Dead to the Law

A Christian, Martin Luther argues in his commentary on Galatians, is dead to the Law. The whole purpose of the Law is to declare how short man falls in being righteous. The Law was never something to be followed to gain salvation. The Law’s purpose was to reveal sin and show how high God’s standards are for righteousness—a standard that man could never live up to. Luther stresses this point to counter the Catholic and scholastic views that relied on works and acts of love—rather than having faith in Christ alone—to perfect salvation. For the Christian, the Law was simply used to convict him of his sin. Once convicted, the sinner sees the futility of ever trying to live up to God’s standards and flees to Christ.

In Christ, the sinner is freed from (or dead to) the Law. Not that the Law is dead, but that it no longer has jurisdiction over the sinner, who is in Christ. For the Law still lives to convict those who have not come to Christ.

According to Luther, when Paul speaks of Christians being “free,” he does not mean that Christians are free to do evil—or, in fact, anything they want. The freedom Paul speaks of, rather, is that of the conscience. Christians are free from fearing their damnation at the hands of a just and holy God. Because Christians no longer have to pay for their sins (because Christ has), they have peace-of-mind (or freedom). Since some professing Christians interpreted “Christian freedom” as freedom to sin, Paul gives them (and stresses) a command to “be servants of one another through love.”

All of this is certainly accurate to the teachings of Paul, who stressed over and over again the importance of faith in Christ alone for justification and diminished the role of the Law in the life of a Christian. In the format of a commentary, it’s difficult not to stay in line with the teachings of the text (although, I’m sure it’s possible). There isn’t much (if any) of Luther’s teachings here that can easily be charged as anti-Pauline.

The importance (or value) of these teachings of Luther is as great as the rift is between Protestants and Catholics. To add a requirement to follow the Law as a means of adding to salvation is just simply not faith alone—it’s simply not at all what Paul was preaching. Not only are Christians free from the burden of having to keep the Law perfectly, but all the due credit to salvation is given to Christ. The value of giving all the glory to God is infinite.

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