How did Romans Transform Augustine, Luther, and Wesley?

How did Romans Transform Augustine, Luther, and Wesley?

In sports, an all-star team is comprised of the very best players from the various teams. In Christianity, we have our own teams like Calvinists and Arminians. Our version of an all-star team with the best theologians and leaders from various teams and traditions would include Augustine (the father of what we call Calvinism today), Luther (the father of Lutheranism), and Wesley (the father of Arminianism along with both Charismatics and Pentecostals). What they each have in common is a profound life-changing experience with the Holy Spirit through the book of Romans.23

The church father Augustine was born in North Africa and talks openly in his book Confessions about being torn between Christianity and his love of the common false trinity for young men – loud parties, beautiful women, and stiff drinks. In the summer of AD 386 after hearing a child next door say, “Pick it up, read it”, he picked up a copy of Romans that his friend had and at-random read Romans 13:13-14 which says, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Like a sniper shot from Heaven, the Holy Spirit hit Augustine right in the soul. He testifies, “‘A light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away’ (Augustine, Confessions, 8:29).”24

Augustine grew to become one of the most influential theologians in the history of the church and his works to this day are bedrock in Christian theology.

Commenting on Romans, Augustine says, “Paul…fights zealously and fiercely on behalf of this grace of God, against the proud and arrogant who presume upon their own works…Truly then is he clear and eager above all in the defense of grace…And in the letter to the Romans he is concerned almost solely with this very matter; fighting with such numerous arguments as to weary the reader’s will to follow: yet such weariness is beneficial and salutary, training rather than weakening the various aspects of the inner person. (Spirit. et Lit.12)”25

Roughly a millennium later, around the fall of 1515, the Holy Spirit once again sent a sniper shot to the soul from Heaven with a verse from Romans. Martin Luther is widely known as one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. Among the most important people to walk the earth, he lived from 1483 to 1546 as a contemporary of the printing press, Copernicus, Henry VIII, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Christopher Columbus, and John Calvin. A copper miner’s son, he was born in Germany some 120 miles outside Berlin.

After a powerful encounter with God in which he was nearly struck by lightning, Luther became a priest and a monk. This included taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for the rest of his life. Trained as a lawyer, Luther lived a tormented life. Constantly judging his life by the demands of God’s laws in the Bible with a brutal honesty and brilliant legal mind, he nearly drove himself mad seeking to make himself righteous in God’s sight out of a terrifying fear of God. This included endless prayer, severe fasting that gave him significant intestinal problems, sleepless nights, freezing cold, and even beating his own body in an effort to atone for his sin.

But by the grace of God, Luther had an epiphany that changed not only his life but also the lives of countless others. Serving as a professor of theology in Germany at the University of Wittenburg, he was teaching on Paul’s letter to the Romans, and had a Holy Spirit epiphany in Scripture that changed the world: “‘I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.’ This new understanding of this one verse—Rom 1:17— changed everything; it became in a real sense the doorway to the Reformation. ‘Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise,’ says Luther (Latin Writings, 336–337).”26

Luther learned that righteousness is a gift God gives by grace from and faith in Jesus Christ and not something earned or merited through human religious and moral performance. Theologians call this “justification by faith” for shorthand.

In his commentary on Romans, Luther wrote, “It [Romans] is the true masterpiece of the New Testament, and the very purest Gospel, which is well worthy and deserving that a Christian man should not only learn it by heart, word for word, but also that he should daily deal with it as the daily bread of men’s souls. For it can never be too much or too well read or studied; and the more it is handled the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”27

Over two hundred years later, this time in London, the Holy Spirit would send yet another sniper shot from Romans to the soul of English pastor John Wesley. He attended an evening service at Aldersgate Street in London on May 24, 1738. Part of Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans was read aloud. Wesley remembers,

“‘He was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ. I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken my sins away, even mine; and saved me from the law of sin and death’ (John Wesley, Works (1872), volume 1).”28

Wesley went on to lead a spiritual revival in England based upon the life of the Spirit imparted to him, and Luther, through Paul’s letter to the Romans. Additionally, Swiss Bible commentator F. Godet anticipated that “every great spiritual revival in the church will be connected as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book.”29

To find the free Romans study guide for individuals and small groups, hear Pastor Mark’s entire sermon series on Romans, or find a free mountain of Bible teaching visit realfaith.com or download the Real Faith app.

  1. Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, 1st Augsburg books ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 566.
  2. Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, 1st Augsburg books ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 566.
    25. Stowers, Stanley K. A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 14.
    26. Jack Cottrell, Romans, vol. 1, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1996).
  3. Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), p. xi.
    28. Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, 1st Augsburg books ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 566.
  4. F. Godet, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, trans. A. Cusin (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, n.d.), vol. 1, p. 1.
Mark Driscoll
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