Proverbs 28:1 The wicked flee when no one pursues,
but the righteous are bold as a lion.
The life of Martin Luther illustrates the connection between getting right with God and a life of boldness. If it can be said of anyone since the days of the apostles that “the righteous are bold as a lion,” it must be said of Martin Luther, the great German reformer.
Luther was a monk who could not find peace with God because of his sin. In the fall of 1515 Luther was lecturing in the University of Wittenburg on the epistle to the Romans. The most decisive event of his life happened. Here is the way he tells it:
I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.1
Luther had begun to see this in the Psalms (cf. Psalm 32:11–12 = Romans 4:7–8) in 1513–1514. Now he had seen it clearly in Romans, the door to paradise was opened, he banked his hope fully on the gospel and received the righteousness of God through faith and became as bold as a lion.
His life was one long act of lion-hearted boldness against the abuses of the Roman church and for the glory of the gospel.
His most famous stand was taken in 1521 at a kind of trial in the city of Worms before the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Charles, the local governor, Fredrick the Wise, the Archbishop of Trier named Eck, and a host of lords and princes. The power of the assembly was enough to banish or execute him for heresy.
The prosecutor cried, “Do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?” Luther replied,
Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. [Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.] God help me. Amen.2
“The wicked flee when no one is pursuing [because their conscience—the echo of God—condemns them], but the righteous are bold as a lion,” because their conscience is made clean by the righteousness of God imputed to them through faith in Jesus Christ, and there is no condemnation. May the gospel of God’s free righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 1:17; Philippians 3:19) take us captive like it did Martin Luther, and radically free us from fear, so that we can be as bold as a lion for the sake of the gospel!