Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Luther on the Righteousness of Faith

Late Edit: [I don't know how well it conveys, but I chose the statue of Hamlet at Stratford on Avon to illustrate how I think of Luther's contemplation of the Law. Because our efforts to keep it prove futile, I had it drilled into me at a young age that “all we get from the law is sin and death.” My mind locked it into auditory memory so clearly because I spent so much time and effort thinking about the paradox of Paul's writing in Romans that we do nothing to merit or receive salvation that becomes an admonishment to go forward and walk into the future with our weapons of righteousness.

We are amazing creatures, and I think twice of Hamlet. First, comes the soliloquy of “what a piece of work is man!” How noble in reason; infinite in faculty; in form, in action, in apprehension, in beauty, the paragon of animals, yet a quintessence of dust. And in contemplating sin, death and dust do follow. And so I chose the image of Hamlet holding Yorick's skull as he realizes all too painfully that life is so short. I imagine that Luther held that same kind of expression as did so many thespians in their portrayal of the sweet prince.]

We noted that Martin Luther believed that the key to living rightly in God's eyes begins with the Holy Spirit who fills us and changes us from the inside out. Anything that we do because we consider Scripture to be a rule book to follow amounts to a good work that does nothing to make us holier. Works do not sanctify. 

After we awaken and profess faith in Christ, when we read or hear about the Law of the Old Covenant, it no longer serves as our condemnation. It becomes a mirror which reveals our sin to us and our fallen nature yet to be redeemed. 

Rather than condemning us, the Spirit in us allows the Law to convict us. That conviction and our need for Christ that the Law reveals drives us back to the Gospel of Reconciliation and the Justification offered to us in the Cross. 

Through devotion to Christ, the study of the Word and the Holy Spirit who dwells in us works holiness and purity into our hearts as we mortify the sin as it is revealed to us. We seek God in love and liberty, and our growth manifests as good works. Obedience grows from and is a consequence of faith which justification brings about. All that the Law can do is threaten us with strife that makes us afraid, accuse us with guilt over past sins, condemn us with God's wrath and sentence us to death. This “drives us to desperation” and affirms the lie that we are slaves of the Devil. The Law merely st serves the schoolmaster that points us back to the Cross. 

How do we resist the Law which twists the Gospel from a declaration of what Christ has done into a list of commands? Luther teaches that understanding that there are two types of righteousness can help us. All righteousness comes to us as God's gift, but we must note the two types – an active righteousness (that is external) and a passive one (that is internal). 

Active Righteousness flows from the traditions of men and is accomplished by works of natural strength.

  • Political or Civil (Rulers and courts)

  • Ceremonial (Social traditions that have nothing to do with satisfaction for sin, appeasing God, or meriting grace that parents and schoolmasters teach) 

  • Righteousness of the Law (Deriving from the Law of Moses)

The Righteousness of Faith, or Christian Righteousness, comes to us by faith which Christ imputes to all. “For in this we work nothing, we render nothing unto God, but only we receive and suffer Another to work in us, that is to say, God.” The world doesn't understand this mystery at all, and Christians barely grasp it because our sin nature obscures it. Because righteousness is so alien and foreign to us, we cannot help but think of it in terms of our own worthiness, our works, and the law.

In Luther's Commentary on Galatians, he offers this declaration that we can make to the Law when we are tempted to fall back into the Gospel as a list of commands in a rule book. It guides us to render to the Law no more than is due.

O law, you would climb up into the kingdom of my conscience, and there reign and reprove it of sin, and would take from me the joy of my heart, which I have by faith in Christ, and drive me to desperation, that I might be without all hope, and utterly perish. 

This you are doing apart from your office. 

Keep yourself within your bounds, and exercise your power upon the flesh, but do not touch my conscience; 

For I am baptized, and by the Gospel I am called to the partaking of righteousness and of everlasting life, to the kingdom of Christ, wherein my conscience is at rest, where no law is, but altogether forgiveness of sins, peace, quietness, joy, health and everlasting life. 

Trouble me not in these matters, for I will not suffer you, so intolerable a tyrant and cruel tormentor, to reign in my conscience, for it is the seat and temple of Christ the Son of God, who is the king of righteousness and peace, and my most sweet savior and mediator. 

He shall keep my conscience joyful and quiet in the sound and pure doctrine of the Gospel, and in the knowledge of this passive and heavenly righteousness.”