Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Lord of all, Servant of all"

Martin Luther’s Paradox of the Inward and Outward Man

[Analytical Essay written for a college Western Civilization class]

Martin Luther, one of the foremost leaders of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, penned his treatise “Concerning Christian Liberty” in 1520 in order to explain his belief that faith alone, to the exclusion of any good works of man, is necessary for salvation. Yet, Luther is adamant that this belief does not diminish the importance of good works for the Christian, writing, “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.” Through this seeming paradox, Luther argues that the Christian is two men: the inward man who is free from the condemnation of the law and, thus, does not have to do good works in order to earn salvation, and the outward man who, after being saved, does good works as a reflection of Christ. Ultimately, Luther’s division of the Christian into the inward man of faith and the outward man of good works emphasized the individual’s role in salvation and reaffirmed the sovereignty of Christ.

At the beginning of “Concerning Christian Liberty” is a letter from Martin Luther to Pope Leo X which laments the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. In Luther’s day the Roman Catholic Church taught that faith alone was not sufficient for salvation. Citing biblical passages like James 2, verses 20 and 22, they posited that faith without works was dead. Yet, many Christians took this teaching to its logical extent, losing assurance in their salvation. They could not know with absolute certainty whether they had done enough good works to earn salvation. This led to many errors, not the least of which was the creation of doctrines like Purgatory – a spiritual place where souls of those who died as Christians could perform further penance and be thoroughly purified before entering heaven. The Catholic Church also used their doctrine of salvation through works to their own advantage, selling indulgences as a way to raise money to fund the building of their elaborate cathedrals and their transformation of Vatican City.

Yet, although Luther disagreed with the Catholic view of salvation, he does not negate good works entirely. In his treatise, he asserts the duality of the Christian nature, its spirituality and physicality, and argues that good works have a place outside of salvation. The treatise draws on passages like 2 Corinthians 4:16 to support Luther’s position, “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” In explanation of the verse, Luther writes, “As regards the spiritual nature, which they name the soul, he is called the spiritual, inward, new man; as regards the bodily nature, which they name the flesh, he is called the fleshly, outward, old man.” Essentially, good works have no place with the spiritual nature, but are necessary to the bodily nature.

The inward man is the embodiment of the first line of Luther’s paradox. He is the most free lord of all and subject to none. Luther argues that the only thing necessary for the soul is the word of God, as was established in Matthew 4:4: that man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God’s mouth. Luther writes, “As the soul needs the word alone for life and justification, so it is justified by faith alone, and not by any works. For if it could be justified by any other means, it would have no need of the word, nor consequently of faith.” The Christian understands, in light of passages like Romans 3:23, that every seeming good work of his is actually “utterly guilty, sinful, and damnable.” Every action of man, even those that appear good to sinful eyes, is defiled. It is impossible for him to attain the perfection that God’s holiness demands. Ultimately, then, it is the merits of Christ alone that save, not a man’s good works.

Luther points out that the Bible is divided into precepts and promises. The law of the Old Testament was a precept to “show us what we ought to do, but [did] not give us the power to do it.” Rather, it convicted the man of sin and showed him that thousands of good works were ineffectual at earning salvation. The promises, however, in the gospel message of the New Testament offered man salvation through faith alone, declaring, “If you wish to fulfill the law…believe in Christ, in whom are promised to you grace, justification, peace, and liberty.” In the words of Luther, the Christian takes on the “wedding-ring of faith”: his soul is united with Christ’s, as the husband and wife are united in one flesh, each taking on the possessions of the other – Christ, the sin, death, and condemnation of man, and man, the grace, life, and salvation of Christ. The inward man, clothed in the salvation of Christ, is freed from the judgment of the law, the bondage of sin, the fear of death, and the torments of hell.

This is, however, not the end of the Christian story. While the inward man through the sacrificial work of Christ is now lord of all, the outward man becomes the servant of all. And it is here in the outward man that good works find their proper place. Luther writes, “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works.” Thus, the good works are a reflection of the moral state of the man. Luther uses the analogy of a house. A badly made house does not make a bad builder, but a bad builder will make a house badly. So, too, if a man is good, he will do good works. But if he is bad, he will produce bad works. A man should not do good works as a way to gain justification, but he should embrace good works as a way to glorify and honor God. Thus, the outward man becomes the servant of all in imitation of Christ who forsook the glory of heaven to redeem fallen man. Luther adjures that it is the duty of the outward man to live for others, “he must needs speak, act, and converse among men, just as Christ was made in the likeness of men and found in fashion as a man, and had His conversation among men.” Importantly, all of these works must be done freely and voluntarily and not as if man was looking forward to any reward. He is a servant, not a slave, doing all things to the best of his ability in an effort to thank God for the wonderful gift of faith and salvation. He is both reigning and serving with Christ.

Ultimately, Luther’s teaching of faith alone in “Concerning Christian Liberty” was revolutionary for its time. It overturned many of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, limiting the power of the papacy, and strengthening the faith of millions of Christians. No longer would they fear that their salvation was not sure: the belief in faith alone meant that salvation was no longer dependent on man, but on the work of Christ. Yet, when Luther described Christian liberty, he did not mean Christian anarchy in which a man was saved, but could continue to indulge in the sins of his former lifestyle. Rather, Luther merely rediscovered the true goal of good works: they could not save a man, but they would identify him as a man who had been saved. For though man is instantly justified, he is in the process of being sanctified. Thus, the inward man relies solely on the efficacious power of Christ while the outward man is being transformed into a perfect reflection of God’s divine holiness.

Labels: , ,

Posted by Nicole Bianchi at 11:17 PM


Blogger Katie mused...

Those are some fat people!

1/23/2010 10:59 AM


Post a Comment

<< Home

Related Posts with Thumbnails