Martin Luther: His Confessions and Battle Against Sin

2017 marks the 500-year anniversary of the launch of the Reformation. Martin Luther is credited for being the leader of the movement that effectively created the Protestant sect of Christianity. This week, I will be posting blurbs on the life of Martin Luther. It is one of many special series I plan to share during 2017 to commemorate this fantastic series of events that led to separation from the Roman Catholic Church.

Confession in the monastery as a regular discipline was rarely encouraged, but, for Luther, confession was a daily discipline. Sometimes he confessed for as long as six hours at a time! He took it to the highest extreme.

Luther asked on one occasion, “Love God? Sometimes I hate Him.” How could someone say such a thing? Well, only someone tormented by their sin could come to such a conclusion.

Luther confessed for hours. He would review the Ten Commandments and seven deadly sins and would exclaim,

“Man, God is not angry with you. You are angry with God. Don’t you know that God commands you to hope?”

He also says later that at this time the greatest Scriptural fear he had was breaking the 1st Commandment – “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod 20:3). He would also review the Sermon on the Mount and question whether he could faithfully live according to it’s principles. He was also haunted by the scenes of judgment in the Book of Revelation.

R.C. Sproul explains,

“Confession was a regular part of monastic life. The other brothers came regularly to their confessors and said, ‘Father, I have sinned. Last night I stayed up after ‘lights out’ and read my Bible with a candle.’ Or, ‘Yesterday at lunchtime I coveted Brother Philip’s potato salad.’ (How much trouble can a monk get into in a monastery?) The father Confessor would hear the confession, grant priestly absolution, and assign a small penance to be performed. That was it. The whole transaction took only a few minutes. Not so with Brother Luther. He was driving his Father Confessor to distraction. Luther was not satisfied with a brief recitation of his sins. He wanted to make sure that no sin in his life was left unconfessed. He entered the confessional and stayed for hours every day.”[1]

Luther’s reason for confession was because of his fright about God’s judgment. He lived in daily fear of the immediate judgment of God on his life. He said on one occasion, “If I could believe that God was not angry with me, I would stand on my head for joy.”[2] He became more distressed with the enormity of his own sins and his inability to satisfy a righteous God.

luther-martin-3He confessed every sin. Luther hated his sin. In fact, because of his obsession with confession, Luther was even deemed crazy. Some monks believed he had deep sexual struggles, because only that sin would bother a monk so much that he would confess as much as he did. The monks thought Luther was on the verge of a psychotic episode or breakdown. They called him “a goldbricker,” which was a reference to the fact that sometimes he would neglect his chores and replace that time with confessing sins. A “goldbricker” was someone who cheated an expected task in order to gain something somewhere else. Luther was a crazed “goldbricker.”

His heavy doses of confession caused physical pain and suffering. He developed digestive difficulties (e.g., kidney and gall stones) due to the anxiety caused by his battling sin.

No particular sins distressed him. It was his overall corrupt nature –

“What can I do to win a gracious God? Oh my sin, my sin, what shall I do with my sin?”

Luther was committed to the act of penance – which is “a means of grace whereby the sinner would confess all wrongdoing and seek absolution.” Luther believed that without confession, the Devil would devour him.

As a result of this distress, the leader of the monastery Johan Staupitz counseled Luther to set aside his theological books and study the Bible. Staupitz began to teach Luther that “true repentance consists not in self-imposed penances and punishments, but in a change of heart.”

This all climaxed in 1507 at his first mass, and we will consider that in tomorrow’s blog post.


[1] The Holiness of God, pgs. 128-129.

[2] Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, pg. 315.

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