The Miserable Monk

The heroes of history often loom larger than life, and seem far removed from our own experience. But really they are just ordinary men and women—made extraordinary by their visions of how the world could be changed. Take Martin Luther. Here was a man whose valiant stand for truth transformed history. Yet Luther was no remote saint. He was an earthy fellow who loved good food, conversation, and music . . . and suffered from depression and insomnia. As a young German monk, Luther was haunted by an acute sense of his unworthiness before God. But by studying the Scriptures he learned that Christ Himself had suffered the penalty for his sins. Christ had satisfied the demanding justice of a holy God. The passage that struck home for Luther was a line from Romans: "The just shall live by faith." At that moment, he wrote in his diary, "I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith . . . I felt myself to be reborn." That was just the beginning. Luther's study of Scripture led him to press for reforms in the church. His urgent appeals to follow Scripture eventually led to his trial for heresy before the assembled religious and political powers of the day. Ordered to recant, knowing that his very life was at stake, Luther stood trembling before the assembly. "My conscience is held captive to the Word of God," he said in a shaking voice. "I cannot and I will not recant anything. God help me! Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise." What compelled this solitary monk to take such a bold stand? First, he realized that Christianity is no mere creed. It is a description of ultimate reality, rooted in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures are the very revelation of God, and give us a truth that is absolute and universally valid. Believing this gave Luther the power to stand against the power structures of his day. Second, Luther allowed the truth of God to inform his entire world view. Reading the Scriptures, he realized that God demands justice, righteousness, in all the created order. God's people are called to bring that justice into every area of life. They are to see the whole world through God's eyes, bringing righteousness to individuals and righteousness to the structures of society. This new perspective led to reforms not only in the church but also in politics, law, education, the arts and sciences. It undergirded the principles that would eventually lead to western democracy. It stimulated social reforms. It inspired art and music. How desperately modern Christians need to grasp that same comprehensive world view, lighting up all aspects of life. If you and I were to perceive all of life through the lens of divine justice and righteousness—if you and I were to summon up the courage to take our stand, as Luther did—then we, too, might dare to dream of a Reformation. One that could restore our flagging church and bring real justice to our failing culture.


Chuck Colson



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