Martin Luther nailed the 95 Thesis on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. This took place during Luther’s journey away from a dark and difficult struggle to understand how God could justify a wicked sinner. His legal mind allowed him to see the issue so clearly. God is perfect in His righteousness, and required absolute righteousness. But we are not, so justice is due. How could God do anything other than give absolute justice. And Luther knew that his best and most well-intentioned efforts were tainted with sin and fell far short of God’s righteous demands. God orchestrated the events of Luther’s life, and Luther was studying the Greek New Testament, and teaching Romans, Galatians, and the Psalms to students. As he read Romans 1:16-17 he discovered that the righteousness of the Christian was not his own righteousness, but a foreign righteousness, that God imputed the righteousness of Christ to the believer, so that we are made right with God not by our own good works, but by the good works of Jesus. It was this amazing truth that led to Luther’s conversion, sometime around 1519 (around 2 years after the 95 Theses). This is his words, his story about what is called Luther’s Tower Experience. I wanted to read this in the service yesterday, but time was short, so I am publishing it here.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.