“We are beggars. This is true.”

 Martin Luther died on today’s date in 1546, his last recorded words the title of this post.  We still find the Reformation doctrines to be of just as much importance as when the good doctor preached.

It is Luther’s sinfulness itself which illustrates why his message remains so vital today: “The fact is, Luther was a man. God accomplished incredibly important things through him . . . but he was nevertheless human. He was flawed and sinful, like you and me. And really, when you think about it, that is the good news of the Gospel. God justifies us despite our failings. He covers us with the blood of Christ and forgives our sin. The recognition that we are simul iustus et peccator (“at the same time righteous and a sinner”) is a cornerstone of the faith rediscovered by Luther. On the one hand, we understand that we are sinners because of our evil inclinations and actions; on the other hand, we know we are saints because God has forgiven us.” 

This truly is why we remember Luther: not because he was always nice, not because he was always good, and certainly not because he was always right. He wasn’t. Instead, we remember Luther because he directed attention always away from himself to Christ. It is to Christ we look for salvation, not our own holiness. Indeed, this is the context of Luther’s oft-quoted and much-maligned “sin boldly” comments. 

“God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners,” Luther writes. “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [ie, sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” It is to Christ, not ourselves, that we look for salvation, Luther is saying. He is calling us to be honest about our sin—to recognize its severity—so that we more fully understand our need for Christ. “We will commit sins while we are here,” Luther continues, “for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth were justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.”

– Matthew Block; Standing with Martin Luther: Remembering a Sinful Saint

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