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Faith Alone -Part 1

Faith Alone -Part 1

After Reading

Martin Luther’s Commentary

on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians

While reading The Project Gutenberg eBook: Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, by Martin Luther I found a new vision of what it means to be “saved by faith alone.” Before I began reading I thought the concept was that “so long as I believe in Christ I will be saved”.

Okay, not exactly that. I knew James 2:18-20But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (NKJV) And therefore I did understand that it was somehow more than merely believing. Demons believe—or know—and shudder. James is certain that there’s more to Christianity than merely believing.

When I was a child my father explained the facts/truth about Santa Claus to me. I was rather disappointed. I really wanted there to be this magical person; so much so that I bought some ‘presents’ and left them out where they would be found on Christmas morning. I wanted so much for Santa to exist that I tried to do his job for him. However, it’s one thing to believe fully and completely but then quite another to want to believe so much that you do his “works” in an effort to keep that belief alive.

Many of us, Christian and Pagan, treat our deities, our religions, like that. We want so very much to believe. So we do those things that we think our deity wants us to do. The practice of doing the works of our deity leads us to believing.

Unfortunately, this does not work. That’s because we are depending on “our works”. That is exactly what St. Paul and Martin Luther are condemning. When I tried to keep Santa Claus real by buying presents for others in his name I found that, because it was me and not Santa that gave the gifts, I could not maintain the fiction that Santa was real.

Then I tested to see if God was real. I prayed for certain things and God gave me an affirmative answer. This happened several times. God did answer prayers therefore He must be real. So I tried to be good, since that’s what I understood that He wanted. That did not work.

In his Commentary on Galatians Martin Luther addresses this. In the section** of the Commentary where he discusses Galatians 5:17 he says:

I remember how Doctor Staupitz used to say to me: “I have promised God a thousand times that I would become a better man, but I never kept my promise. From now on I am not going to make any more vows. Experience has taught me that I cannot keep them. Unless God is merciful to me for Christ’s sake and grants unto me a blessed departure, I shall not be able to stand before Him.” His was a God-pleasing despair. No true believer trusts in his own righteousness, but says with David, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” (Ps. 143:2) Again, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Ps. 130:3.)

In the next paragraph Luther tell us that we should not “despair of salvation” but we should “be aware” of our sins and not yield to them. He sums it up this way, “Even if you cannot completely overcome it, at least you ought to fight against it.” These words prompted me to make the following note: “The only way I have been able to do this is to submit to Christ. By my own efforts I can do nothing. It is by Faith Alone that I am able to overcome Sin. Luther sounds like he thinks a man, even a saint, has some ability to fight Sin; however, he is the champion of Faith Alone. When I am tempted it is by looking at the Cross that I have any power to resist. My Love for my Lord and Savior enables me to resist Temptation.”

After this St. Paul enumerates the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit” and then says about the fruit of the Spirit, “Against such there is no law.” (Section on Galatians 5:23)

Luther comments on this phrase, “There is a law, of course, but it does not apply to those who bear these fruits of the Spirit. The Law is not given for the righteous man. A true Christian conducts himself in such a way that he does not need any law to warn or to restrain him. He obeys the Law without compulsion. The Law does not concern him. As far as he is concerned there would not have to be any Law.”

St. Paul warns us elsewhere about sinning that grace may abound. See Romans chapter 6 verse 1. Luther takes up this concept in discussing verse 25. He examines the sin of pride to some length. Eventually Luther says, “Whenever you are being praised, remember it is not you who is being praised but Christ, to whom all praise belongs. When you preach the Word of God in its purity and also live accordingly, it is not your own doing, but God’s doing. And when people praise you, they really mean to praise God in you. When you understand this—and you should because “what hast thou that thou didst not receive?”—you will not flatter yourself on the one hand and on the other hand you will not carry yourself with the thought of resigning from the ministry when you are insulted, reproached, or persecuted.”

While Luther is specifically addressing preachers his words apply to all Christians. St. Peter tells us that we are “…a royal priesthood…” (See 1 Peter chapter 2, esp. verse 9.) And at the end of this discourse Luther says, “A plain factory hand who does his work faithfully pleases God just as much as a minister of the Word.” And so when a factory worker is praised by his boss or anyone else that worker must understand that it is Christ within that is being praised.

This is a point where all Christians must take great care. Luther takes a lot of time warning about pride because it is so very easy to succumb to that sin. St. John offers some assistance. In The Gospel of John we get Jesus’ own words about how this works. (John 15:5) “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (NKJV)

Ultimately, that’s what “Faith Alone” really means. Without Christ I can do nothing. Anything I do must be done through Christ. That means my faith in Christ is real only because Christ makes it real. The works I do can only be done because Christ does them through me. When I do the works because I want to obey Christ I’m doing them, ultimately, through pride. When I abide in Christ I do the works that He wants, because He’s abiding in me.

The best illustration of this is a Tolkien character: Tom Bombadil. He was omitted from the movie, The Lord of the Rings, for a variety of reasons. But he’s a rather interesting part of Tolkien’s story. Earlier I mentioned that Luther discussed Galatians 5:23 and part of what he said was,A true Christian conducts himself in such a way that he does not need any law to warn or to restrain him. He obeys the Law without compulsion. The Law does not concern him. As far as he is concerned there would not have to be any Law. That is exactly how Tom Bombadil lives his life. He knows no Law. He’s way beyond “good and evil” to the point where those concepts mean nothing to him. So he plays with the One Ring and laughs at the seriousness of the Hobbits.

Go back to Genesis and look at Chapter 2 Verse 9:And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It follows in verse 17, “…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

The implications of these two verses is marvelous. I think one thing they mean is that Adam and Eve had no comprehension of ‘good’ or ‘evil’. They lived as Luther describes, “He obeys the Law without compulsion” which I take to mean that Adam abides in Christ and Christ abides in Adam. They fellowship when God goes for an evening walk. (Chapter 3 verse 8 might be interpreted in other ways, but it seems to me that it was normal for God to fellowship with Adam, no matter how you read verse 8.)

That fellowship was broken in verse 6. Jewish and Christian theology delve deep into the ramifications of that rift. Both conclude in a savior, a messiah, who would restore that fellowship.

It is Christian belief that Jesus of Nazareth is that messiah. His death and resurrection provide the fulfillment of the Law, the means of salvation. It is the argument of the New Testament that, through his death and resurrection, we are able to abide in the Messiah and He is able to abide in each of us. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians, and Martin Luther, in his Commentary on Galatians, maintain that it is merely through faith that this abiding can take place. Circumcision is not necessary; celebrating a holy day is not necessary; indulgences are not necessary; saying the Rosary is not necessary. As St. Paul states clearly in his Letter to the Romans, “…(nothing) can separate us from the Love of God…” (Romans 8:39).

The quote from Luther about Doctor Staupitz reveals much. The good doctor says he will no longer make any more vows to be good. That’s a good thing. It means the doctor is beginning to understand that those vows were not the works of God but the works of a sinful man.

Faith Alone” does not mean “believing” in the Messiah. It means that only through faith can one abide with Christ. He is the vine, we are merely branches. We may produce fruit but it is the life-giving sap from the vine that enables us to produce that fruit. Once we are connected to that vine we need no Law to guide our actions; the Holy Spirit, abiding in us, shows us what we need to do. The fellowship that Adam had with God is ours, free of any encumbrance. Through that fellowship we produce the fruit of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control.

Ah, yes, but there’s a catch: we are still living in the fallen world. We still sin. Christians understand this. Much of the New Testament deals with the problem of sin. The Lord told me to write this. He’s got others dealing with that.

Finally, consider that the most devout Christians are, like Tom Bombadil, not interested in good or evil. They look beyond that tree to another tree: the Tree of Life.

As St. Paul said, “Rejoice Always!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Image of The Tree Of Life created with the AI image creator in Microsoft Edge. Also, here is the link to the

 

Photo of tree in header from PublicDomainPictures.net)

This is not all. The Lord has shown me that there is more to this. “Stay Tuned”…

**The eBook I read was not consistent with page numbers. Different eBook reader apps numbered pages in different ways. So I chose to state where in Martin Luther’s book I found the quoted text by listing the chapter and verse of Galatians that Luther was discussing. Some of these discussions are short, others lengthy. I apologize if you have difficulty finding the text. Probably using the search function will help you.


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