Empty Himself of This Liberty

From On the Freedom of the Christian (1520)

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 every one… a Christian, like Christ his head, being full and in abundance through his faith, ought to be content with this form of God, obtained by faith; except that, as I have said, he ought to increase this faith, till it be perfected. For this faith is his life, justification, and salvation, preserving his person itself and making it pleasing to God, and bestowing on him all that Christ has; as I have said above, and as Paul affirms: “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” (Gal. ii. 20.)

Though he is thus free from all works, yet he ought to empty himself of this liberty, take on him the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in fashion as a man, serve, help, and in every way act towards his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has acted and is acting towards him. All this he should do freely, and with regard to nothing but the good pleasure of God…

Who then can comprehend the riches and glory of the Christian life? It can do all things, has all things, and is in want of nothing; is lord over sin, death, and hell, and at the same time is the obedient and useful servant of all.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German priest and theologian, a seminal figure of the Protestant Reformation. His teaching about justification by faith, revealed in his study of the Pauline Epistles, became the core of Protestant teaching about salvation, and inspired a wide-reaching series of reform in Christian ministry, worship, and spiritual practice. His treatise “On the Freedom of a Christian,” an important early work, developed the concept that God’s forgiven children need not earn salvation through obedience, but freely offer themselves to serve others in gratitude. Martin Luther is commemorated on February 18 on the calendars of several Lutheran and Anglican Churches. 

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