“And so he died as he lived.” That’s how Martin Luther was eulogized after his death on February 18, 1546, some 470 years ago.
When I saw that phrase written on the wall of Luthers Sterbehaus—the museum honoring his last days—in Eisleben, Germany, it stopped me dead in my tracks (okay, poor choice of words, but still). I was frozen in the middle of the crowded Luther Museum as I turned that phrase over and over in my mind: “And so he died as he lived.”
After a lifetime of religious activism and rigorous study, being labeled a heretic by the church, devoting his waking hours to translating and preaching, Martin Luther lay gasping on a bed in the same town where he had been born 62 years earlier. And how did he die? Offering final words of godly wisdom, surrounded by friends and family, confessing his sins and committing his soul to Christ. Seems like a good way to go.
Martin Luther was by no means a perfect man. But the legacy he left his family, his church, and Christianity on a global scale, was profound. He’s best known for starting the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago and recovering the doctrine of justification, which states that a person is saved by God’s grace alone and not by any work of man.
And he achieved the honor of leaving this world authentically—true to himself and what he believed. Refusing to compromise or become something he was not for the sake of appearances. Continuing to preach and confess the same gospel on his death bed that he had followed his entire career.
If you know anything about Luther, you probably know he was a monk (more or less), a pastor, a hymn-writer, and a theologian. But he didn’t just go to church to keep up appearances; he went because he was truly invested.
Luther cared deeply about what he saw as a broken relationship between pastors and congregations. He recognized that God’s Word—at that time reserved for the learned scholars, theologians, and priests—was not going out to the common people. So he spent eleven all-consuming weeks, hidden away in the drafty Wartburg Castle with his life under threat, painstakingly translating the Greek New Testament into a language that the common people could understand. Luther’s concerns about the church didn’t simply make him uncomfortable. Instead, they moved him to action. Difficult, world-changing, and costly action.
Martin Luther’s death in 1546 was not altogether unexpected; he had been battling a multitude of health problems for some time. But perhaps he thought he had many years of ministry left, more memories to make with his wife and children, and more places to visit and sights to enjoy. Regardless, he didn’t wait for those days to come. He was on fire and determined to do the Lord’s work now, and we are still feeling its impact 500 years later.
Would they say that about me someday? “And so Karen died as she lived.” I desperately want it to be true. I want to live and die honorably, full of love, making a difference.
But I have my doubts. Perhaps they would say, She died as she lived—full of regret. Crippled by anxieties and insecurities. Unable to let go of the past. Afraid of the future. Because sometimes, that’s how I live.
Like the apostle Paul in Romans 7, I have lots of good intentions to live an authentic life for God. But there are things I abandon that I should not, and things I hold on to that I should let go. Sometimes, even as a redeemed child of God, I carry regrets and fears that cloud my vision and paralyze my hands.
But that’s not how I want to be. I want to live and die in a way that is consistent with my faith, authentic to who I am, unchanging over time, just as Luther did.
The great thing about the Christian life is that we don’t do anything on our own power—there is already One who has promised to see His good work through to completion.
“Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, NLT, emphasis added)
On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Luther reminds us to act wisely, spend our hours shrewdly, and live authentically. To be awakened to the God we serve, the world needs people who live like Luther.
Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.
We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.
(Psalm 39:4-7, NLT)