Not Human Freedom, But God’s Freedom Is the Problem for Sinners
In relation to God human choice exists in name only. The exclusivity of God’s saving work and everything that results from his death and resurrection – the preaching of law and the Gospel and the giving away of the sacraments – cannot be subjected to tinkering. We cannot co-mingle God’s work and ours. There are only two ways to work out salvation: God’s way, the way of the cross and our way, the way of glory. That is, as Martin Luther wrote, “Christ is said to be ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14.6), and that categorically, so that whatever is not Christ is not the way, but error, not truth, but untruth, not life, but death, it follows of necessity that ‘free-will’, inasmuch as it neither is Christ, nor is in Christ, is fast bound in error, and untruth, and death.” [Rupp, “Luther and Erasmus,” 284]
Outside of Christ Himself there is nothing but Satan, wrath, darkness, error, lies, and death. One must conclude, Luther writes, that “every statement concerning Christ is a direct testimony against ‘free-will’.” [Packer, “Bondage of The Will,” 307] Further, “In the one, Satan reigns,” and, “holds captive at his will all that are not wrested from him by the Spirit of Christ; nor does he allow them to be plucked away by any other power but the Spirit of God, as Christ tells us in the parable of the strong man armed keeping his palace in peace.” In the other kingdom Christ reigns. “His kingdom continually resists and wars against that of Satan; and we are translated into His kingdom, not by our own power, but by the grace of God, which delivers us from this present evil world and tears us away from the power of darkness.” [Packer, “Bondage of The Will,” 312] The knowledge and confession of this reality, writes Luther is repeated and confessed plainly enough by, “The common man,” “his proverbs, prayers, efforts and entire life.” [Packer, “Bondage of The Will,” 312]
It is not human freedom but God’s freedom that is finally the problem for sinners. God’s election of sinners on account of Christ’s work is the problem and the impediment to our free will. That God had taken on the problem of bondage, freedom and salvation apart from human choice means that we do not see a loving merciful God. We try instead to find meaning for God, salvation, freedom, and so on apart from God, yet we seek to do it with His own words. Sinner try to look behind the words of Scripture in order to make an ultimate claim upon God and for themselves. But God’s Word is meaningless outside of Christ and His Cross. In Christ all the promises of God are fulfilled. The Word of God heals, forgives, saves, and finally frees sinners to forego the necessity of finding significance in the God’s Word. God preaches a concrete word, in the present tense, that Christ is God’s mercy pro nobis. God is really God when He translates sinners through His Word, revealing just exactly who He will be for us.
As Luther wrote:
“If, then, we are taught and believe that we ought to be ignorant of the necessary foreknowledge of God and the necessity of events, Christian faith is utterly destroyed, and the promises of God and the whole gospel fall to the ground completely; for the Christian’s chief and only comfort in every adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings all things to pass immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, altered or impeded.” [Packer, “Bondage of The Will,” 84]
This is the hinge on which everything turns, for Luther and those who bear his namesake. The knowledge and confession of two kingdoms at war with each other cannot be reasoned out and legitimated by appeals to the free will and moral responsibility. To attempt to do so is to deny Christ.
Therefore, “we cannot have it both ways; the grace of God cannot be both made so cheap as to be obtainable anywhere and everywhere by any man’s puny endeavor, and at the same time so dear as to be given us only in and through the grace of one Man and so great a Man. I wish the defenders of free choice would take warning at this point, and realize that when they assert free choice they are denying Christ.” [AE 33, 279]