Martin Luther: An Overview Of His Life

Adapted from the article by Thomas F. Fischer


Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. He was baptized into the Christian faith in the church of his day- the Roman Catholic Church.  Though his father was a coal miner, he urged his young son to become a lawyer. However, God led Luther to follow another path. Luther became a priest.


When he entered the monastery to become a priest, his father was angry. But Luther and his father did not know God’s plan for Martin Luther. God’s plan was that Luther would change the world.


A Time Of Change


During Luther’s time the world was changing, and changing rapidly. In fact, what people believed about the world changed almost completely during Luther’s lifetime.  These changes came because of a remarkable number of famous people. These people made remarkable discoveries. These discoveries caused profound changes throughout Europe…and the world.


One of these people was Christopher Columbus. When Columbus discovered America in 1492, Luther was nine years old.


Just a few years later, Gutenberg invented the very first printing press. Until this time the only way to publish or print materials was by copying them by hand. Gutenberg’s invention enabled news, information and all kinds of learning to be shared throughout Europe. During the Reformation, Luther would make extensive use of Gutenberg’s invention. The Ninety-Five Theses, the Large and Small Catechisms were but some of many documents which Luther published using Gutenberg’s invention.


Another famous person who lived during Luther’s lifetime was Michelangelo. This famous artist gained prominence as a great artist and sculptor during Luther’s life. His paintings and views regarding art still influence much of art today.


Leonardo DaVinci, the famous artist, painter and scientist, also did his greatest works during Luther’s lifetime. Nicolas Copernicus, the famous astronomer, also lived during the time of Luther. He was the first to discover that the earth rotated around the sun.


All of these people had at least two things in common. First, they all made remarkable discoveries. Second, their discoveries radically changed the world.


God Changes The World Through Martin Luther

The new ideas which these men taught led to a renewal (or “Renaissance”) in Europe. Throughout Europe there were many new discoveries, ideas and inventions. Luther did not know it at the time. God’s plan for him was to discover in the Bible the truth that salvation is a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and proclaim that truth boldly at a time when it was clouded by man-made teachings and an emphasis on human works.


On October 31, 1517, Luther posted ninety-five statements (“theses”) pointing out that the sale of indulgences- documents that promised release from punishment for sins- were wrong, for forgiveness of sins is a free gift of God through faith in Christ.  He nailed these Ninety-Five Theses on the front door of the church in Wittenberg.


Everyone who came to church on “Hallow’s Eve” ( “Halloween”) saw Luther’s theses on the door. Since Luther was a professor there, people knew who wrote these theses. News of his theses spread throughout all of Europe and to the Pope in Rome.
When the Pope found out what Luther had written, he was angry. He called Luther to account for what he had written. It was at this time that Luther spoke his famous words, “Here I stand. So help me, God.”


Since the Pope was the most powerful leader in Europe, even more powerful than kings, he condemned Luther. He announced that anyone who spotted Luther could kill him. Fortunately, Frederick the Elector (a German Prince), was a friend of Luther. This powerful leader in Germany kidnapped Luther and kept Luther safe in his own castle in Wartburg, Germany.


Luther’s Writings And Influence


It was in Frederick’s Castle that Luther made the first German translation of the Bible. He also wrote many things to share the three pillars of the Lutheran Reformation: That we are saved by Scripture alone, by grace alone, and by faith alone.


These three truths changed Christianity in Europe. By Scripture Alone” meant that Christian faith was based only on the Bible, not the words of a Pope or anyone else. By Grace Alone” meant that eternal salvation is an unearned gift from God. By Faith Alone” meant that we cannot get to heaven by doing good works to earn salvation. The only way we can get to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ.


The world which had changed in so many ways during Luther’s life, changed even more dramatically as a result of Luther’s teachings. His teachings changed and reformed the Christian church. What was the result? Many people learned that they could not buy or earn their way into heaven with money or with good works.  Many found great comfort and joy in knowing their salvation was accomplished entirely by Christ’s work for them.  Many put their trust in God’s Word instead of man’s word.


Luther died on February 18, 1546, As a result of the Lutheran Reformation, people read the Bible and studied it for themselves. Luther’s Small Catechism was, perhaps, Luther’s most important book to help people understand the Bible…and God’s love for them. Still in use today, Luther’s Small Catechism has been in use longer than any other catechism in history.


In addition to the Large Catechism and Small Catechisms, Luther wrote many hymns, liturgies, commentaries on the Bible, and sermons that were later published.