The Freedom of the Christian

“To make the way smoother for the unlearned—for only them do I serve—I shall set down the following two propositions concerning the freedom and the bondage of the spirit:

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.                        A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

These two theses seem to contradict one each other.  If, however, they should be found to fit together they would serve our purpose beautifully.  Both are Paul’s statement, who says in I Cor. 9 [:19], ‘For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all,’ and in Rom. 13 [:8], “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”  Love by its very nature is ready to serve and be subject to him who is loved.  So Christ, although he was Lord of all, was ‘born of a woman, born under the law’ [Gal. 4:4], and therefore was at the same time a free man and a servant, ‘in the form of God’ and ‘of a servant’ [Phil. 2:6-7]” Martin Luther, The Freedom of A Christian, in Luther’s Works vol. 31, p. 344

With these words Martin Luther laid the theological foundation for the true Reformation of late medieval theology and practice.  In 1520 Luther clearly expressed a definitive break with the Roman church and late medieval scholastic theology.  In The Freedom of A Christian, which he sent to Pope Leo X with a open letter, Dr. Luther explained how a sinner could obtain true freedom from sin through Christ’s righteousness and express this freedom in love for one’s neighbor.  How does one obtain this freedom?  Luther explained:

“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 Christ, as Christ says, John 11 [:25], ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he lives’ [sic]; and Matt. 4 [:4], ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Ibid., 345.

However, one receives the Word by faith alone in Christ’s promise.  Dr. Luther concludes: “The Word is the gospel of God concerning his Son, who was made flesh, suffered, rose from the dead, and was glorified through the Spirit who sanctifies.  To preach Christ means to feed the soul, make it righteous, set it free, and save it, provided it believes the preaching.  Faith alone is the saving and efficacious use of the Word of God.” Ibid., 346.

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