Martin Luther was a German theologian, an Augustinian monk, a religious reformer, a Bible translator, and a hymn writer. The near miss of a lightening bolt persuaded him to make a career change: his father wanted him to become a lawyer, God wanted him to become a priest. His father never forgave him; his God eventually did.

The severity of his father’s discipline confused him. The apathy of the State-run Church appalled him. The immorality of the clergy sickened him. The sale of Indulgences enraged him. The study of Romans liberated him—and changed western civilization forever.

For Luther, God was little more than a cosmic projection of his own father: fierce, stern, disapproving, and filled with wrath. Young Luther lived in constant terror that this terrible, demanding, uncompromising God had rejected him. He feared that God had spurned his prayers, rejected his repentance, and abandoned him to suffer the pains of hell. Still, young Martin tried, tried, and tried again to appease this God—and his conscience—through arduous self-discipline and tortuous self-flagellation.

The fundamental question of Luther’s life was, “How can I find God’s mercy and grace?” After failing to find it through good works and righteous living, Luther found it in what was then a most unlikely place—the text of the New Testament. Specifically, it was Romans 1:16-17 that caused Luther to wrestle with God over the “Good News.”

How could “trying as hard as you can, failing to meet the standard of perfection, and being cast into Hell after all that hard work” be good news to anyone? Luther wondered. Then he read the verses again, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther was thunderstruck: the righteous shall live, not by works but by faith; not by monastic austerity but by faith; not by going to church or doing religion properly but by faith!

Luther was set free. Of course, his new view of Grace irritated the religious establishment of his day but in the end Martin Luther, the tormented man, found what his soul needed most: God’s grace.