Why Luther?

January 3, 2009 § 3 Comments

What is it about Luther’s understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ that captures my heart and imagination? Perhaps it has to do with Luther’s clarion call that we are saved by the mercies of the cross of Christ and nothing else. When it’s all said and done, after all our sins, failures, short-comings in this life, the gaze of faith upon Christ will prove enough for our salvation. We enter into union with Christ by faith (through baptism) and are called to a life of faith and repentance, but this repentance is always founded on faith in the crucified and risen Christ. Christ has saved us and calls us to life with him and our struggles in this life add nothing to the salvation already won, secured, and sealed on Calvary. We live by faith and receive the benefits of salvation by faith, not by works of the law: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin…For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:21,28).

Yes, make no mistake that we “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) but this working out, this living our faith, this fighting the passions and replacing them with virtue and love, always stems because “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). To lose sight of this or to fail to mention our foundational life of faith in Christ (“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” I Cor 3:11) can lead to a subtle forgetfulness where we end up drifting away (Heb 2:1) from the True Source of our faith, and end up trusting something (whatever it might be—our good works, our efforts of prayers, our going to church, our not swearing or having premarital sex, etc.) other than Christ for our salvation. Such misplaced trust is always a danger and perversion of the gospel, and Luther helps remind me that in the end, mercy and grace are found only in and because of Christ.

In short, Luther helps me to keep my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith.

§ 3 Responses to Why Luther?

  • this repentance is always founded on faith in the crucified and risen Christ.

    This is very good. It is when we go beyond this fact, this proclamation, that we begin to see error in Luther. It is when he attempts – along with his generation – to understand how “the crucified and risen Christ” saves us that assumptions are made the set up a false dichotomy between faith and works, God’s work and my work, whose merits do what, when and in what order, etc. These are all ideas about God and salvation that are often assumed to be God’s work and salvation.

    Most terribly, such schemata tend to unwittingly believe that Jesus is saving us from God Himself and his wrath, anger, justice, holiness or some such. This view also unwittingly divides the singles will and nature of God whereby the actions and will of God (the Father) and Jesus Christ are at odds in the near term until Jesus can set the whole ‘system’ right.

    This system also bypasses forgiveness, in fact, in favor of the debt being paid by someone other than the debtor. This is laudable, but it is not forgivenss.

    These and other things point to the tensions i found between my understanding of ‘what Lutherans teach’ and what I found when i read the Bible on its own terms. I saw the ‘way’ of Orthodoxy – in all its messy, unsystematized glory – to better ‘match’ what I read in the Bible.

  • nathan says:

    “This is very good. It is when we go beyond this fact, this proclamation, that we begin to see error in Luther. It is when he attempts – along with his generation – to understand how “the crucified and risen Christ” saves us that assumptions are made the set up a false dichotomy between faith and works, God’s work and my work, whose merits do what, when and in what order, etc. These are all ideas about God and salvation that are often assumed to be God’s work and salvation.”

    Chris – I’m glad to see you second what Jason has said. Re: your comments above, don’t the Scriptures themselves, particularly in Romans and Galatians, tell us how the crucified and risen Christ saves us – or at least those who understand themselves as wicked (Rom. 4:5) – namely, through the Promise, received in faith? (i.e. “means of grace”, also clearly seen in baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Which of course, God delivers to us through other persons, most importantly and primarily through Christ’s body of believers, those experiencing theosis? Isn’t this the ground? What am I missing here?

    Most terribly, such schemata tend to unwittingly believe that Jesus is saving us from God Himself and his wrath, anger, justice, holiness or some such. This view also unwittingly divides the singles will and nature of God whereby the actions and will of God (the Father) and Jesus Christ are at odds in the near term until Jesus can set the whole ’system’ right.

    But if God will ultimately judge and destroy the wicked who rage against his children and Life itself (*not denying that this is primarily understood as the wicked judging and destroying themselves*, cutting themselves off from God and His purposes for them) does not God ultimately, *in some sense at least*, save them from His very Self, namely His millstone-delivering wrath that burns wildly against those who would harm the “little ones”? Note, I do firmly believe that when God unleashes the Law, condemnation, judgment and violence upon the wicked, He does so with the firm goal of helping them to “come to their senses” (Rom. 1 – I note He also “breaks” persons by “gentling” them, for a “word can break a bone”) – that they might cling to Him in His Son and be saved. And yet, there is a final cut-off for those who will not have Him.

    “This system also bypasses forgiveness, in fact, in favor of the debt being paid by someone other than the debtor. This is laudable, but it is not forgiveness.”

    But then again, in a sense, the debt is paid by someone other than the debtor. For the one offering forgiveness is the One who takes the sin, and consequences of the sin into one’s own person – in this way, the Forgiver pays. Sin is costly, and the “crash” is on the heart of the One who offers forgiveness. There can be no “cheap grace” because all of this is so personal – love covers over a multitude of sins.

    Chris, I share your concerns with some of the traditional language of Lutheranism, inherited as it is from the historical period in which it sprang. And yet, I do not believe that anything that I have said above is incompatible with confessional Lutheranism, though I may be wrong.

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