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Reformation Sunday: Looking into the Mirror of Christ’s Grace

Category: Blog, Counseling, Identity/Roles, Ministry, The Gospel

Looking into the mirror of Christ’s Grace on the anniversary of Reformation Day and Martin Luther’s biblically counseling posting of the 95 Theses.

We are 499 years away from the anniversary of Martin Luther posting The 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. When we think of Luther and “Reformation Day” or “Reformation Sunday,” we often picture Luther the theologian/Reformer. Less often, we think of Luther the biblical counselor. Yet, Luther wrote hundreds of letters of spiritual counsel. And, Luther’s motive for posting The 95 Theses was pastoral—shepherding his flock to experience the peace of God the Father through the grace of God the Son.


Luther’s letters were his personal efforts to underscore the daily significance of the gospel. Robert Kolb describes Luther’s ministry as “the ‘how to’ of taking care of our people’s relationship with their God” by “applying the living voice of the Gospel to people’s lives.”[1]

Luther saw salvation as a joyous exchange. A transaction has taken place in which our sinfulness has been transferred to Christ and where Christ’s righteousness has been transferred to us. So, the essence of Luther’s reconciliation ministry involves teaching those already reconciled to God that they are loved by God and can live out that love. Experiencing the gospel is central to victory over temptation and victory over a sense of condemnation when we succumb to temptation. As Kolb summarizes, “The combating of evil with the Gospel stood at the heart of his pastoral care.”[2]

Preaching the Gospel to Ourselves

Barbara Lischner, sister to Jerome and Peter Weller, was disturbed by doubts about her eternal security, allowing questions about whether she was a true child of God to torment her. In counseling Barbara in a letter Luther wrote on April 30, 1531, Luther refers to his own experience with this struggle.

“Dear and virtuous lady: Your dear brother, Jerome Weller, has informed me that you are deeply distressed about eternal election. I am truly sorry to hear this…. I know all about this sickness. I was myself brought to the brink of eternal death by it…. I will tell you how God helped me out of this trouble, and by what means I even yet daily guard myself against it.”[3]

What was Luther’s daily guard? He preached the gospel to himself every day.

“The highest of all God’s commands is this, that we ever hold up before our eyes the image of his dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He must daily be to our hearts the perfect mirror, in which we behold how much God loves us and how well, in his infinite goodness, as a faithful God, he has grandly cared for us in that he gave his dear Son for us.”[4]

Luther’s summary to Barbara is a powerful reminder to us today.

“Do not let this mirror and throne of grace be torn away from before your eyes.”[5]

Luther is quick to expose the ultimate source of such doubts about God’s grace.

“First, you must firmly fix in your mind the conviction that such thoughts as yours are assuredly the suggestions and fiery darts of the wretched devil.”[6]

Luther is equally swift to urge Barbara to fix her mind on truth about God from God’s Word.

“Learn to say: ‘Begone, wretched devil! You are trying to make me worry about myself. But God declares everywhere that I should let him care for me. He says, ‘I am thy God.’ This means, ‘I take care of you.’ This is what Saint Peter taught, ‘Cast all thy care upon him, for he careth for you.’ And David taught, ‘Cast they burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee.’”[7]

Ever the spiritual diagnostician, Luther exposes Satan’s strategy and how his scheme aligns with our fleshly compulsion to save ourselves.

“The wretched devil, who is the enemy of God and Christ, tries by such thoughts to tear us away from Christ and God and to make us think about ourselves and our own cares. If we do this, we take upon ourselves the function of God, which is to care for us and be our God. In paradise the devil desired to make Adam equal with God so that Adam might be his own god and care for himself, thus robbing God of his divine work of caring for him. The result was the terrible Fall of Adam.[8]

Theologically-Grounded and Gospel-Centered Biblical Counseling

In these words, we discover many of the theological insights and methodological practices embedded throughout Luther’s biblical counseling ministry. It was, first of all, a theologically-grounded ministry. Whether while encouraging people who experienced doubts about their salvation, or while exhorting people who were unsaved to cling to Christ for salvation, or while confronting Christians who were living lives that were hypocritical to their salvation testimony, Luther unswervingly highlighted Christ’s grace, Satan’s condemning lies, the flesh’s infatuation with self-salvation, and the Christian’s battle to live by the Spirit and not according to the flesh.

Luther’s biblical counseling was secondly a gospel-centered ministry. Luther preached the gospel to non-Christians who were indeed alienated from God. And he preached the gospel to Christians who falsely believed they were alienated from God. To the believer with a tender conscience and to the believer with a seared conscience, Luther held up the mirror of the throne of grace.

As we near Reformation Sunday, let’s be sure to apply gospel truths to our daily lives. This is the essence of biblical counseling: applying the living voice of the gospel to people’s lives.

Bob is the Vice President for Institutional Development and Chair of the Biblical Counseling Department at Crossroads Bible College, and the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries.

[1]Kolb, “Luther as Seelsorger,” 2. [2]Ibid., 4. [3]Quotations taken from the combined sources of, Nebe, Luther As Spiritual Advisor, 204-205, and Tappert, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, 115. [4]Nebe, 207, and Tappert, 116. [5]Tappert, 116. [6]Ibid., 115. [7]Ibid., 116. [8]Ibid., 117.

Posted on October 25, 2016