Martin Luther: A “Born Again” Christian

Excerpts from the Reformer’s Writings

Did Luther, as an adult, have a “born again” experience?

I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood around the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1 [verse 17], “in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed,” that had stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner. Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue [Ten Commandments], without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.1

Did Luther, on the basis of his experience, reject the practice of infant baptism?

...the Baptism of infants is pleasing to Christ...2

...infant Baptism is pleasing to God.3

As for infant Baptism, we hold that children should be baptized, for they, too, are included in the promise of redemption which Christ made, and the church should administer Baptism to them.4

Did Luther, on the basis of his experience, reject the doctrine of baptismal regeneration?

What gifts or benefits does Baptism bestow? ... It effects forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare. What is this Word and promise of God? ... As recorded in Mark 16:16, our Lord Christ said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” How can water produce such great effects? ... It is not the water that produces these effects, but the Word of God connected with the water, and our faith which relies on the Word of God connected with the water. For without the Word of God the water is merely water and no Baptism. But when connected with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul wrote to Titus (3:5-8), “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.”5

We bring the child [to Baptism] with the purpose and hope that he may believe, and we pray God to grant him faith.6

How would Luther, on the basis of Scripture, understand the relationship between his baptism and his “born again” experience?

In Baptism we are given the grace, Spirit, and power to suppress the old man so that the new may come forth and grow strong. Therefore Baptism remains forever. Even though we fall from it and sin, nevertheless we always have access to it so that we may again subdue the old man. But we need not again have the water poured over us. Even if we were immersed in water a hundred times, it would nevertheless be only one Baptism, and the effect and signification of Baptism would continue and remain. Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to Baptism, to resume and practice what had earlier been begun but abandoned.7

...“He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” that is, faith alone makes the person worthy to receive the salutary, divine water profitably. Since these blessings are offered and promised in the words which accompany the water, they cannot be received unless we believe them wholeheartedly. Without faith Baptism is of no use, although in itself it is an infinite, divine treasure.8

How dare we think that God’s Word and ordinance should be wrong and invalid because we use it wrongly? Therefore, I say, if you did not believe before, then believe afterward and confess, “The Baptism indeed was right, but unfortunately I did not receive it rightly.”9

Thus we see what a great and excellent thing Baptism is, which snatches us from the jaws of the devil and makes God our own, overcomes and takes away sin and daily strengthens the new man, always remains until we pass from this present misery to eternal glory. Therefore let everybody regard his Baptism as the daily garment which he is to wear all the time. Every day he should be found in faith and amid its fruits, every day he should be suppressing the old man and growing up in the new. If we wish to be Christians, we must practice the work that makes us Christians. But if anybody falls away from his Baptism let him return to it. As Christ, the mercy-seat, does not recede from us or forbid us to return to him even though we sin, so all his treasures and gifts remain.10


1. Luther’s preface to the complete edition of his Latin writings, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), pp. 336-37. Emphasis added.

2. Large Catechism IV:49, The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), p. 442.

3. Large Catechism IV:50, Tappert, p. 443.

4. Smalcald Articles III, V:4, Tappert, p. 311.

5. Small Catechism IV:5-10, Tappert, pp. 348-49.

6. Large Catechism IV:57, Tappert, p. 444.

7. Large Catechism IV:76-79, Tappert, pp. 445-46. Emphases added.

8. Large Catechism IV:33-34, Tappert, p. 440.

9. Large Catechism IV:55-56, Tappert, p. 443.

10. Large Catechism IV:83-86, Tappert, p. 446. Emphasis added.

Compiled and Edited by David Jay Webber

Martin Luther

Return to the Lutheran Theology Web Site Home Page

alternative URL for this web page: