Church History Teasers (Part 8): Luther ‘Concerning Christian Liberty’
Brief Outline of ‘Concerning Christian Liberty’
Reason for Writing: Luther tries to defend two seemingly contradictory propositions, that we have freedom in Christ, and that we have the duty to serve our fellow man (faith and works).
1.) The Foundation: As an introduction of sorts, Luther presents himself as a viable candidate to write on such things by humbly appealing to his experience attained after being ‘vexed’ by various temptations.
2.) Proposition One: The Christian man is the most free Lord of all, and subject to none.
The Inward Man: Justification by faith
a. Works cannot bring about salvation: Good works can be performed by any impious person.
b. Faith alone without works justifies, sets free, and saves.
c. Works cannot glorify God, but can be done to the glory of God.
“Our faith, the effect of which is, not that we should be careless or lead a bad life, but that no one should need the law or works for justification and salvation.
3.) Proposition Two: The Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.
The Outward Man: Sanctification produces good works
a. Good works do not make the man good, but a good man does good works.
b. A man’s works arise from his faith (good works) or unbelief (bad works).
c. The Christian should exhibit faith working through love and joy.
a. A Warning to the Clergy
b. A Warning to every Christian: To walk the ‘middle path’.
Conclusion: Condemn the belief in works and establish justification by faith as the true way of salvation and proper application of works.
‘Concerning Christian Liberty’
Luther begins this treatise by laying down two propositions concerning Christian liberty and servitude, which are illustrated in this sentence; “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 everyone”. Therefore, Luther looks at the two parts of man, inward and outward as representative of faith and works.
Luther first deals with the subject of the ‘inward man’, and argues that no salvific profit comes from works, even an impious person can be adorned with good works. The only thing necessary and profitable for man is justification and Christian liberty. These two necessary things cannot be known without the word of God. The word of God is divided into two parts, precepts and promises. The precepts guide us in morality. The promises of God are full of goodness and saturated by virtues in that we can be sure that our faith will not be invalidated. Luther argues that when one begins to believe the promises of God, they learn all at once that they are utterly guilty of being unable to fulfill the precepts completely. So it is faith alone that justifies and saves individuals.
Christian liberty is this, our faith, that no one needs the law or works as a means to salvation. Works should not be done to glorify God, although they can be done to the glory of God. From this argument one should see that the Christian man is free from all things, in the sense that justification and salvation are gifts from God, and not obtained by works. In fact, Luther argues that works can even be harmful if performed as justifying one towards salvation.
Luther’s second section of this work examines the ‘outer man’, which should be associated with a Christian’s servant-hood. While the inner man is being conformed to God, and delighting itself in Christ, the outer man begins to serve with joy. Once a person realizes what God has done, then that person is compelled to do good works. To balance this encouragement out Luther adds that, “good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works.” When a man performs works, it does not arise from his own goodness or badness, but from his faith or unbelief.
It would seem that some would argue that one could be judged according to his works as seen by men, but in the sight of God one is judged according to faith. Therefore, one must be on guard at all times against the vain confidence or presumption of being justified by outward works. Luther also warns the reader from distorting ones sense of freedom in order indulge the flesh, which He calls ‘an occasion of license’.
The Christian life is marked by faith working through love. When a man applies himself with joy and love to his works he is satisfied in the fullness of his own faith. No Christian lives in himself, but in Christ and too his neighbor. It is not from works that we are set free by our faith in Christ, but our belief in Christ will justify us before God. One of Luther’s main aims in this piece was to condemn belief in works, and establish a right view of salvation by faith alone, in Christ alone. Christian freedom was being free from the idea that good works were a means to salvation, yet in Christian freedom one would exercise good works in light of the grace God had shown in salvation.