Beginning, Advance, Completion

From “Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent” Church Postils I (1540)

You ask, “How shall we begin to be godly, or what shall we do that God may begin his work in us?” Answer: Didn’t you hear that there is no work or beginning in you that will make you godly, as little as the increase and the completion is in you? The beginning, the advance, and the completion is God’s alone.

You say, “Then I must sin from necessity, if by my free will I work and live without God? And I could not avoid sin, no matter what I would do?” Answer: Truly it is so, that you must remain in sin, do what you will, and that everything is sin you do alone out of your own free will. For if out of your own free will you might avoid sin and do that which pleases God, what need would you have of Christ? He would be a fool to shed his blood for your sin, if you yourself were so free and able to do aught that is not sin…

Learn then from this Gospel what takes place when God begins to make us godly, and what the first step is in becoming godly. There is no other beginning than that your king comes to you and begins to work in you. It is done in this way: The Gospel must be the first; this must be preached and heard. In it you bear and learn how all your works count for nothing before God and that everything is sinful that you work and do. Your king must first be in you and rule you. Behold, here is the beginning of your salvation; you relinquish your works and despair of yourself, because you hear and see that all you do is sin and amounts to nothing, as the Gospel tells you, and you receive your king in faith, cling to him, implore his grace and find consolation in his mercy alone.

But when you hear and accept this it is not your power, but God’s grace, that renders the Gospel fruitful in you, so that you believe that you and your works are nothing.”

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 Church Postils were model expository sermons on the appointed Mass readings that Luther wrote to guide local pastors in preaching. Martin Luther is commemorated on February 18 on the calendars of several Lutheran and Anglican Churches.  This translation of the text is adapted from Benjamin Mayes and James Langebartels, eds, Luther Works: Church Postil I (St. Louis: Concordia, 2013), Vol. 75.

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