Today is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. With any historical event that distant in time, it’s easy to think of it as lacking relevance for us today.
Yet, Luther’s reformation ministry has had great impact on me. Martin Luther reformed my Christian life and my counseling ministry. Here’s how…
Martin Luther Reformed My Christian Life
I had been a Christian for over two decades when I first started studying Martin Luther. I was a graduate of an evangelical Bible college and of an evangelical seminary. I had been a Counseling Pastor at an evangelical mega-church, and I had been the Senior Pastor at an evangelical church. I was teaching at an evangelical seminary. And yet, before Luther, I only applied half the picture of my salvation.
Before studying Luther, I pictured my salvation like this:
God is a holy and righteous Judge, and I am on trial before Him because of my sins. God is about to pronounce me guilty when Christ steps up and says, “Charge me instead. Put Bob’s sins on me, and put my righteousness on Bob.” God the Judge accepts His holy Son’s payment on my behalf and declares me, “Not guilty. Pardoned. Forgiven.”
That’s pretty amazing. But before Luther, my picture used to stop there. God is the judge; he forgives me; then he sends me away on my own and says, “Next case.”
But that’s not the full picture of our salvation. That’s not the picture painted by Martin Luther in his ministry. Here’s the biblical picture painted by Luther:
Christ takes me from the courtroom by the hand and leads me into the Father’s house, walking me into God’s presence. When we enter the living room, the Father, my Father, is not in his Judge’s robes. He’s in his family attire. When he sees me, it is just like the portrait in Luke 15 of the prodigal son. My Father runs to me, throws His arms around me, and kisses me. He puts the family ring on my finger, ushers me back home, and celebrates with me!
Martin Luther reformed and transformed my Christian life by showing me that through Christ, God is not only the Judge who forgives me; He is my Father who welcomes me. Out of His grace-love, God the Father sent His Son to die for me. With the barrier of sin demolished, nothing stands between me and my loving heavenly Father. I can fellowship with God person-to-person and son-to-Father.
I could have told you the theology of all of this before I read Martin Luther, but I was not experiencing the reality of it. In Ephesians 3:18–19, Paul tells us how we come to truly understand the love of God in Christ—we grasp it together with all the saints. As I read Luther, he helped me grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and I came to know this love that surpasses knowledge.
As you reflect on the Reformation, my prayer is that you will grasp together with Martin Luther, Bob Kellemen, and God’s people how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and come to know in a richer way this love that surpasses knowledge.
Martin Luther Reformed My Counseling Ministry
People frequently ask me, “Who has been the greatest influence on your approach to biblical counseling?” Some of the names I mention include modern authors and counselors such as David Powlison, Steve Viars, and Ron Allchin.
However, people are often surprised to hear me respond, “The person who has most impacted my understanding and practice of counseling is Martin Luther.”
I had been counseling for a decade when I first started examining Martin Luther’s pastoral counseling. For that entire time, I had been seeking to ask and answer one fundamental question:
“What would a model of counseling look like that was built solely on Christ’s gospel of grace?”
In Martin Luther, I found the answer. Martin Luther’s counseling is gospel-centered and cross-focused. It is grace-filled and gospel-rich.
But that doesn’t mean that when Luther encountered a suffering saint, he simply shouted, “Gospel!” It doesn’t mean that when Luther counseled a saint struggling against a besetting sin, that he simply yelled, “Gospel!”
In Luther’s letters of spiritual counsel, we read literally hundreds of firsthand accounts and real-life vignettes of his pastoral counseling. In a hundred different ways, we see Luther richly, relevantly, robustly, relationally applying the gospel to suffering, sin, sanctification, and our search for peach with God.
Luther teaches me how to apply the Apostle Paul’s counseling focus from Colossians 1-2. When Paul ministered to saints struggling against sin and enduring suffering, he pointed people to Christ alone—the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). With all of God’s energy powerfully working within Paul (Colossians 1:29), he proclaimed Christ alone (Colossians 1:28). To people receiving all sorts of counsel from a myriad of sources, Paul pointed people to the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge—Christ alone (Colossians 2:4, 8).
Martin Luther equips me to counsel like Paul by pointing me to the counsel of the cross, to the sufficiency of the gospel of Christ’s grace. As you reflect on the practical truths of the Reformation, I pray that your counseling—your personal ministry of the Word, your one-another ministry—will be enriched with the gospel of Christ’s grace. That’s what is happening in my ministry, by God’s grace, as I learn from Martin Luther, the master pastoral counselor.
Note: I excerpted the preceding material from the Introduction to my recently-released book, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life.