Luther’s Search for Assurance

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

- Romans 3:20

God tells us that our union with Christ makes us able to serve Him in even the most difficult circumstances (Phil. 4:13). But His incredible grace is seen in that besides said promise, He has also given us examples in church history in which this promise is realized. Martin Luther is one such example, and over the next two days we will see how Christ was sufficient in his life as we consider Dr. R.C. Sproul’s lectures on Luther’s life and ministry from Heroes of the Christian Faith.

Because Luther understood that he needed Christ alone, God used him mightily to help the medieval church recover the gospel and to spark the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s story begins in 1483 with his birth into a German mining family that was able to pay for his university education. In line with his father’s wishes, young Martin enrolled at the University of Erfurt in 1505 to study law.

Martin’s initial plan, in God’s providence, changed that same year. On a journey home from law school, Luther was thrown from his horse by a lightning strike. At the time, Luther participated in the unbiblical veneration of the saints, and he promised Saint Anne that he would take monastic vows if she preserved him.

Despite the protestations of his father, the young Luther left law school in order to join an Augustinian monastery. Luther pursued his monastic vocation with zeal. He spent hours in the confessional admitting his sins to his confessor, and afterward he would find other brothers to whom he would confess even the slightest sin just to make sure his bases were covered. Martin confessed the most minor of peccadilloes and made a pest of himself, prompting his confessor to bar him from the confessional unless he needed to confess grievous sins.

The profound guilt Luther felt was a direct result of his biblical understanding of God’s perfection. He knew that God’s justice and holiness are absolute, demanding punishment for even the “smallest” sins. He could find no peace for his soul because he realized that no work of a sinner — not even penance — could meet the Lord’s standard. He was beginning to see that sinners cannot be justified by their conformity to God’s law (Rom. 3:20). Finding that sinners are justified through the sufficient work of Christ would finally assuage his guilt.

Coram Deo

Do you continue to feel guilt for the sins you have committed but have confessed to the Lord? If so, know that you need no longer feel this guilt if you have trusted in Christ alone for your salvation. He has done all that is necessary to meet God’s perfect standard, and, consequently, there is nothing you need to do or can do to be set right with God but rest in Christ Jesus. He is our righteousness, and in Him we can stand unafraid before the Lord.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 20:26
Deuteronomy 25:1–2
Galatians 3:1–9
Titus 3:4–7

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