From “On the Christian’s Armor and Weapons” (1532)
Whoever wants to be in Christendom [i.e. the church] and does not take things seriously but is only counted among the crowd, who wants to benefit with the others but not right alongside them, will quickly belong to the devil. He is not girded, that is, does not have his garment tucked up and is not ready with truth and true earnestness, as a soldier should be.
“Girding loins” in scripture means the same as when we say, “tuck up your garment” and “get ready,” so that he is prepared and set to run or to fight, so that nothing hinders him from striking out at the enemy of escaping from him. Similarly, we are accustomed to say, “You must pull your clothes up high if you want to escape a villain.” So, Christ says to his disciples, “have your loins girded and your lights burning,” Luke 12, that is, “always be equipped and ready, like servants who are waiting for their lord and go to meet him when he returns home at night.” Likewise, the prophet Elisha said to his servant, “Gird up your loins and take your staff,” 2 Kings 4, that is, “tuck up your garment and be on your way.” Thus he points out with these words that if anyone has an estate in which he is supposed to carry out, run, and do something, he should get ready for it and be equipped, as if he is serious about undertaking it.
Therefore, the first thing that is necessary here for this battle is that we are girded and tucked up, that is, that we realize that we must fight and contend, and thus seriously devote ourselves and be ready genuinely to do it. The other, false Christians who do not undertake this with seriousness and truth, who go off in security and without worry and seek good days or their own honor and enjoyment, as if they do not need to fight – they do mortal harm to Christendom [i.e. the church]. The devil always mixes such people in. They have the reputation and appearance but are not really serious about it. Through them the devil does more harm than otherwise through those who are outside of Christendom [i.e. the church], as St. Paul everywhere complains about the false Christians and false workers. In this way the devil attacks us, too through our flesh, testing whether we are genuine, so that we may become lax and lazy and not take up and carry out our deeds as seriously as we should. For this reason, we must fight against this and always awaken and urge ourselves, so that we do not also fall into this laziness and security and finally into sheer hypocrisy.
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. This text is from one of his Church Postils, a series of model exegetical sermons on the Sunday Epistles and Gospels designed to guide young pastors in the art of preaching. Martin Luther is commemorated on February 18 on the calendars of several Lutheran and Anglican Churches. This translation of the text is from B. G. Mayes and J. L. Langebartels, eds, Luther’s Works Volume 79, Church Postil V (St. Louis: Concordia, 2016).