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.
Luther has been criticized to have spent too much time dwelling on how sinful man is. This “preoccupation” with man’s corrupt nature is claimed (by critics) to be foreign to the teachings of Paul. Rather, they say, Paul was usually anxious to declare how blameless he was under the law. Now granted, Paul doesn’t mention the depravity all that much (apart from the ‘none righteous’ passage). And Luther seems to dwell greatly on human corruption in his writings. But there’s a difference between Paul’s writings and Luther’s writings. Paul is writing letters to fellow Christians, who are dealing with specific problems. Luther’s writings, on the other hand, are journal-type, theological ponderings. The depravity of man isn’t really an issue that one of Paul’s churches would have struggled with (hence, not much reference to it in Paul’s letters). It’s clear from Romans and other texts that Paul believes in the depravity of man—he just doesn’t talk much about it. Luther, who’s desire it was to write a systematic theology on this specific issue, spends a ton of time on it, because really the doctrine touches on every aspect of Christianity. For instance, if man were not totally depraved (as Luther expounds on at great length), one probably wouldn’t have to have faith in Christ alone—a major topic in Pauline theology. The depravity of man is such an important, basic, and essential truth to the Christian faith, that without a correct view of the natural state of man, one cannot fully comprehend the purpose of Christ’s death in history.
Our dear friend Albert Schweitzer has this idea that Christianity teaches that eventually Christians will die, go to Heaven, and be united in God—that Christians will end up sharing in God’s deity, in His very being. This is the “mysticism” Schweitzer speaks of. And I’d have to say he’s way off. Scriptures nowhere teach that Christians will be united in God. Sure, we’ll be in Heaven with God, but as far as essences are concerned, we’ll still be very distinct from God. In fact, Scriptures teach us that we’ll be spending our time worshiping and praising God for all eternity. There’s no sense in which we will be equated with God at all. It’s dangerously near-Mormonism to think any such thing.
Only because there are so-called “super apostles” going around trying to one-up Paul and take over his established churches, does Paul resort to listing his own superior accomplishments. Paul says he’s a Pharisee of Pharisees and blameless under the law, only because the “super apostles” have said they were super Jews and exceedingly meticulous about observing the law. Paul says he’s blameless only as a counter to their arguments. In theological terms, Paul knows that no man is righteous and no man does good. He’s speaking at a different level here in Philippians, than he did in early Romans. Paul speaks at the level of the common man—on the surface. In everyday talk, one might say to a judge, “I’m innocent!” Certainly, that person is not making a theological statement, meaning he has lived a completely perfect life. Rather, on the surface, he is making a general claim about a particular behavior. In Philippians, Paul speaks in a base way—a way that people can easily understand. He isn’t being particularly picky theologically.
Can I accomplish anything here on Earth that would add to my life in Heaven? No. Heaven is so abundantly greater than anything I could ever imagine or hope for. Any accomplishment here on Earth is like trash, hardly worthy to be compared with the riches of Heaven. So, if I can accomplish nothing here, then why should I stay here? Why should I keep on living, if all life is is pain and suffering. Being a Christian is so incredibly hard in this world of ours. Indeed, Paul was correct in saying, “To die is gain.” But God has a purpose for every Christian. Paul’s purpose was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles and pastor them. Who’s to say I don’t have a similar calling? To die may be gain, but I continue to live so that I might serve the Christ here on Earth.
A thorn was given to Paul after his vision of Paradise. God gave it to him to keep him humble. This reminds me of Peter. Soon after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ (to which, Jesus commended him and told him that he would be the rock on which the Church shall be built), Jesus told His disciples that He was about to die. Peter replied, “This must not be so.” And to this Peter, who was just greatly commended, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall. That is why God gives Paul the thorn. He certainly doesn’t want Paul to fall. Every Christian needs something in his life to keep him humble. I’ve certainly got my own thorns to deal with!
So much is required in love. Bears all things? Endures all things? Thinks no evil? This is certainly not the definition of love today’s society holds. In today’s society, love is a warm, squishy feeling in the tummy—a sort of bowel movement, if you will. Love, today, is more or less a feeling, whereas to Paul, love is action. Love, to Paul, is acts of righteousness. It’s a state of mind. It’s viewing everybody as a loved brother or sister—and treating them that way. It’s sacrifice. It’s hard work! Love is not a passive reaction. It’s a progressive action!