Luther on Romans 1:17

Our church will celebrate Reformation Day this coming Sunday, October 31st. I'll be preaching on Romans 1:16-17 as a part of our new series on the book of Romans, God's Grace to Sinners Like Us. Here's Martin Luther's famous quote on 'the righteousness of God' in 1:17 and how God gave Luther eyes to see this biblical truth.

The quote is from Luther's work known as his Autobiographical Fragment, written in 1545. I've merged a couple of different translations in the interest of clarity since I plan on reading it aloud as part of my message on Sunday.

… For I hated the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’, which according to the use and custom of all the doctors, I had been taught to understand philosophically, in the sense of the formal or active righteousness by which God is just and punishes unrighteous sinners.

Although I lived an irreproachable life as a monk, I felt that I was a sinner with an uneasy conscience before God; nor could I believe that I had pleased him by the satisfaction I could offer. I did not love—nay, in fact, I hated this righteous God who punished sinners, and if not with silent blasphemy, then certainly with great murmuring. I was angry with God, saying, “As if it were not enough that miserable sinners should be eternally condemned by original sin, with all kinds of misfortunes laid upon them through the Old Testament law, and yet God adds sorrow to sorrow through the Gospel, and even brings his righteousness and wrath to bear on us through it!” Thus I drove myself mad, with a desperate and disturbed conscience; persistently pounding upon Paul in this passage, with a parched and burning desire to know what he could mean.

At last, God being merciful, as I meditated day and night on the connection of the words, namely—‘The righteousness of God is revealed in it, as it is written: the righteous shall live by faith’—and there I began to understand the ‘righteousness of God’ as that by which the righteous man lives by the gift of God, namely by faith. And this sentence, “the righteousness is revealed,” to refer to a passive righteousness, by which the merciful God justifies us through faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ At this I felt myself straightway born again and to have entered through the open gates into paradise itself. From that moment the whole face of Scripture was changed…

And now, in the same degree as I had formerly hated the word ‘righteousness of God’, even so did I begin to love and extol it as the sweetest word of all. Thus was this place in St. Paul to me the very gate of paradise…

After Sunday, you can find the audio of this message, along with many others, on the 'Sermons' page at our church website.

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