Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony, Germany to a miner and his wife who wanted much more for their son than the smelter’s yard. He was well on his way to becoming a successful lawyer, having been educated both as a child and at the University of Erfurt, when at the age of 19, he was almost struck by a bolt of lightning. At that moment he decided to enter the monastery.
Luther became obsessed with his salvation, fearing the wrath of God and sinking beneath the weight of his imperfections. His attempts to earn grace proved unfruitful, and the sin in his life was more than he could bear. Having earned a teaching post, however, at the university at Wittenberg, he began instructing from the book of Romans and discovered Romans 1:17—“In it [the gospel (e.g. good news)] the righteousness [justice] of God is revealed by faith for faith; as it is written, ‘But the man who is righteous by faith shall live.’”
Historian Justo Gonzales says, “Luther came to the conclusion that the ‘justice of God’ does not refer, as he had been taught, to the punishment of sinners. It means rather that the ‘justice’ or ‘righteousness’ of the righteous is not their own, but God’s…[and]…that which is given to those who live by faith.”
Luther wrote, “I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on the phrase ‘justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.” This revelation was Luther’s conversion, an act of God that would propel him toward standing firm against a corrupt Roman Catholic Church, risking his very life in the process.
** Sources: The History of the Christian Church by Justo Gonzales, A History of Christianity in the World by Clyde L. Manschreck, Christianity Through the Centuries by Earle E. Cairns, Theopedia.com, & A HistoryOf the Christian Church by Willison Walker et. al.