On Christian Freedom

Continuing in the series of posts from Martin Luther as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I  share some highlights from Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian.  This treatise was dedicated to Pope Leo X, and was Luther’s final attempt to be reconcile to Rome.

One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ… Let us consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and where that Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul.  If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing, since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing. On the other hand, there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of the hearing of his Word.

The Word of God cannot be received and cherished by any works whatever but only by faith. So [the soul] is justified by faith alone and not any works; for if it could be justified by anything else, it would not need the Word, and consequently it would not need faith. Wherefore it ought to be the first concern of every Christian to lay aside all confidence in works and increasingly to strengthen faith alone and through faith to grow in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who suffered and rose for him. No other work makes a Christian.

To those who ask, “If faith does all things and is alone sufficient unto righteousness, why then are good works commanded?” Although a man is abundantly and sufficiently justified by faith inwardly, in his spirit, and so has all that he needs… yet he remains in this mortal life on earth.  In this life he must control his own body and have dealings with men.  Here the works begin, here a man cannot enjoy leisure; here he must indeed take care to discipline his body by fastings, watchings, labors, and other reasonable discipline and to subject it to the Spirit so that it will obey and conform to the inner man and faith and not revolt against faith and hinder the inner man, as it is the nature of the body to do if it is not held in check. Since by faith the soul is cleansed and made to love God, it desires that all things, and especially its own body, shall be purified so that all things may join with it in loving and praising God. Nevertheless the works themselves to not justify him before God, but he does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things.

The following statements are therefore true: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works; evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works.

Savior and Lord

“Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word…
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
(John 14:23–24)

There has been a bit of a brew-ha-ha percolating on the web among many of the “popular” reformed theologians lately, and while I will spare you the “he said – he said” trivium, I will give you the nutshell version:

Essentially, all the excitement comes down to the very old argument on the relationship between faith and works.  The writer at the eye of the storm has written a study on 1 John 5:3 arguing that the reason the commandments of God are not burdensome is that those in Christ don’t have to do them. When you are in Christ, you are free of the commands.

There have been countless responses to this teaching, pointing out that it cannot stand, especially in light of the rest of 1 John 5:3-4, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God has overcome the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”

I doubt that many of you who are reading this would go so far as to say that faith negates works, that being in Christ cancels all obligations to the call to obedience and righteousness.  We know that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works (Eph 2:8-9).  But we also know that we are saved by grace through faith so that we may be set free for the good works God has given us to do (Eph. 2:10).

Still, I wonder how many of us, though confessing the truth, live the lie?  We know we are saved by grace through faith and set free for faithful service, but are we slow to obedience?  We are quick to claim Jesus as our Savior, and will even call Him Lord, but how ready are we to bend our knee and bow our head before Him?  Is He Lord, Sovereign over your life, the final authority on how you live and what you believe?

Sadly, many own a divided Christ.

And this is nothing new.

In the 1930’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”  Let me unpack that a bit – Faith produces obedience.  When you know and trust the one giving the command, you will obey.  Peter wouldn’t have gotten out of the boat had Jesus not already been standing on the water calling him to His side.  Faith in Christ produces obedience.  At the same time, if there is no obedience, there is no faith.  Disobedience stems from disbelief; if you are having trouble trusting Jesus it is because there is some point in which you are also disobedient to Jesus.

In the 50’s, A.W. Tozer wrote of this in his book, The Root of the Righteous:

It is altogether doubtful whether any man can be saved who comes to Christ for His help but with no intention to obey Him.  Christ’s savior-hood is forever united to His lordship.  Look at the Scriptures: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).  There the Lord is the object of faith for salvation.  And when the Philippian jailer asked the way to be saved, Paul replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).  He did not tell him to believe on the Savior with the thought that he could later take up the matter of His lordship and settle it at his own convenience.  To Paul there could be not division of offices.  Christ must be Lord or He will not be savior.

Even more recently, R.C. Sproul, in his book, Essential Truth of the Christian Faith, wrote:

Antinomianism… asserts that once a person makes a decision for Christ or prays to receive Jesus as Savior, it is not necessary to embrace Him as Lord.  There are no requirements of law that bind the Christian.  There are a few Christian teachers, if any, who declare that one who embraces Christ as Savior shouldn’t also embrace Him as Lord.  Rather, they encourage the “carnal Christian” to become more spiritual and obedient.  But they shrink from declaring that embracing Christ as Lord is necessary for salvation.  Indeed, they insist that it is not necessary for attaining salvation.

Jesus Christ must be your Lord and Savior.  If you trust in Him for salvation, you will listen to His word.  If you believe in Him, you will obey His commandments.  If you love Him, you will obey Him.  This is not to say that our obedience is perfect.  Were that possible, the cross would have been unnecessary.  Each day we see anew our imperfection, our disobedience, our need for a perfect savior.  The beginning of obedience is the acknowledgment of our reality, the confession of the truth, that we are sinners in need of grace, rebels in need of restoration.  Those who do not obey, those who will not submit to Him, prove that they do not love Him, nor do they truly believe in Him.

If you will have Jesus as your savior, you must also have him as Lord.  He will not be divided, piecemeal, like so many offerings at a buffet.  We cannot take Jesus a la carte – picking and choosing what we think we like and need from Him and leaving the rest behind.  We are not given that choice.  He will be Savior and Lord to you, or He will be nothing to you at all.