Ligonier Ministries Blog

The official blog of Ligonier Ministries, founded by theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul in 1971 to help Christians know what they believe, why the believe it, how to live it, and how to share it.
  1. What do the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace, justification by faith, and new life in union with Christ mean for the living of the Christian life? For Martin Luther, they carry four implications:

    The first implication is the knowledge that the Christian believer is simul iustus et peccator, at one and the same time justified and yet a sinner. This principle, to which Luther may have been stimulated by John Tauler's Theologia Germanica, was a hugely stabilizing principle: in and of myself, all I see is a sinner; but when I see myself in Christ, I see a man counted righteous with His perfect righteousness. Such a man is therefore able to stand before God as righteous as Jesus Christ—because he is righteous only in the righteousness that is Christ's. Here we stand secure.

    The second implication is the discovery that God has become our Father in Christ. We are accepted. One of the most beautiful accounts found in Luther's Table Talk was, perhaps significantly, recorded by the somewhat melancholic, yet much loved, John Schlaginhaufen:

    God must be much friendlier to me and speak to me in friendlier fashion than my Katy to little Martin. Neither Katy nor I could intentionally gouge out the eye or tear off the head of our child. Nor Could God. God must have patience with us. He has given evidence of it, and therefore he sent his Son into our flesh in order that we may look to him for the best.

    Third, Luther emphasizes that life in Christ is necessarily life under the cross. If we are united to Christ, our lives will be patterned after His. The way for both the true church and the true Christian is not via the theology of glory (theologia gloriae) but via the theology of the cross (theologia crucis). This impacts us inwardly as we die to self and outwardly as we share in the sufferings of the church. The medieval theology of glory must be overcome by the theology of the cross. For all their differences in understanding the precise nature of the sacraments, Luther and Calvin are at one here. If we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection, and marked out thus by our baptism (as Paul teaches in Rom. 6:1–14), then the whole of the Christian life will be a cross-bearing:

    The Cross of Christ doth not signify that piece of wood which Christ did bear upon his shoulders, and to the which he was afterwards nailed, but generally it signifieth all the afflictions of the faithful, whose sufferings are Christ's sufferings, 2 Cor. i.5: "The sufferings of Christ abound in us"; again: "Now rejoice I in my sufferings for you, and fulfil the rest of the afflictions of Christin my flesh, for his body's sake, which is the Church" &c. (Col. i.24). The Cross of Christ therefore generally signifieth all the afflictions of the Church which it suffereth for Christ.

    The believer's union with Christ in His death and resurrection and its outworking in daily experience thus became, for Luther, the spectacle lenses through which the Christian learns to view every experience in life. This—the theologia crucis—is what brings everything into sharper focus and enables us to make sense of the ups and downs of the Christian life:

    It is profitable for us to know these things, lest we should be swallowed up with sorrow or fall to despair when we see that our adversaries do cruelly persecute, excommunicate and kill us. But let us think with ourselves, after the example of Paul that we must glory in the cross which we bear, not for our sins, but for Christ's sake. If we consider only in ourselves the sufferings which we endure, they are not only grievous but intolerable; but when we may say: "Thy sufferings (O Christ) abound in us"; or, as it is said in Psalm xliv: "For thy sake we are killed all the day," then these sufferings are not only easy, but also sweet, according to this saying: "My burden is easy, and my yoke is sweet" (Matt. xi.30).

    Fourth, the Christian life is marked by assurance and joy. This was one of the hallmarks of the Reformation, and understandably so. The Reformation's rediscovery regarding justification—that, instead of working toward a hoped-for arrival at it, the Christian life actually begins with it—brought stunning deliverance, filling mind, will, and affections with joy. It meant that one could now begin to live in the light of a settled future in glory. Inevitably, that light reflected back into the present life, bringing intense relief and release.

    For Luther, the Christian life is a gospel-grounded, gospel-built, gospel-magnifying life that exhibits the free and sovereign grace of God and is lived out in gratitude to the Savior who died for us, yoked to Him in cross-bearing until death is swallowed up in victory and faith becomes sight.

    Perhaps, in 1522, as they sat listening to Luther preaching one Sunday in the church at Borna, some of his congregation wondered what lay at the heart of this gospel that had so excited, not to say transformed, Brother Martin. Could it possibly be for them too? Luther had read their minds. He had come into the pulpit well prepared to answer their question:

    But what is the Gospel? It is this, that God has sent his Son into the world to save sinners, Jn. 3, 16, and to crush hell, overcome death, take away sin and satisfy the law. But what must you do? Nothing but accept this and look up to your Redeemer and firmly believe that he has done all this for your good and freely gives you all as your own, so that in the terrors of death, sin and hell, you can confidently say and boldly depend upon it, and say: Although I do not fulfil the law, although sin is still present and I fear death and hell, nevertheless from the Gospel I know that Christ has bestowed on me all his works. I am sure he will not lie, his promise he will surely fulfil. And as a sign of this I have received baptism.
    Upon this I anchor my confidence. For I know that my Lord Christ has overcome death, sin, hell and the devil for my good. For he was innocent, as Peter says: "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." 1 Pet. 2, 22. Therefore sin and death were not able to slay him, hell could not hold him, and he has become their Lord, and has granted this to all who accept and believe it. All this is effected not by my works or merits; but by pure grace, goodness and mercy.

    Luther once said, "If I could believe that God was not angry at me, I would stand on my head for joy." Perhaps that very day some of those who heard him preach responded and experienced the "confidence" of which he spoke. Who knows but some of the younger hearers later wrote to their friends in turn and told them that they had gone home and stood on their heads for joy?

    This excerpt is taken from Sinclair Ferguson's contribution in The Legacy of Luther.

  2. Why did Martin Luther call out to Saint Anne during a terrifying thunderstorm? In this brief clip, Stephen Nichols takes us back to the incident that led Luther to become a monk.

    This Reformation Month, watch a short video every day on the history and insights of the Protestant Reformation. And don't forget that for a donation of any amount this month only, you can also receive a copy of Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer, a documentary featuring interviews with R.C. Sproul and several Ligonier Teaching Fellows, on DVD. Offer ends 10/31/18.

    Transcript

    In 1505, Martin Luther was here in Erfurt. He had received his master's degree in January, and he just spent a few months studying law. He thought he'd go home and pay a visit to his family, so he traveled about 90 kilometers to the north to the town of Mansfeld. On the way back, Luther was caught in a violent thunderstorm, in fact, he thought God had unleashed the very heavens to take his life. So Luther tried to get shelter, and he found this big granite rock, and he grasped it, and he cried out, "Help me, Saint Anne, and I will become a monk."

    As Luther's biographer Roland Bainton puts it, 'God kept his vows, and Luther kept his.' Luther survived the thunderstorm. He made his way back here to Erfurt, and he threw a party for his friends. He gave away his law books, he gave away his law cap, and he entered the monastery here in Erfurt. Luther thought that somehow by becoming a monk, he would solve his spiritual struggles. The word we use to describe these struggles is the word anfechtungen—struggles in the plural, a deep-seated soul anxiety. You see it in Luther at the thunderstorm, and you see Luther crying out "Help me St. Anne. Why does he cry out to Saint Anne? Well for one, this is the only mediator that Luther knows.

    Saint Anne was the patron saint of miners, not minors but miners as in the profession. And that was a profession of Luther's father, Hans Luther. He owned a copper mine, in fact, he had worked hard enough to own one mine, and he managed a second mine. He was very entrepreneurial and took on a second job as it were so that he could provide an education for his son. And as a miner, the patron saint was Saint Anne. There would have been a shrine in Luther's childhood home to Saint Anne. When he had visited there in Mansfeld, he would have seen Saint Anne's shrine. He probably prayed to Saint Anne before he set out on his journey. And when he found himself in that intense moment he cried out to Saint Anne for help. That was the only mediator that Luther knew.

  3. Martin Luther initially hoped that the Roman Catholic Church would reform from within, but when it would not, he concluded that it was a false church. In this brief clip, W. Robert Godfrey examines some of Luther’s harsh words for Rome.

    For October only, when you give a donation of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of the award-winning documentary Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer. Don’t miss this special offer. Offer ends 10/31/18.

    Transcript

    One of the harder things for moderns to understand is that in the sixteenth century there was absolutely no notion of denominationalism. For centuries, almost from its beginning, the church had thought about the church as either the true church or false churches. You know, today—I'm a Presbyterian, you're a Baptist, somebody else is Lutheran—we have differences, and we may even see some of our differences as important, but we regard one another as Christians. That was not the case through most of the history of the church. You were in either in the one true church or you were part of a false church.

    [Martin] Luther initially hoped very much to be a positive reforming influence in what he saw as the one true church, but when it became more and more obvious that the Roman Catholic Church would not listen to him, would not reform itself, Luther's conclusion was that Rome is establishing itself as a false church. That's why fairly early on in the 1520s Luther begins to talk about the pope as the antichrist. Again, maybe when people in the twenty-first century read that, they think he's being sort of rhetorical. He was not being rhetorical. He believed that the pope was the eschatological revelation of the antichrist at the end of the age. So Luther is very earnest in everything that he says both about the pope and about the Church of Rome. What's interesting is that when you read most Protestant writers in the sixteenth century, they never refer to the “Catholic church.” They refer to the Roman church, and their argument is that we are the catholic church. We are the universal church. We stand in unity with the church of all ages.

    Now Luther and all the Reformers believed there were true Christians in the Roman church that still held to the gospel, but they believed they could say that the Roman church was a false church because it's official teachers had rejected the gospel.

  4. Over 500 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther started a protest that exploded into a worldwide movement. So what was the Protestant Reformation all about? This short video narrated by R.C. Sproul is a tool to help you give an answer. Share it with your family and friends. Also available in Chinese, FrenchGerman, ItalianPortuguese, and Spanish.

    This Reformation Month, watch a short video every day on the history and insights of the Protestant Reformation. And don't forget that for a donation of any amount this month only, you can also receive a copy of Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer, a documentary featuring interviews with R.C. Sproul and several Ligonier Teaching Fellows, on DVD. Offer ends 10/31/18.

    Transcript

    500 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther started a protest that exploded into worldwide movement. At that time, Europe lived in the shadow of the Roman Catholic Church. It was more like an empire than a church. It crowned and cast down kings, and used its dominance to keep people in the darkness of superstition. That sounds pretty unfamiliar.

    But in some ways, Luther’s day was very much like our own. Just like today, everyone had an opinion about the Bible even though almost no one had actually read it. Like so many of us, they were trusting the thought-leaders and taste-makers of their day to tell them what was in the Bible and whether or not to believe it. Luther was one of the very few people actually reading the Bible, and what he found was earth-shattering. Even though he was a monk, Luther hated the God of the Bible. But when he studied it, the world around him began to make sense. God made sense. The significance of Jesus became clear to him. He discovered the answer to his deepest question: how could evil be overcome? Specifically, how could his own evil—his own sin—be dealt with?

    Luther discovered that he couldn’t do anything to fix this problem himself. He had to rely on the finished work of Christ alone. Luther had discovered a central truth. It changed his life. It changed the world. The Protestant Reformation was about two things. It was about who can say what’s true and it was about how to reconcile who we are with who God is. It recognized that God’s Word is the ultimate authority in this world, and that the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ are the only answer for evil and the only basis on which sinners can stand before a holy God. The Protestant Reformation is a story of transformation—a transformation from hate to love, from slavery to freedom, and from blind faith to a glorious discovery of the truth in Jesus Christ.

    Ligonier Ministries exists to cultivate this transformation in a new generation. In a day when few are reading the Bible, and when confusion reigns in the church, we want to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to live it, and how to share it. Join us.

  5. What is the order of salvation? Which part comes first: faith or regeneration? From one of our live Ask Ligonier events, Sinclair Ferguson explains that we must be born again in order to believe.

    To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.