But he couldn’t shake the image of a righteous God judging unrighteous men when it was impossible for them to be anything else. He knew God wanted justice, but even with this growing understanding of the love of God, the thought of justice made him tremble.
Roberts Liardon says that it wasn’t until he studied the Pauline Epistles that Luther began to understand the true meaning of righteousness and the justice of God. He wrestled with Paul’s letters, trying to grasp the concept. One thing about Martin Luther, he used Scripture to investigate every area of personal torment. He took his questions to Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians. Between the years 1515 and 1517, when he was lecturing on these two books of the Bible, Luther began to see what the justice of God really meant.
Roberts Liardon tells us that when Luther read in Romans 5:1 that the righteous were justified by faith, he was furious! He couldn’t comprehend it! Captured by a conviction that he must understand, he turned to the Greek to find the meaning of justice. Justice was defined as strict enforcement of law and a pronounced sentence, just as he had always thought. So far, it still seemed like man was doomed.
But it was the Greek definition of justification that set him free. Justification was different than justice. Justification spoke of a process that takes place as the sentence is suspended. Justification was a process through which man could be reclaimed to God and regenerated.
Now he could see it! God didn’t seek to damn but to regenerate mankind and give men a new chance at life. But more than anything, Luther saw that even this process of regeneration, or expectation of regeneration, wasn’t what made man acceptable before God. It was faith. Faith was a gift, and by man’s faith, he was justified. Simply believing in the redemptive work of Jesus made His righteousness available to you. Man, through Jesus, was right with God. Faith in Jesus’ work on the cross was enough! God was a Friend to all of mankind! Faith is a gift, and a man is justified by his faith. Jesus’ work on the cross is enough! God is a Friend to all of mankind! Connecting these ideas of the justice of God and the Scripture “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) created a new theology, but it didn’t come overnight. Meditation and study over a four-year period developed the strength of this revelation. Luther said,