While most people think of Halloween when they think of October 31st, it is actually a day that notes the anniversary of an event that changed world history 500 years ago. It was October 31, 1517 when a monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses, or protests, to the door of Wittenberg Castle church.
Fed up with corruption of religious leaders, especially at the expense of God’s grace, Luther would start a revolution that would ignite fires around the world. His protest of greed and idolatry and bondage found in the Roman Catholic church of his day would mark the birth of the Reformation.
At stake was the debate about forgiveness. Was it something that could be bought, was it something that could be earned, or was it something else entirely? Luther knew the debate well, it had haunted him for years.
Indeed, his deathly fear of God is legendary. Caught one night in a storm he prayed that if he survived the thunder and lightning he would become a monk. True to his word he joined a monastery, but found little relief in his prayer and study. His sin always laid heavily upon him.
There is a story of a minister who was irritated with a woman who claimed to be so close to God she would know his will through visions. Skeptical, the minister had a secret sin that had enslaved him to guilt for years. One day he approached the woman and said, “So you hear from God do you?” She replied he spoke to her in visions. “Then if you are able to hear from him then tonight ask him what secret sin I have carried all these years.”
Anxious to hear her reply the next week the minister approached her again, “Did you pray and ask God what my sin was?” “Yes”, she replied. “Well”, said the minister, “Did he answer you?” “Yes,” she stated again. “What did he say my sin was?” asked the minister. She answered, “He said he didn’t remember.”
This was at the heart of Luther’s revelation. Reading the book of Romans his heart was lit afire when he read, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:28).
Luther finally found what he had been looking for all his life. His faith, not his good or bad actions, was what mattered. His faith that a person is forgiven by grace when they believe the gospel of Christ. He realized he would never be holy on his own, and that the gospel is the account of Jesus’ holiness becoming our holiness, so much so that our sins are remembered no more.