Quotes from “The Freedom of the Christian” by Martin Luther

|

If you are beginning to study the Reformation and pick up a copy of the 95 Theses, you might be surprised to find virtually nothing about faith or justification. When Martin Luther posted them on October 31, 1517, he was only starting to develop the theology for which he is now known.

The real “Magna Carta of the Reformation” came in 1520 when Luther published his treatise “On the Freedom of a Christian” (or “Concerning Christian Liberty”). Here, he provides a “summary of the entire Christian life,” arguing extensively that we are justified by faith alone. This book, less than 50 pages in print (not including the opening letter to Pope Leo X—a fascinating read!), is high on my list of “Books that Every Christian Should Read.”

To whet your appetite, here are a few quotes, cited from Mark Tranvik’s translation. The book is divided into two major sections, “The Inner Person” and “The Outer Person,” following Luther’s summary statement: “A Christian is lord of all, completely free of everything. A Christian is a servant, completely attentive to the needs of all.” The full text of a less readable translation is also available for free from ccel.org or Fordham University.

“The Inner Person”

  • “Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul needs only one thing: the word of God.” (53)
  • “The word of God cannot be received or honored by any works but must be grasped by faith alone. Therefore, it is clear that the soul needs only the word of God for life and righteousness; it is justified by faith alone and not by any works.” (54)
  • “Believing in him, you become a new person—one whose sins are forgiven and one who is justified by the merits of another, namely Christ alone.” (55)
  • “It ought to be the primary goal of every Christian to put aside confidence in works and grow stronger in the belief that we are saved by faith alone.” (55)
  • “This freedom does not lead us to live lazy and wicked lives but makes the law and works unnecessary for righteousness and salvation.” (60)
  • “Faith … unites the soul with Christ just as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this solemn vow, as the Apostle Paul teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh.” (62)
  • “By the wedding ring of faith, he [Christ] shares in all the sins, death, and hell of his bride.” (62)
  • “His righteousness is greater than all sin, his life stronger than death, and his salvation more invincible than hell.” (63)
  • “Who can even begin to appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can comprehend the riches of this glorious grace? Christ, the rich and divine bridegroom, marries this poor, wicked whore, redeems her from all of her evil, and adorns her with all of his goodness.” (63–64)
  • Even if you were nothing but good works from the soles of your shoes to the top of your head, you would not be righteous, worship God, or fulfill the first commandment. For God cannot be worshipped rightly unless you ascribe to God that which he is due: the glory of truthfulness and all goodness; however, this cannot be done by works but only by the faith of the heart.” (64)
  • “I need only to let faith in all its freedom exercise its power and dominion. Indeed, this is the priceless power and freedom of the Christian.” (67)
  • “Not only are we the freest of kings but we are also priests forever. This is far better than being kings, for as priests we are worthy to appear before God, to pray for others, and to teach one another divine things.” (67)
  • “An injustice is committed when the words ‘priest,’ ‘cleric,’ ‘spiritual,’ and ‘ecclesiastic’ are transferred from all Christians to those few who have those titles in the church.” (68)
  • “Christ ought to be preached with this goal in mind—that we might be moved to faith in him so that he is not just a distant historical figure but actually Christ for you and me.” (69)
  • “What person’s heart, upon hearing such things, will not rejoice greatly and grow so tender that he will love Christ in a way not possible by the observance of works or laws?” (70)

“The Outer Person”

  • “Insofar as a Christian is free, no works are necessary. Insofar as a Christian is a servant, all kinds of works are done.” (71)
  • “The goal is to have the body obey and conform—and not hinder—the inner person and faith.” (72)
  • “Since by faith the soul is made pure and enabled to love God, it wants all things—the body in particular—to join it in loving and praising God. Thus we cannot be idle. The needs of the body compel us to do many good works in order to bring it under control. Nevertheless, it must always be kept in mind that these works do not justify a person before God. Rather, by yielding wholly to God, one does these works out of a spirit of spontaneous love, seeking nothing other than to serve God and yield to him in all earthly labors.” (72–73)
  • “The Christian who is consecrated by faith does good works, but these do not make him holier or more Christian. This is accomplished by faith alone. Indeed, if one were not first a believer and a Christian, all of one’s works would be nothing more than wicked and damnable sins.” (74)
  • “All the acts of a Christian are done spontaneously, out of a sense of pure liberty.” (75)
  • “Let the person who wishes to do good works begin not with the works but with the believing, for this alone makes a person good. For nothing is able to make a person good except faith, and nothing can make a person evil except unbelief.” (76)
  • “For the person is justified and saved by faith, not by works or laws but by the word of God (that is, the promise of grace). In this way, the glory remains God’s alone, who saves us not by deeds of righteousness that we have done but according to his mercy, which was given to us by grace when we trusted God’s word.” (77)
  • “Let it be understood that we do not reject good works. Indeed, good works are cherished and taught by us. We do not condemn them for their own sake but on account of this godless addition to them—namely, that righteousness is to be obtained through them.” (78)
  • “Our preaching does not stop with the law. That would lead to wounding without binding up, striking down and not healing, killing and not making alive, driving down to hell and not bringing back up, humbling and not exalting. Therefore, we must also preach grace and the promise of forgiveness—this is the means by which faith is awakened and properly taught.” (78)
  • “In this life we never can be idle and without works toward the neighbor. Rather, it is necessary to live fully among people, conversing and dealing with them as Christ did, who was made in human likeness (Bar. 3:37).” (79)
  • “Here you have the true Christian life, one where faith is active in love (Gal. 5:6). It expresses itself joyfully and lovingly and results in the freest possible service.” (80)
  • “Each of us should become a Christ to the other. And as we are Christs to one another, the result is that Christ fills us all and we become a truly Christian community.” (84)
  • “The greatest care must be taken so that a false confidence in works does not develop. Works to not justify or merit salvation. As I have said repeatedly, this is the result of faith alone.” (86)
  • “Any work that is not done exclusively to bring the body under control or serve the neighbor … is neither good nor Christian.” (87)
  • “Your one concern should be the enhancement of your faith.” (88)
  • “In conclusion, as Christians we do not live in ourselves but in Christ and the neighbor. Otherwise, we are not Christian. As Christians we live in Christ through faith and in our neighbor through love.” (88)
  • “There are plenty of people who hear us talk about the freedom of faith and immediately turn it into an opportunity to follow their own worldly desires and longings.” (89)
  • “Our faith in Christ does not free us from works but rather from the foolish view that works result in our justification.” (90)
  • “You should fight these wolves tenaciously but always keep in mind that the battle is for the sheep and not against them.” (92)
Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is a husband, father, and aspiring pastor-theologian, as well as the founder and president of holyjoys.org. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.