Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Freedom of a Christian

Today is a bit different. Rather than reviewing a book, I just wanted to reflect on a shorter piece that I read recently.

"The Freedom of a Christian" (1517) by Martin Luther reflects on the place of works and of faith in the Christian life. He begins by outlining why we can never earn our salvation--we are too sinful, and God is too good. Luther then argues for the importance of works, not as a way to earn salvation, but as a way to show our obedience to God and to discipline our more sinful nature.

Luther was a powerful writer. Of course I am familiar with the idea of justification by faith (that we can never earn our salvation; rather, it is a free gift from God) which Luther expounds here, but rarely has it been so comforting and condemning at the same time. I can stop trying to be perfect, because God loves me no matter what; I can stop trying to be perfect, because I cannot earn God's love or salvation.

Luther goes on to discuss the role of good works in a Christian's life. He sees several reasons to pursue good works and virtue, and he speaks firmly of the need for works in a Christian's life. I was struck by the strength of his statements about works for others: "Individuals do not live for themselves alone in this mortal body to work for it alone, but they live also for all people on earth; rather, they live only for others and not for themselves" (49). Have I ever viewed my self only as a way to help others? I somehow doubt it. It's challenging. Didn't Jesus do it? If so, we should be inspired to strive for a similar level of dedication and love to others.


I read an abridged version of "The Freedom of a Christian" that is in The Protestant Reformation, a collection of Reformation documents edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand.

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