By Charles Fry /
WE ARE ALL BEGGARS
Shortly before Martin Luther died, a piece of paper containing his handwriting was found in his pocket. Among other words on the paper were these: “This is true. We are all beggars.”[i]
During his lifetime, Luther had come to see the holiness and justice of God. He realized he had no righteousness whatsoever to declare him acceptable to God. Luther only had Christ. Yet, in having Christ, he had everything: assurance of heaven, peace with God, and a calm heart before the Law of God. Simply clinging to Christ alone, Martin Luther inadvertently turned 1500s Europe upside down.
In the fall of 1984, I came to see in a deeper way the truth of Luther’s words, “We are all beggars.” My pastor preached one day on Matthew 5:3 (NASB), “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Through this sermon, I was brought face to face with the holiness of God. I was subsequently led to see that I had no righteousness or godliness to give to God in light of his majesty. Yet, in the same sermon, I heard the gospel, the announcement of good news that comes from God himself.
Christ the Lord was freely and sweetly offered as a perfect Savior. His once-and-for-all death on the cross was shown to be truly sufficient to pay the penalty for all my sin—past, present, and future. I was reminded that I had been justified by faith alone, resting from my own works. As the leaves fell that day in my hometown in Appalachia, heaven once again seemed to come to earth, as the old saying goes. I knew without a doubt that God was my Father in heaven and that I was surrounded by his lovingkindness. I experienced genuine joy.
Almost thirty years later, I taught a class on Martin Luther in the same church where I had heard this sermon. In preparing each lecture, I realized how much I personally needed to regularly hear the Law and the gospel clearly proclaimed, as well as the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is easy to forget, doubt, or trivialize the majesty of God’s Law, the grace of God, and the freeness of the gospel announcement. I was struck by the centrality, simplicity, and sufficiency of the gospel for the Church. I also noticed that the gospel is the only message in the world that gives all glory to God and humbles the pride of man. This fact was not missed by Luther. In reading his works, I was struck by his zeal for the glory of God and its connection to the gospel.
In keeping with these observations, I have two goals for this series of blog posts.
First, I hope to share concisely with the reader our Reformation roots that have largely been lost. The greatest need of our time is to return to the “first principles” of the Reformation and once again draw straight and simple lines of theology. Studying Martin Luther is a wonderful way to understand what the Bible teaches concerning God himself, the nature of man, and the gospel. Simply put, I want to share with the reader the wonderful news of the gospel that we may be filled with true joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13 NASB).
Martin Luther’s need is our need—whether our background is Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, Jewish, atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or anything else. God has clearly spoken in the Bible, telling us that every person in the world is accountable to him and that we are all bankrupt sinners in light of his majesty, holiness, and righteousness (Romans 3:9 – 20 NASB). All of us need the cross of Christ. All of us need a righteousness outside of ourselves that only Jesus can provide. This is our only hope.
Simply by clinging to Christ alone, Martin Luther inadvertently turned 1500’s Europe upside down.
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Luther’s Gospel Focus
The second goal in this project is to show from Luther’s work that while the gospel is the only true source of peace and joy, it is also the only message that gives complete glory to God. Certainly, Luther desired for man to receive comfort and hope from the good news of Christ. Yet he was concerned that the Church be faithful to the gospel message so that God would receive all honor. He despised the ways in which man robbed God of his glory; he longed for the medieval church to be humbled before God and to exalt Christ alone.
Next week, we will present an overview of the posts to follow, introducing the topic areas and setting the stage for an exciting, illuminating ride through the early years of one of the most pivotal eras in church history: the Protestant Reformation.
Part 1 of a 22-part series drawn from A World Upside Down: The Life and Theology of Martin Luther, by Charles E. Fry.
Chuck Fry holds degrees from Marshall University, Moody Bible Institute, and Christ College. He has been in discipleship ministry since 1989 and is on staff with The Navigators in Huntington, West Virginia. He and his wife, Lisa, organize and host the annual Majesty of God conference, held each April.
[i] James M. Kittelson, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1986, 2003), 297.