Luther and Reformatory Ideas: Life and Death

Luther believed that justification ‘by faith alone’ excluded the possibility that good deeds played any role in salvation. This freed people to live an ordinary life with marriage, sexuality, family, work and friendship, etc. For Luther, the Christian should live according to their vocation and station in life, i.e. they should perform the duties demanded by their context.

Luther himself was a bon viveur who did not refrain from enjoying life’s pleasures. In his eyes there was no Christian reason to live in seclusion. On the contrary, life was to be lived to the full in the company of others, first and foremost for their sake, and thereby for one’s own sake. Joy was Luther’s way of keeping evil at bay.

The Reformation changed views of death in several ways. The medieval church’s belief in Purgatory as a place for the dead until the Day of Judgement was rejected because it had no basis in the Bible.

Luther understood death in two ways. One way was physical death, something that troubled Luther throughout his life. It was therefore important to preach God’s promise of resurrection and eternal life. For those who believed in God’s grace and forgiveness, there was no punishment after death. It was therefore important to keep the faith.

On the other hand, Luther understood death and the struggle against it as something inevitable that happened every single day. The sinfulness of the individual had to perish every day. This began with the Christening, and did not end until physical death. Every time sin and egoism were conquered by the grace of God, the sinner within died more and more. This death also marked the beginning of a new life: faith in Christ granted people eternal life. Luther thus always has a dual understanding of human beings. Before God there are both sinners and the just. Life is both death and resurrection.