Friday, February 16, 2007

Martin Luther, "On Christian Liberty"

Martin Luther
Luther’s vision of Christian freedom involved both the privilege of the royal liberty of Jesus’ provision and the stooping voluntary servitude of Christ. Luther’s most famous thesis reads thus: "A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” Luther saw the Christian’s liberty as a spiritual reality guaranteed by Christ’s atonement and his service as bodily act of worship in the earth, showing Christ’s love to one’s neighbor and proper authorities.
First, Luther hammers home the notion that nothing, i.e., read: nothing, is of profit for salvation except faith alone in Christ alone: “One thing, and one alone, is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty; and that is the most holy word of God, the Gospel of Christ.” A Christian should “lay aside all reliance on works,” he exhorts, and realize that “faith can reign only in the inward man.” In this liberty, the Christian is totally free through the freedom purchased in redemption by Jesus Christ. “This is that Christian liberty, our faith.”

Second, Luther shows that another “office of faith” is honoring the Lord as the truth and worthy of belief. In this the soul shows its willingness to do His will fully, works following faith rather than vice versa. Third, Luther adds the figure of marriage in the soul’s union with our Lord to illustrate that in Christ, through His becoming One with us, we enter into all His privilege and royalty of His Throne. Not only that, Christ enters into all that which is the soul’s, taking upon Himself sin, so that this congress is a great overthrow of Death. “Thus the believing soul, by the pledge of its faith in Christ, becomes free from all sin, fearless of death, safe from hell, and endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of its Husband Christ.”

As this faith fulfills the law, making us kings and priests before His Throne, this inward royalty shows forth in an outward servanthood. “Here then works begin,” Luther says. “here he must give heed to exercise his body by fastings, watchings, labour, and other regular discipline, so that it may be subdued to the spirit, and obey and conform itself to the inner man and faith.” The purpose of works is not just to bring the body, with its lusts, under subjection, Luther insists, but also to follow “the royal law found in Scripture,” as that “letter of straw” admonishes, to love your neighbor (James 2:8.) Here Luther and James agree that “I will give myself as a sort of Christ, to my neighbour, as Christ has given Himself to me; and will do nothing in this life except what I see will be needful, advantageous, and wholesome for my neighbour.”

In illustrating his point, Luther reminds us of Jesus’ paying taxes to Caesar (Matthew 17:27). Though He and His disciples were free and belonging to the King, a higher authority, still he voluntarily submits to Caesar’s tax in order to avoid offense. Therefore, for Luther works are a means of subjection of the natural man and a service of Christ to one’s neighbor. Coupled with faith, a bulwark never failing, the roles of King-Priest and Servant merge “in Christ by faith; in his neighbour by love.”
The following chart helped me understand Luther’s Christian liberty and servanthood.
Inward Man
Outward Man