Martin Luther is one of the most influential and controversial figures in the history of the world. He was a German monk who changed Christianity forever when he nailed his ’95 Theses’ or 95 propositions, to a church door in 1517, an act that sparked the Protestant Reformation.
Martin was born at Eisleben, about 150 kms southwest of modern Berlin, but was raised in Mansfeld, where his father Hans worked at the local copper mines. Hans sent Martin to Latin school and then, when Martin was only 13 years old, to the University of Erfurt, to study law.
Then in 1505 Martin’s life took a dramatic turn. As the 21-year-old Luther was walking on the road to Erfurt through a severe thunderstorm, a bolt of lightning struck the ground near him. “Help me, St. Anne!” Luther cried. “I will become a monk!”
Luther survived, and kept his vow: he gave away all his possessions and entered the monastic life. Martin Luther was extraordinarily successful as a monk. He plunged into prayer, fasting, and ascetic practices—going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold without a blanket, and flagellating himself. As he later commented, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”
Though he desperately tried to love God fully by these ways, he found no consolation. He became increasingly terrified of the wrath of God until he read and pondered on the Bible text, Romans 1:17, “The righteous will live by faith.”
With great relief, Luther realised that you don’t have to earn your way to heaven, instead it is a free gift from God to those who believe. Luther began to share his belief that the Bible is the only source of religious authority and that salvation is reached through faith, not deeds.
Luther’s ideas set in motion the Protestant Reformation. He wanted the people to feel closer to God, so he translated the Bible into the local language of the people in his country, Germany. Luther also wrote the hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
His actions unleashed forces that ended the Middle Ages, or Dark Ages, and ushered in the modern era. So what does this mean to us today? Well, amongst other things, it means that we can have the assurance today that God loves us and that by believing in Jesus, all our mistakes can be forgiven and we can live forever. It means that we can have true inner-peace and happiness right now.