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500 YEARS: ‘Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise’

MADISONVILLE, Texas (BP) — Martin Luther, though a Catholic monk, was terrified of God. God’s wrath, God’s justice, God’s consuming fire made Luther tremble in agony. He searched for some kind of solace, but to no avail.(1)

Luther spent hours in confession, hoping to stave off the fury of God. He recounted every sin, believing that in order for every sin to be pardoned, every sin must be confessed. Many times he would walk out from the confession box only to turn right back around and begin again because he recalled more sins in need of repentance.

On his pilgrimage to Rome he ventured through the eternal city hoping to find some spiritual relief but instead found only irreverence and disappointment. He climbed Pilate’s Stairs and recited the Pater Noster (The Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13) on each step, hoping to release family members from purgatory. Upon the last step he said in doubt, “Who knows whether it is so?”

Luther returned home still dreading God, and even worse, hating Him. When he was moved to Wittenburg to join the university, Johann von Staupitz, Luther’s supervisor in the Augustinian order, saw to it that the troubled monk would get a doctorate in theology. Luther was to study the Bible. And study the Bible he did.

Luther started in the Psalms, and in Psalm 23 he saw Jesus. As he taught through the book of Romans, still trembling when the word “justice” would surface, he discovered his freedom in Romans 1:17 where it says the just will live by his faith.

The Scriptures led him to his freedom, but they also led him to a significant battleground — the Bible, and not the pope, nor the councils as the sole authority for every sinful person seeking salvation.

Here also is our battleground — the authority of Scripture.

The Word of God has always been challenged. Even in the earliest days, in the Garden of Eden, Satan dared to contend with God’s Word. In 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul instructs his young disciple to hold fast to the Word of God. In chapter 3, Paul describes a world that looks like our own — lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers and the like. Still, Timothy was to be different and this difference was brought about by God’s Holy Scriptures. Paul called on Timothy to be a good soldier (2 Timothy 2:3), and we as the church must be good soldiers as well. The church that stands firm on the Word of God is a mighty weapon in the hand of God.

In the spring of 1521, Martin Luther received a summons from emperor Charles V to account for his numerous writings and teachings at an imperial assembly in Worms, Germany. Luther stood trial and was called on to denounce his works.

This was his reply: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

The Lord is looking for a people who will stand firm on His Word; a people who will live by the unpopular belief that it is the truth and demands our total obedience; a people who will not compromise, but instead find themselves complete and equipped to do the work He has prepared for them. We must surrender to God’s Word, not as a book of suggestions or good advice, but as words spoken from the very mouth of God. Those who live by the Bible are mighty weapons in the hand of God against the enemy. We often call ourselves “People of the Book,” but if we abide by this book, we could rightly admit that “We are the people of God.”

We must be like the person in Psalm 1 who meditates on the Word of God day and night. Let it be your breakfast, lunch and dinner. Let it be your joy in your sorrow, your strength in your weakness, your boldness in your fear, and your sword in your conflict. If you want to be used by God, then you must first surrender to His Word. Though it inflicts wounds, it also provides the ointment for healing. Though it brings brokenness and grieving, it provides wisdom for repentance and restoration. While the world deceives and is deceived, we can have full confidence in God’s Word because every Scripture is inspired by Him, and He will never lead us astray.