from the pope to politics to one subject or another. How many of us, if we were to sit down at dinner and somebody were to take notes on everything that was said, would we still be studying it 500 years from now? (laughter) I don’t think so, but with Luther, you do.

He was a very interesting person. He made many outlandish statements. But the main thing is his quest for the gospel, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about.

Nancy: Take us back. We’re just going to walk through the story of Martin Luther. I hope that you’ll feel as I did after reading Pastor Lutzer’s book, that you understand this man better, that you maybe get inside his head or his skin a little bit and that it is encouraging to you.

He didn’t start out with any sense of being a leader or religious figure. That was all in the providence of God as it unfolded in his life.

Pastor Lutzer: There’s a lesson here for parents. When Martin Luther’s parents had Martin, whom they named Martin because he was born on Saint Martin’s Day, and when Mrs. Luther held him in her arms, she had no idea who she was holding.

Nancy: Right.

Pastor Lutzer: Parents, you don’t know who you are raising either. Here you have a man who is going to change the map of Europe. We’ve already said, about whom more books have been written than any man who lived except Jesus and Paul. They are going to try to dissuade him from going into the monastery, and they have no idea what God has prepared for him.

So take care of that child that God has given you. You don’t know. You might be holding the next Billy Graham for all you know. So, okay, enough of that.

Luther is born in Eisleben, Germany. I think it was about 1483. His father was a miner. He’s brought up in a very strict home. He goes to the university in Erfurt because, after all, he wants to study law. His father wants him to be a lawyer because he could earn a lot of money doing that.

He’s walking home one day in 1505 and was struck down by lightning. He calls out, “Help me, Saint Anne, and I shall become a monk.”

Nancy: Out of a desperate prayer.

Pastor Lutzer: Out of a desperate prayer. In order to fulfill his vow, and also, he was troubled with a sense of existential despair—what shall we say, perhaps depression, guilt, alienation, being cut off from God.

So he enrolls then, from the university studying law, and goes into the Augustinian Monastery there in Erfurt.

Nancy: Which his dad wasn’t real crazy about.

Pastor Lutzer: No, his father was opposed to it.

He’s there in order to save his soul. But the question is: How? In those days it was believed that, yes, we’re saved by grace, but you have to make yourself worthy of that grace. You have to make yourself worthy of God to save you. The question is: How is that done? He took advantage of all the disciplines of the Church. I mean, he sometimes fasted so long that people thought he was going to die.

I’ve been in the various rooms of the monastery. There are hard floors made of stone. He slept on those without blankets in order to mortify the flesh. But the question is: How much would God demand?

And then, of course, confession was of some solace to him until he began to confess his sins up to six hours at a time until his professor was so annoyed, he said, “Luther, the next time you come, come with a big sin, like murder and adultery, but not all these little sins.”

But Luther was a better theologian than his contemporaries. He understood that the issue was not whether the sin was big or little, but whether it had been confessed and forsaken and forgiven because he knew that the smallest, smidgen of sin would bar you from God forever.

Nancy: So he must have had a high view of the holiness of God.

Pastor Lutzer: Oh, a high view of the holiness of God.

Nancy: And the justice of God.

Pastor Lutzer: Yes, the justice of God.

Let me tell you about his first mass. He expected to be struck down by God when he was standing behind that table, and he, a pygmy, being able to turn ordinary wine and ordinary bread into the body and the blood of Jesus. He said, “Who am I that I should stand in the presence of the Almighty?”

And you see, in those days, it was believed that you have the mass, of course, but it only takes care of past sins. Tomorrow is another day.

Luther discovered that it was something like trying to mop up the floor with the faucet running. 

Let me give you a little bit of humor here: When you are there in the monastery in Erfurt, there’s a slab there that is actually a gravestone of one whose name is Johannes Zachariae. Well, who in the world is he? He played a part in the death of Hus (that we talked about last time at the Council of Constance) when Hus became a martyr.

So, isn’t it interesting that, in order to take your vows, you did it face down on the gravestone, right at the altar of Johannes Zachariae, somebody who was actually instrumental in killing Hus a hundred years earlier? It is there that a man took his vows that ultimately would shake the Church to its foundations.

Someone has humorously said that, “Perhaps at the Council of Constance, Hus looked at Johannes Zachariae and said, ‘Someday there’s going to be a reformer who’s going to shake the Church to the foundations,’ and perhaps Johannes Zachariae said, ‘Not over my dead body.’”

So there’s Luther trying to attain salvation. He tries the merit of the saints. He goes to Rome to settle a dispute. (If you know the distance there, it’s about 800 miles. He and two other brothers walked.) He goes to Rome thinking, There I will find salvation.

He goes up the stairs. Today you can go up these stairs, and there’s a sign there to this very day that indicates the number of years you’ll get off on purgatory if you say prayers on each of these stairs. They are believed to be the ones that were brought from Jerusalem to Rome, ones on which Jesus was. But there was no peace.

The question is: How do you love God? Luther said, “I hate Him. And I hate Him because His standards are so high. How do you meet the standards of a holy God?”

There was a new university beginning in the little town of Wittenberg, and Elector Frederick was looking for teachers. Staupitz said to Luther, “I’m doing some teaching there. You come on over, and you teach there.”

Luther taught there Aristotelian ethics, still in despair, under a pear tree. Staupitz said, “You ought to teach the Bible.”

Luther said, “That will be the death of me.” But he does.

He gets to Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Luther said, “Why is it that Jesus Himself is experiencing what I’m experiencing?”—a feeling of alienation, a feeling of being cut off from God, these diseases of the soul that Luther was dealing with.

It began to dawn on him that maybe that was for him. And then, of course, he gets to the book of Romans, and for this, of course, we need to just bathe in the beauty of the gospel. He gets to verse 16 of chapter 1,

“I’m not ashamed of the gospel, it’s the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it is the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (vv. 16–17).

Luther is absorbed with the phrase: “The righteousness of God.” The righteousness of God was his problem. But Luther, as he looked at this, he realized that there is a righteousness, which is an attribute of God, but there’s also a righteousness, which is a gift of God given to those who believe, “for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

He discovers in chapter 4, for example, that it says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness” (v. 3). Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness.

He gets to chapter 5, and, for example, verse 17, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through one man, Jesus Christ.”

So Luther said, “Day and night I was pondering this question: What about this gift of righteousness given in response to faith?” He said, “When I began to see that there is a righteousness you receive by sheer faith, and I receive that righteousness, it was as if I walked through the gates of Paradise.”

Because, you see, now it didn’t matter how high God’s standard was because Luther didn’t have to keep God’s standard. Jesus met God’s standards.

Nancy: Yes.

Pastor Lutzer: Centuries earlier, a theologian by the name of Augustine said, “Oh, God, demand whatever You will, but You supply what You demand.” I don’t mind if You demand absolute holiness and perfection as long as You supply what You demand, because I don’t have it. And, by faith, Luther received that gift of righteousness.

Nancy: What an amazing exchange that is, isn’t it? Really, it’s the gospel in a sentence.

Pastor Lutzer: Yes, right. Exactly.

Nancy: My sin is put on Him. His righteousness is put on me.

Pastor Lutzer: Luther basically said, “Oh, Jesus, I am Thy sin. Thou art my righteousness.” When Jesus died on the cross, He got what He didn’t deserve, namely our sin. We, in turn, get what we don’t deserve, namely His righteousness.

We have to linger here for just a moment, because this is a means of deliverance, not just for those who are listening who have never savingly believed, but for Christians as well. When you stop to think of it, you realize that it has to be a free gift because it’s the kind of righteousness of which you and I have none. It’s not human righteousness raised to a higher power. This is the gift of righteousness given to those who believe.

Do you realize that you have to be perfect to get to heaven? This would be a good opportunity for wives who are present here, if your husband is here, you can look at him now and say, “You are in trouble.”

Nancy: And vice versa.

Pastor Lutzer: And vice versa, yes. We’ve got trouble all around us. But here’s the thing: You have to be perfect to get to heaven, but when you receive the righteousness of God you are declared to be perfect. When you die, you’re welcomed into heaven as if you are Jesus because you are there totally based upon His righteousness. It’s like we like to sing, “Clothed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.”

So it is a gift of righteousness. It’s a permanent righteousness.

Let me ask you a theological question: Was Luther saved when he was there in the monastery confessing his sin hours at a time? No.

Millions of people will go to church this coming Sunday and confess their sins and leave with no assurance because even if their sins are forgiven, tomorrow is another day.

What Luther discovered, as indicated in the book of Hebrews, is that by one offering, Jesus perfected forever those who are sanctified. Once you have the gift of righteousness, that gift of righteousness is yours. Now, we have to confess our sins to maintain fellowship, but not in order to be saved again.

Luther now knew. That’s why one of the first doctrines that he dropped was purgatory because purgatory was based on the notion that nobody dies righteous enough to go to heaven. Oh, a few do, a few saints, but not you and me and all of our friends. And what we need to do is go into the fires of purgatory to be purged so that we become perfect so that God can welcome us into heaven.

Well, now, if you have the righteousness of Christ credited to you, Nancy, you go from this life to the next directly, based on the righteousness of Christ, and you arrive in heaven. You finally have assurance.

But there’s more than that to the righteousness of Christ. It’s an equal righteousness. The righteousness that the apostle Paul received is the same righteousness that the most humble, unknown believer receives.

Nancy: Yes.

Pastor Lutzer: And this means, immediately, it begins to open the door for something that became clear to Luther later on, namely, the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer.

Sometimes when I’m at a picnic or something, they’ll say, “Pastor Lutzer, would you pray for the food?” Well, I love to pray for the food because I like to talk to Jesus. But anyone can pray for the food and have the same access as anyone else if you come on the basis of the righteousness of Christ and the blood that was shed that we might have that righteousness.

So it opened up a whole new understanding among the laity, because, at last, that meant now everyone had significance.

Since I’m talking about the priesthood of the believer, I’ll carry it along just a little further. It revolutionized work.

Nancy: Yes.

Pastor Lutzer: You see, in those days, a good work was something the priest asked you to do—say some “Hail, Marys,” do a good deed. Now, everything has significance. “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all of it before the name of Jesus Christ and in His name” (see Col. 3:17).

I love Luther. He was so witty. He said, “God milks cows. God milks that cow over there, but He uses a milkmaid to do it.”

When you milk a cow, you are milking that cow for God, and that means everything has significance. It doesn’t matter whether you’re scrubbing the floor. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re being recognized by anyone. You’re doing it for God because you are a priest, in the presence of the Living God.

Nancy: And that makes it holy work.

Pastor Lutzer: It makes it holy work.

Nancy: Yes.

Pastor Lutzer: You remember, Nancy, years ago, I think Ruth Graham had above her dishwashing sink, “Divine service conducted three times here daily.”

Nancy: Holy work.

Pastor Lutzer: That was before Billy bought her a dishwasher. (laughter)

So this was absolutely revolutionary, and now, finally, you have the story. 

Nancy: I want to interrupt you.

Pastor Lutzer: Yes, please do.

Nancy: As you’re telling this story about the righteousness of Christ and Luther’s journey to finding that, I just think we probably have some listeners who have been in that very same struggle. Whatever their church affiliation, or none, but who are struggling to find acceptance with God, peace with God, forgiveness, a sense of how to deal with the shame, guilt, the weight of their sin, and what you’ve just shared is good news.

Pastor Lutzer: Nancy, it’s not only good news, it’s liberating news.

Nancy: Yes.

Pastor Lutzer: I share this with people because there isn’t a day that goes by in my own life where I don’t think of this: I have acceptance today before the Father because of Jesus.

So I look into my own life, maybe failure, maybe not a warm time in my devotions . . . Have you ever awakened, Nancy, and your heart hasn’t felt hot toward God?

Nancy: Which morning? (laughter)

Pastor Lutzer: We’ve all had that experience. Isn’t it wonderful to know that’s okay from this standpoint: Today I’m accepted before the Father because of Jesus. And according to John 17, He loves me. God loves me as much as He loves His Son

Nancy: Wow.

Pastor Lutzer: He loved me before the foundation of the world. 

Nancy: Which is why the Reformers said we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day.

Pastor Lutzer: Yes, absolutely.

Nancy: I want to ask you right now to just take that a step further for the person who has never trusted Christ for his salvation. Can you just walk them through that process? Because now could be the day of salvation for somebody listening to this program.

Pastor Lutzer: That is my delight.

If you believe that when Jesus Christ died on the cross and was raised again, He did all that ever will be necessary for you to stand in the presence of a holy God. If you believe that, and you embrace that, by saying “no” to all of your good works, which are tainted with sin anyway, and solely dependent upon Christ, you will be saved, and you will also know it.

And the reason you will know it is because, at last, it doesn’t depend upon you. It depends solely on Jesus and His promises, and He fills in for you all of the gaps.

Let me do an illustration, which really is best done by those who are watching perhaps on the Internet rather than on radio, but you can follow it very easily.

Let’s suppose I have two books up here. One book says, The Life and Times of Erwin Lutzer. We look in, and it has some nice spots, but a lot of sin and a lot of self-serving, whatever.

But there’s another book over here that I have that says, The Life and Times of Jesus Christ.

The gospel is this: Jesus says to me, “Erwin, give Me your book, and let’s do this. Let’s rip out all of your pages, and I’m going to take the pages from My book, and I’m going to insert them into your covers.”

Oh, all right. The Life and Times of Erwin Lutzer, let’s open it now. It’s a book filled with obedience. It’s a book filled with beauty, holiness. The book is so beautiful and so holy that God adores it, and it’s The Life and Times of Erwin Lutzer. Why? Jesus stands in for me.

Nancy: Right.

Pastor Lutzer: If you’re listening today and you have never savingly believed on Him, tell Him right now, “I’m going to stop trusting myself. I know that I’m a sinner, and I receive the free gift of eternal life, and I embrace Jesus as mine. From now on I depend upon Him for my righteousness. I depend upon Him for my acceptance before God.”

And you know what the Bible says? There will be a place in heaven reserved for you.

Now, I do a lot of flying, and usually I have a ticket, but sometimes I’ve flown standby. So when you fly standby, you go to the woman behind the desk, and you say, “Do you think I’ll be able to get on?” And she says, “Sit down. If there’s a place, I’ll call you.”

Well, I’m German. How long can I sit there? (laughter) So I get up, and I go back, and I say, “Do you think I’m going to get on?”

“SIT DOWN.” (laughter)

But if you have a ticket and it says on it—like a recent flight I was on. It says, “6F.” I have a place reserved. I can kick back while I’m waiting. I can watch CNN because that’s what they always have playing on at the airports. (laughter) I can kick back, have a cup of coffee. Why? Because there’s a place reserved.

When you trust Christ, there will be a room in heaven that only you can enter. There will be a crown that only you can wear. And it will be because of your faith in Him because He stood in for you. He took the hit for you.

That’s what the gospel is, and that’s what liberated Martin Luther from all of his faults and set him free.

Leslie: That’s Dr. Erwin Lutzer, talking with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about the most important topic there is—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nancy will be right back, but first, if you’ve never experienced peace with God and you’re ready to place your faith in Jesus, we’d like to send you some free information to make that process very clear. Just call us at 1–800–569–5959 and ask for the free material on knowing Jesus personally.  

The reason we’re able to offer free resources to new believers and to present this kind of message on the program is thanks to listeners who believe in Revive Our Hearts and want it to continue. When you donate any amount during this current series on the Reformation, we’ll send you the book by Erwin Lutzer called Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation. This book will help you understand the Reformation in a deeper way. It will help you appreciate the amazing truth that we are saved by grace alone.

Ask for Rescuing the Gospel when you call 1–800–569–5959. You can also donate and get your copy by visiting our website—ReviveOurHearts.com.

Tomorrow, Dr. Lutzer helps us understand why the fospel was in need of being rescued. Please be back, for Revive Our Hearts.

Now, here’s Nancy to introduce a final thought and then close our time in prayer.

Nancy: Do you ever feel like you have to earn God's favor, that you never quite measure up to His expectations? Martin Luther was a theologian and minister who felt that way.

My friend, Susan Hunt, saw a vivid picture that helped her understand Luther's struggles.

Susan Hunt: Recently, my husband and I were in Rome and we visited the Basilica where the holy stairs are located. They are supposedly the same stairs that Jesus climbed when he appeared before Pontius Pilate and which were moved from Jerusalem to Rome.

I don't know whether or not that is true, but they are the stairs that Martin Luther climbed on his pilgrimage to Rome in 1510.

It was sobering to look at those stairs and remember the story of Luther climbing them on his knees, kissing each step as went—believing that would earn him favor with God and that he would have peace. The story goes that when he reached the top he looked back and thought, Who knows if this is true. And he had no peace.

Luther continued to seek peace through self-effort until one day the Holy Spirit burned into his heart the words of Romans 1:17, "The just shall live by faith." His burden was lifted. He realized that we cannot earn our salvation. It is a gift of grace.

This re-discovery of the gospel was transformative for Luther, for the Church, and for the world.

The flame that was lit when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany spread like wildfire. 

Years later, Luther wrote,"I simply taught, preached, wrote God's Word. Otherwise, I did nothing. The Word did it all."

May our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation be a call to hold high the living and active Word of God. May it dwell in us richly. "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord remains forever."

Nancy: Oh Lord, how we thank You for the wonder of that amazing gospel, of our amazing Savior. I think of how Martin Luther saw You as a just and righteous, holy Judge. But it wasn’t until later that he came to see You also as a great and holy and merciful Redeemer. Today we have seen Christ our Redeemer.

I believe there are some who have been listening to Dr. Lutzer’s voice today, and You have put faith in their hearts. You’ve opened their eyes to see what Christ has done for them. Thank You, Lord, for the salvation that You are giving to repentant, believing souls this day.

And for those of us who have known this gospel, maybe since we were very little we trusted Christ, but Christ is more precious to us today. Today we need to preach the gospel to ourselves as we walk and realize it’s not our righteousness, it’s not our life, it’s not our good deeds, but it’s the life and holiness of Christ imputed to us, transferred to us, given to us. As a result, we can be sure of Your favor, of Your blessing, of a place reserved for us in heaven, but also of Your grace this day.

So, Lord, for all of this we give You thanks, in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you experience freedom in Christ. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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