The Courage of Christian Conviction
One of the most cherished pictures of the Reformation is that of Luther at the Diet of Worms. Boldly Luther stood before king, princes, nobles, and papal emissaries and refused to recant or withdraw his writings which represented his profession of faith in the truth of God’s Word.
Surely we find here an example for us as confessional Lutherans to boldly stand for the truth. Luther’s courage did not proceed from the strength of his personal character, as strong a character as he might have been. We need only remember the change of heart that took place in Luther as he discovered the wonders of God’s grace, as he was led by the Spirit to understand and believe that “the just shall live by faith” (Rom.1:17).
Before this he had cowered before God and trembled at the name of Jesus. It was not this fear and trembling that led Luther to confess: “My conscience is bound by the Word of God!” It was not this fear and trembling that was the source of courage that led him–over tumult and uproar caused by his confession–to cry out: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me. Amen.”
What Luther had found in Holy Scripture was the gracious power of God–the power of God that saves through the Gospel. He had found the power spoken of in the opening verses of Romans where Paul wrote by inspiration: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith'” (Rom.1:16-17).
Bound By The Word
Some scholars suggest that Luther’s favorite psalm was Psalm 46,
which begins with these words: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the depths of the sea. . . . The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Ps. 46:1,2,7).
In times of trial these words of comfort and strength refreshed and encouraged Luther in his stand for the truth of God’s Word. Based upon these words, Luther wrote the battle-hymn of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
What we see in Luther is the courage of Christian conviction. He did not look to personal strength to stand up for the truth before the powers of this dark world. He turned to God in prayer. He looked to the God of his salvation which had brought to Luther the very righteousness of Christ. Luther knew the God of Jacob as his own refuge and strength.
What we see in Luther is the power of the Word, active and alive. The courage of Luther’s convictions came by the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that works in our hearts through that same Gospel of God’s free love and forgiveness in Christ Jesus our Lord.
To stand for the truth, to take a stand for doctrine, is again in our time thought of as an odd and troublesome thing. Confessional Lutherans are frequently perceived as troublemakers, disturbing the peace in both the religious community as well as in the community as a whole. Pressure is brought to bear for us to recant, to withdraw our convictions.
May we be blessed as Luther was with the courage of our convictions. May our consciences continue to be bound by the Word of God.
May our strength of faith and courage of conviction not be found in self, but in the gracious power of the Gospel–in knowing that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
This is our Lutheran heritage.
–Pastor Theodore Barthels