Luther's First Thesis and Last Words

491 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg.

He wanted to debate the sale of indulgences with his fellow university professors. So he wrote in Latin.

But a nameless visionary translated the theses into German, carried them to the printing press, and enabled their dispersion far and wide. Luther ended up with more than he bargained for, but he proved to be no coward in defending the discoveries he was making in Scripture.

First Thesis

The truth of Luther’s first thesis would reverberate throughout his lifetime, even finding expression in his last words.

His first thesis reads,

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.

All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.

Last Words

Almost 30 years later, on February 16, 1546, Luther’s last words, written on a piece of scrap paper, echoed the theme of his first thesis:

We are beggars! This is true.

From first thesis to last words, Luther lived at the foot of the cross, where our rebellious condition meets with the beauty of God’s lavish grace in the gospel of his Son—a gospel deep enough to cover all the little and massive flaws of a beggar like Luther and beggars like us.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.