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An Examination of Martin Luthers Freedom of the Christian

By Mark Skillin, M.Div., ThM. Luthers key text for his treatise The Freedom of a Christian is ! Corinthians "#!", For, $hile %ein& free from all, ' have enslaved myself to all, in order that ' $ill $in many. 'n this (assa&e, )aul is $ritin& a%out rea*hin& as many as (ossi%le $ith the &os(el. +e is o%li&ated to ,e$ and -entile.and at the same time he takes his *ommands from -od, and not from men. 'n Christ, he is free from the *ontrol and di*tates of men, yet he is not free from servin& men.he is a slave for them as far as the &os(el &oes. /s $ill %e sho$n, Luther de(arts from )auls meanin&, as he asserts from this (assa&e that )aul is tea*hin& he is free from *ommands and la$s and %ein& %orn of the S(irit he no$ %e*omes a $illin& servant of all men, not %e*ause of *ommands, %ut %e*ause of S(irit0led desire. First Luther dis*usses the nature of man. Man has a t$o0fold nature, a s(iritual and a %odily one 12"34. Luther ar&ues that freedom has to do $ith the inner man and not $ith externals. The ri&hteousness and the freedom of the soul has nothin& to do $ith any $ork that *an %e done %y the %ody and in the %ody 12"54. +e &oes on to say that the inner man, the soul, has need of only one thin&. 6ne thin&, and only one thin&, is ne*essary for Christian life, ri&hteousness, and freedom. That one thin& is the most holy 7ord of -od, the &os(el of Christ.. 12"54. This understandin& refle*ts a dualisti* anthro(olo&y. Luther then &oes on to des*ri%e the one 7ord of -od that is needed. The 7ord is the &os(el of -od *on*ernin& his Son, $ho $as made flesh, suffered, rose from the dead, and $as &lorified throu&h the S(irit $ho san*tifies. To (rea*h Christ means to feed the soul, make it ri&hteous, set it free, and save it, (rovided it %elieves the (rea*hin&. Faith alone is the savin& and effi*a*ious use of the 7ord of -od 12"84. /&ain he $rites, as the soul needs only the 7ord of -od for its life and ri&hteousness, so it is 9ustified %y faith alone and not of any $orks: for if it *ould %e 9ustified %y anythin& else, it $ould not need the 7ord, and *onse;uently it $ould not need faith 12"84. Commentin& in <omans !=, he $rites, <om. !=>#!=? says, @For man %elieves $ith his heart and so is 9ustified, and sin*e faith alone 9ustifies, it is *lear that the inner man *annot %e 9ustified, freed, or saved %y any outer $ork or a*tion at all, and these $orks, $hatever their *hara*ter, have nothin& to do $ith this inner man 12""4. So for Luther the savin&, soul0 fillin& 7ord that addresses the inner man, has nothin& to do $ith any $ork that *an %e done %y the %ody and in the %ody. The 7ord of -od for Luther is the messa&e of faith alone. This is the lo&i*al out$orkin& of Luthers dualisti* vie$ of man. Luther then anti*i(ates the ;uestion of ho$ it *an %e that faith alone 9ustifies. +e ans$ers %y ex(lainin& that the entire S*ri(ture of -od is divided into t$o (arts# *ommandments and (romises 13==4. Commandments tea*h us $hat is &ood, %ut do not &ive us the (o$er to do it. Commandments tea*h us that $e are sinners 13==4. +ere the se*ond (art of S*ri(ture *omes to our aid, namely, the (romises of -od $hi*h de*lare the &lory of -od , sayin&, @'f you $ish to fulfill the la$ and not *ovet, as the la$ demands, *ome, %elieve in Christ in $hom &ra*e, !

ri&hteousness, (ea*e, li%erty, and all thin&s are (romised you. 'f you %elieve, you shall have all thin&s 13==03=!4. For Luther, $e are &ranted $hat is (romised %y -od, %y faith alone. -od our Father has made all thin&s de(end on faith so that $hoever has faith $ill have everythin& 13=!4. Sin*e these (romises of -od are holy, true, ri&hteous, free, and (ea*eful $ords, full of &oodness, the soul *lin&s to them $ith a firm faith. 7e are to %e as Luther (uts it, saturated and intoxi*ated %y them. Throu&h faith alone the soul is 9ustified %y the 7ord of -od, san*tified, made true, (ea*eful, and free, filled $ith every s(iritual %lessin& and truly made a *hild of -od 13=!4. This is Luthers (oint re&ardin& the freedom that )aul s(eaks of in ! Corinthians "#!". This is that Christian li%erty, our faith, $hi*h does not indu*e us to live in idleness or $i*kedness %ut makes the la$ and $orks unne*essary for any mans ri&hteousness and salvation 13=!03=A4. The freedom of the Christian, for Luther, is freedom from la$ and *ommandments. 7e are free from *ommandments, %e*ause the (romises of -od &ive $hat the *ommandments of -od demand. The *ommands demand ri&hteousness, -od (romises ri&hteousness %y faith alone. +e then divides faith into t$o distin*t (o$ers. The first (o$er of faith is the freein& us from *ommands and &ives us to the (romises of -od a(art from our $orks. The se*ond half of his treatise is &iven to sho$in& ho$ faith makes us &lad servants of all men. This is $hat Luther *alls the se*ond (o$er of faith. First Luther ar&ues that faith is our ri&hteousness %efore -od. 7hen, ho$ever, -od sees that $e *onsider him truthful and %y the faith of our heart (ay him the &reat honor $hi*h is due him, he does us the &reat honor of *onsiderin& us truthful and ri&hteous for the sake of our faith 13=B4. 't is in s(eakin& a%out the need for &ood $orks that Luther s(eaks on*e more of the distin*tion %et$een the inner man and the outer man or the %ody. /s ' have said, a man is a%undantly and suffi*iently 9ustified %y faith in$ardly, in his s(irit, and so has all he needs...yet, he remains in this mortal life on earth. 'n this life he must *ontrol his o$n %ody and have dealin&s $ith men. +ere the $orks %e&in: here a man *annot en9oy leisure 13!=4. Luther des*ri%es our endeavorin& for &ood $orks as %rin&in& the outer man of the flesh in *onformity to the ri&hteous inner man of faith 1'%id4. The inner life is faith, the outer man *onsists in $hat is visi%le and is of $orks. For Luther this is the *onfli*t $ithin a man, %et$een his inner self and his flesh. The inner man, $ho %y faith is *reated in the ima&e of -od, is %oth 9oyful and ha((y %e*ause of Christ in $hom so many %enefits are *onferred u(on him...%ehold, he meets a *ontrary $ill of his o$n flesh $hi*h strives to serve the $orld and seeks its o$n advanta&e. This the s(irit of faith *annot tolerate, %ut $ith 9oyful Ceal it attem(ts to (ut the %ody under *ontrol and hold it in *he*k 13!!4. This inner0outer distin*tion for Luther is *ru*ial. +e &oes on# 7e must, ho$ever, realiCe that these $orks redu*e the %ody to su%9e*tion and (urify it of its evil lusts, and our $hole (ur(ose is to %e dire*ted only to$ard the drivin& out of lusts. Sin*e %y faith the soul is *leansed and made to love -od, it desires all thin&s, and es(e*ially its o$n %ody, shall %e (urified so that all thin&s may 9oin $ith it in lovin& and (raisin& -od 13!!4. Luther is *areful to ex(lain that the soul is 9ustified already %y faith, and the %ody remains to %e (urified %y $orks. Devertheless the $orks themselves do not 9ustify him %efore -od, %ut he does the $orks out of s(ontaneous love in o%edien*e to -od and *onsiders nothin& ex*e(t the a((roval of -od, $hom he $ould most s*ru(ulously o%ey in all thin&s 13!!4. The motivation for &ood $orks for Luther is not nor A

*an %e for 9ustifi*ation, that is already done %y faith, rather it is $ithout thou&ht of &ain, 13!!4 *onsiderin& nothin& ex*e(t the need of a nei&h%or 13!54 and *onsiders nothin& ex*e(t the a((roval of -od 13!!4, $ithout ho(e of re$ard 13!54 and takes no a**ount of &ratitude or in&ratitude, of (raise or %lame, of &ain or loss 13!"4. / Christian is no$ free to do $orks, not out of servile fear, sin*e a Christian has no need of any $ork or la$ in order to %e saved sin*e throu&h faith he is free from every la$ and does everythin& out of (ure li%erty and freely 13!B4. Luther a&ain on the freedom of a Christian, @/lthou&h ' am an un$orthy and *ondemned man, my -od has &iven me in Christ all the ri*hes of ri&hteousness and salvation $ithout any merit on my (art, out of (ure, free mer*y, so that from no$ on ' need nothin& ex*e(t faith $hi*h %elieves that this is true. 7hy should ' not therefore freely, 9oyfully, $ith all my heart, and $ith an ea&er $ill do all these thin&s $hi*h ' kno$ are (leasin& and a**e(ta%le to su*h a Father $ho has over$helmed me $ith his inestima%le ri*hesE 13!"4. For Luther this is ho$ faith is full of &ood $orks. For the %eliever $ho has *onfiden*e that he has all he needs already, the motivation for &ood $orks *omes out of overflo$in& a((re*iation for the &ra*e and mer*y of -od. This is Christian freedom. 'f $orks are sou&ht after as a means to ri&hteousness, are %urdened $ith this (erverse Leviathan, and are done under the false im(ression that throu&h them one is 9ustified, they are made ne*essary and freedom and faith are destroyed: and this addition to them makes them no lon&er &ood %ut truly damna%le $orks 13!24. The &ood $orks do not effe*t the %elievers standin& %efore -od, in fa*t, he *annot %elieve that they do. But very &reat *are must al$ays %e exer*ised so that no man in a false *onfiden*e ima&ines that %y su*h $orks he $ill %e 9ustified or a*;uire merit or %e saved: for this is the $ork of faith alone 13A!03AA4. /s Luther has said, $orks done for 9ustifi*ation are damna%le $orks. 'n *on*lusion, Luthers vie$ is de(endent u(on a stri*t dualism. The inner man em%ra*es the (romises %y faith alone. This ha((ens *om(letely and in an instant. The outer man, that is $orkin&s of the (hysi*al %ody are addressed %y the *ommands of -od. These t$o realities, a**ordin& to Luther are ;uite diverse. The inner man stands holy %efore -od, free from sin %y faith, $hile the outer man stands as a sinner, loaded do$n $ith sins. This *ondition is (ossi%le %e*ause of Luthers dualisti* vie$. Slo$ly and (ro&ressively the man $ho has faith %rin&s his outer man under o%edien*e to the *ommands of -od. But his doin& of this has no %earin& on his standin& %efore -od, the inner man has all he needs %y faith. Luthers se*ond (o$er of faith has to do $ith a (ersons o%edien*e to *ommands out of &ratitude for $hat he has %y faith. This is *ru*ial for Luther. For Luther, to o%ey for 9ustifi*ation is to render a (erson o%edient out of servile fear. This $e are free from. 7e no$ o%ey out of a &lad a((re*iation for $hat $e already (ossess in full. This is ho$ faith relates to o%edien*e. 7hat %e*omes *lear, is ho$ mu*h Luthers dualisti* vie$ of man informs his understandin& of the S*ri(tures. 7hat no$ must %e ex(lored, is ho$ far Luthers dualism has *arried him from the a(ostle )auls o$n vie$s. The %est (la*e to %e&in is $ith Luthers key text from the a(ostle )aul. 'n ! Corinthians "#!", )aul asserts that thou&h ' am free and %elon& to no man, ' make myself a slave to everyone, to $in as many as (ossi%le. From this Luther re(resents )aul to mean %y %ein& free from all men, he is free from *ommandments, even the *ommands of -od. First, this *annot %e )auls meanin& %e*ause only a fe$ senten*es later in verse A! he states that ' am not free from B

-ods la$ %ut am under Christs la$. The la$ that he is free from is the la$ of Moses, %ut this does not mean he is free from the la$ of Christ. Clearly, $hat )aul meant $as that he $as free from the di*tates of men, %ut not from the *ommands of -od. This $as )auls tea*hin&, and also refle*ts his life. /**ordin& to Luther, $hen a (erson %e*omes a Christian, they %e*ome one %y faith alone, and the inner man must remain (ersuaded that he has all he needs %y that faith. Fverythin& done after re*eivin& Christ %y faith is done out of a &lad a((re*iation of that fa*t. Commands are not done out of ne*essity and servile fear, %ut freely, from a &lad and a((re*iative heart. +o$ever, this $as not ho$ the a(ostle )aul understood his a(ostleshi(. 7hen ,esus Christ revealed himself to Saul on the Damas*us road 1later to %e named )aul4 he told him, Do$ &et u( and &o into the *ity, and you $ill %e told what you must do. The -reek $ord for must is dei and is translated it is ne*essary. )aul had to &o into Damas*us, %e*ause it $as there he $ould re*eive further instru*tion a%out $hat he must do. The Lord then *ommissioned /nanias to %e his mouth(ie*e. +e told /nanias. -oG This man is my *hosen instrument to *arry my name %efore the -entiles and their kin&s and %efore the (eo(le of 'srael. ' $ill sho$ him ho$ mu*h he must suffer [dei] for my name 1vv.!2,!34. )aul must suffer %e*ause he must be -ods messen&er to the nations. )aul $ould suffer indeed. 'n the midst of his ministry and after many %eatin&s and re9e*tions, the Lord stood near )aul and said, @Take *oura&eG /s you have testified a%out me in ,erusalem, so you must [dei] also testify a%out in <ome 1/*ts AB#!!4. )auls o$n understandin& of his a(ostleshi( is refle*ted in the reality of $hat he $as told he had to do %y Christ +imself. The $ay )aul refers to his *ommission in many (la*es refle*ts the reality that he $as a man under ne*essity. )aul, an a(ostle of Christ ,esus %y the command of -od our Savior and of Christ ,esus our ho(e 1! Timothy !#!4. >/?nd at his a((ointed season he %rou&ht his $ord to li&ht throu&h the (rea*hin& entrusted to me by the command of -od our Savior 1Titus !#B4. Luther understands )aul to %e a man $ho is free from the *ommands of -od, and serves them in (rea*hin& the &os(el out &ratitude for $hat -od has done for him. There is no ;uestion that )aul $as a &rateful man, %ut it *annot %e *on*luded that )aul served men out of &lad a((re*iation and not from ne*essity. /s $e have seen, Luther also tau&ht that o%edien*e is &iven freely, that is understood to mean, a(art from any ex(e*tation of re$ard or %enefits re*eived, %ut only out of &ratitude for $hat has %een re*eived %y faith alone. This does not refle*t the a(ostles understandin&. 'n ! Corinthians "#AA,AB, )aul des*ri%ed $hat motivated him to serve men in (rea*hin& the &os(el. +e $as motivated for t$o reasons. First, ' have %e*ome all thin&s to all men so that %y all (ossi%le means ' mi&ht save some. ' do all this for the sake of the &os(el, that ' may share in its %lessin&s. The first reason he serves men is to save them. The se*ond reason is the he himself may share in the %lessin&s that the &os(el (romises. 7hat are the %lessin&s that the &os(el (romisesE 's it not salvation from sin and the $rath of -odE 's it not the (romise of lifeE )aul did $hat he did %e*ause lives de(ended u(on him doin& $hat he $as *ommanded to do, the lives of other men and his life as $ell. )aul $as not free in the sense that Luther understands freedom. +e $as not free from the *ommand of his Lord to (rea*h to the nations. 't $as somethin& he had to do. This is $hy )aul $ould say, Het $hen ' (rea*h the &os(el, ' *annot %oast, for ' am *om(elled to (rea*h. 7oe to me if ' do not (rea*h the &os(elG 1! Cor. "#!34. )aul em(loys a I

$oe ora*le $hi*h $as em(loyed %y the (ro(hets to refle*t the 9ud&ment of -od u(on the diso%edient. ,esus used the $oe ora*le $hen referrin& to the )harisees in Matthe$ AB. )aul uses it in referen*e to himself. This is also $hy )aul s(eaks of his a(ostleshi( as %ein& a**ordin& to the (romise of life in A Timothy !#!. )aul, an a(ostle of Christ %y the $ill of -od, a**ordin& to the (romise of life that is in Christ ,esus. This is not to say that )auls servi*e $as not a &lad or a((re*iative servi*e to +is Lord. Surely it $as. But it is to say that Luther sets u( a false di*hotomy %y tea*hin& that either a (erson does $hat he has to from servile fear, or a (erson does $hat he $ants to do freely out &ratitude. Luther falls into a lo&i*al falla*y of the ex*luded middle. <ather, the %i%li*al reality is that the a(ostle )aul &ladly did $hat he had to do in order to share in the blessings of the gospel. )auls freedom $as not of the ty(e Luther tau&ht. +e $as free from the di*tates of men. +e $as not free from the di*tates of -od. Lastly, it is evident that Luthers inter(retation of %i%li*al texts is ham(ered %y a (hiloso(hi*al dualism. Luther divides man into t$o distin*t (arts, the inner man and the outer man. 't is true that )aul *an s(eak of an inner and outer man.%ut on*e a&ain, )aul meant somethin& very different than Luther %y s(eakin& in this $ay. Luthers dualism serves to divide men into t$o distin*t (arts that have an a%ility to relate to -od in t$o distin*t $ays, almost as t$o (eo(le in one. For Luther a man may %e ri&hteous and holy %efore -od in his soul, and sinful and re%ellious to$ard -od $ith his %ody. / man may %e (leasin& to -od in his heart %y faith and a%horrent to -od in his %ody %y diso%edien*e. Dot only is this theoreti*ally (ossi%le for Luther, %ut it is, in reality and in various de&rees, true of all men. This &oes far %eyond anythin& )aul ever tau&ht. )aul never divided men in this $ay. 7hen )aul $rote of mans inner and outer *ondition he $as s(eakin& of $hole men. 7e read of this in <omans A#A8,A",
'f those $ho are not *ir*um*ised kee( the la$s re;uirements, $ill they not %e re&arded as thou&h they $ere *ir*um*isedE The one $ho is not *ir*um*ised (hysi*ally and yet o%eys the la$ $ill *ondemn you $ho, even thou&h you have the $ritten *ode and *ir*um*ision are a la$ %reaker. / man is not a ,e$ if he is only one out$ardly, nor is his *ir*um*ision merely out$ard and (hysi*al. Do, a man is a ,e$ if he is one in$ardly: and *ir*um*ision is *ir*um*ision of the heart, %y the S(irit, not %y the $ritten *ode. Su*h a mans (raise is not from man, %ut from -od.

'n this (assa&e )aul does not divide a man into t$o (arts the $ay Luther does. )aul divides $hole men into t$o ty(es, one ty(e $ho diso%eys -od and others $ho o%ey. 'n this (assa&e the ones $ho are inwardly *ir*um*ised %y the S(irit are those $ho o%ey -ods *ommands. The s(iritual man kee(s the re;uirements of -od. The issue here for )aul is a false *onfiden*e in *ir*um*ision $hile livin& in sin. Luthers dualism *annot %e sustained %y an a((eal to <omans 5. 7hoever a (erson %elieves )aul is referrin& to in <omans 5, )auls des*ri(tion does not &ive *reden*e to Luthers %odyJsoul dualism. )aul $rites of a man $ho is divided internally, the sinful nature $arrin& a&ainst the desire for -ods $ays. 'n A Corinthians I#!3ff. )aul refers to the inner and outer man, the man of s(irit and %ody. But there it is the %ody that is sufferin& %e*ause of faithfulness to -od. Man is not divided in alle&ian*e as Luther *on*eives, rather the %ody %ears the marks of a mans s(iritual alle&ian*e. )auls (oint is that, des(ite a((earan*es to the *ontrary, the man $ho suffers and is %ein& %roken do$n (hysi*ally for his faith is %ein& (re(ared for &reat &lory in the a&e to *ome. This &lory $ill en*om(ass the $hole man, 9ust as the (resent 2

sufferin& en*om(asses the $hole man. 6n*e a&ain, )aul $as not *ontrolled %y Luthers (hiloso(hi*al dualism. But Luther has read )aul under the (hiloso(hi*al 0 not %i%li*al0 vie$ of a divided man. For all of Luthers (rotest a&ainst (hiloso(hi*al reasonin& distortin& the 7ord of -od, it is *lear that he himself failed to exe&ete S*ri(ture on its o$n terms and %y its o$n assum(tions. Kn%i%li*al dualism has %een a lon&0time o((onent of the %i%li*al $orld0vie$. Clearly, Luthers assum(tions have *aused him to mis0re(resent the a(ostle )aul at im(ortant (oints havin& to do $ith o%edien*e to *ommands and faith in -od. For )aul, faith and o%edien*e did not reside in se(arate *om(artments of man. )aul never *on*eived of the (ossi%ility of a savin& faith existin& $ithin a man enslaved to sin, or an o%edient man of un%elief. )aul understood that $hat he did as an a(ostle he had to do as an ex(ression of his faith in his Lord. )aul kne$ he had to &o <ome %y the *ommand of his Lord and Savior 1/*ts AB#!!4. +e $ould &o %y faith in the (romise of life 1A Timothy !#!4. /nd %e*ause )aul o%eyed the *ommand of his Lord %y faith in the life (romised to him, he *ould say $ith &reat *onfiden*e, $hile in <ome, at the end of his life, ' have fou&ht the &ood fi&ht, ' have finished the ra*e, ' have ke(t the faith. Do$ there is in store for me the *ro$n of ri&hteousness, $hi*h the Lord, the ri&hteous ,ud&e, $ill a$ard to me on that day0 and not only to me, %ut also to all $ho have lon&ed for his a((earin&. )aul in*ludes us in this (ursuit of life. -ods 7ord of (romise is for us as $ell. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will ive !ou the "rown of life# $ %evelation &'()