When Martin Luther entered the monastery, to his parent and friends it seemed that he had taken a giant step backward. He angered his father, shocked his teachers, saddened his friends, and apparently wasted his fine training. Why should a promising young law student make such a sudden change? First of all, it was not as sudden a change as Martin’s friends thought. Outwardly he had appeared content and happy. Inwardly, however, Martin felt his guilt s a sinner. He feared hell and purgatory and was determined to earn his salvation by living a holy life. Today we know that this is not what Scripture teaches, but in Luther’s time many believed that salvation was earned by holy living. Not knowing that the forgiveness for his sins was secure because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Martin was terribly afraid of death. This fear grew stronger during his college days at Erfurt. One time one of Martin’s closest friends at Erfurt met a sudden death. Martin wondered, “What if I should die tomorrow? Would I be ready to stand before the righteous Judge of the world?”
With such thoughts in the back of his mind, Martin was returning to school after a visit home in July, 1505. Not far from Erfurt a heavy thunderstorm came up and lightning struck so close to him that he fell to the ground. Like many others, Martin believed lightning to be a sign of God’s wrath. In terror he cried, “St. Anne, help me! I will become a monk!” He was following a well-established family prayer pattern- St. Anne was the patron saint of miners. Later he was sorry he had made this promise, but, in spite of his friends’ tears and his father’s anger, he kept his word.
Two weeks after the storm he entered the monastery. Luther chose to join a very strict group, the Augustinian Order of Hermits at Erfurt, which was noted for its vigorous academic standards and opportunities it provided to study at the University of Erfurt. During his year as a beginner Luther learned the ways of the monastery. He lived in a small, unheated cell, 7 X 10 feet, furnished with a table, chair, and straw bed. For exercise the monks walked in pairs around the courtyard. Seven times a day they went to the chapel for worship. Luther promised that he would remain poor, never marry, and would obey God and the leaders in the monastery. He lay flat on the floor, spreading out his arms in the form of a cross. The prior sprinkled him with holy water, and the choir sang songs for the death of the old man and joyful songs for the birth of the new.
But shortly after this, Luther was chosen to become a priest. For eight or nine months he studied books that explained the sacraments, and in 1507 he officiated at his first Communion, or Mass. Luther trembled when he held his first Mass. As he said the words “We offer to you, the living, the true, the eternal God,” he wondered how he, a sinner, dared to speak to the great and holy God. He was so afraid that he was hardly able to finish the service. Here lay Luther’s big problem. God is perfectly holy and demands holiness of all who come into his presence. Luther knew he was sinful. How then could he be saved? Luther anguished such thoughts. Had he done enough good works? Had he even remembered all his sins in the confessional? And at times he felt not love, but hatred, toward a God who would cause him such misery!