Full Text for Church History 2- Volume 16 - Law and Gospel and the Righteousness of God (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CHURCH HISTORY 02 May 27, 2005 16 CH2 CAPTIONING PROVIDED BY: CAPTION FIRST, INC. P.O. BOX 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 1 800 825 7234 * * * * * This is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * * >> I have to admit that now I'm a bit confused. You've spoken about the Gospel discovery in a context of the righteousness of God. I've always heard Luther's discovery described in terms of law and Gospel. Isn't that the kind of classic Lutheran terminology we normally use? How are the two related? As I work in my church, should I be using the term "righteousness of God" more often? What should I mean by the term when I do use it? >> Thanks for that question, David, because it allows me to expand on some things I said in answer to the last question and also get into understanding Luther's theology as he matures and develops it further. As I mentioned, he did think about law and Gospel in this Gospel discovery, but it isn't the only way Luther talks about his new understanding of justification. In fact, in different contexts throughout his career, Luther will use different pairs of words to describe his understanding of justification from slightly different angles and with slightly different questions in view. Law and Gospel is the way Luther thinks about how God speaks to us, how God's word comes to us. So if your question is how to understand what the Bible says about what God requires of us, what God does for us, that's when law and Gospel comes into play. When God says do this, that's law; when God says "this is what I've done for you", that's Gospel. But that's not the only way Luther thinks about this, because how do we understand God's word to us isn't really the only question at issue. And, remember, Luther is struggling with some specific ideas about how people are saved from scholastic theology. In an earlier lecture, I talked about the nominalist theology that Luther learned at Erfurt and how it said if you do the best you can, if you do what is in you, God will give you grace. Well, Luther referenced that specifically in the Heidelberg disputation. This comes from the year after the 95 Theses. And in it, he specifically references this idea of doing what is in you. This is in Thesis 16 of the Theses for the Heidelberg disputation. "A man who thinks that he wants to attain righteousness by doing what is in him is adding sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty." So Luther is clearly attacking that late Medieval understanding of justification here. But no where in the Heidelberg disputation will you find references to law and Gospel or to the righteousness of God. What you find, instead, is to another pair of terms; namely, a theologian of the cross and a theologian of glory. Here Luther is contrasting two types of people who try to explain what God is, who God is, and what God is doing. One, a theologian of glory, who wants to understand the hidden God, who wants to understand God as he is and is not content with God's revelation and also points people to their own works rather than to what God has done. Luther contrasts that with the theologian of the cross, someone who is content with God's revelation and who is willing to believe what God has said, that we are made righteous by faith. And we find this in Thesis 25, especially, of the Heidelberg disputation. "The one who does much work is not the righteous one, but the one who without work has much faith in Christ." This is the issue for Luther. Because the late Medieval church had framed justification in terms of what we must do in order to be saved, Luther countered with his new understanding that human beings, sinful human beings, can do nothing to contribute to their salvation; instead, everything must be done and has been done for them by God. And he articulates this understanding, as I said, in various ways, following the 95 Theses. I mentioned one just now from 1518. In 1519, he preached a sermon on two kinds of righteousness. And this becomes one of Luther's typical ways of talking about justification, to mention two kinds of righteousness. In that sermon, he talks about them as alien and proper. And I would like to just read a little bit from that sermon to give you a sense of what he's saying there. He says, "There are two kinds of Christian righteousness just as man's sin is of two kinds. The first is alien righteousness; that is, the righteousness of another instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies through faith." And then Luther goes on to say more about that kind of righteousness and then contrasts that with the proper righteousness; that is, our own righteousness, the good works that we do that nevertheless don't contribute to our salvation because Christ has done everything that's necessary. And that's really the key for Luther: Understanding that Christ has done everything for human salvation and that those who have faith in Christ then go off and do their own good works but without worrying about how those works earn their salvation. In the 1520 treatise, "Freedom of a Christian", Luther freedom of a Christian" Luther puts these two kinds of righteousness in slightly different language. He has two propositions that form the heart of this treatise, and they are these two: A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all. Now, as Luther likes to do, you have two propositions intentioned with each other, you might almost say they contradict each other, and yet they don't when you understand this idea of two kinds of righteousness that is behind those two propositions. The idea that a Christian is perfectly free and subject to none is entirely true with regard to the righteousness of faith, the righteousness that comes from Christ. With regard to justification, there is nothing more that the Christian has to do. No one, not the Pope, not a bishop, not a priest, no one in the church can tell the Christian "you must do this in order to be saved." Because Luther reminds these people you are free in Christ from the law. You do not have to do anything in order to be saved. Christ has done it all. But now if you ask, "How, then, should I live? What should I do in my life?" This is where the second proposition comes into play. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all. So as we live our lives in this world as Christians, Luther says, we should be perfectly willing to serve our neighbor and do whatever the people around us require of us. We should live according to the Ten Commandments because that is good for us. It's good for our families. It's good for our communities. But it doesn't save us. And that's Luther's point. In this treatise "Freedom of a Christian", he's separating our understanding of salvation from what the church had traditionally said about why we do good works. And this is his point in the second proposition about being free to serve. Once you understand that Christ has accomplished everything for your salvation, you're free from the need to worry about it. You don't have to do works in order to be saved. You don't have to keep track. You don't have to tally up how many good works you've done. You are free to go out and do good works because other people need you to do them. Because they're pleasing to God. Not for your salvation, but in terms of the people around you and what you can do for them. That's what Luther's getting at in that "Freedom of a Christian" treatise. And that's what he developed more fully and expressed more completely by the time of his Galatians commentary in 1531. The introduction to Galatians is the classical statement of Luther's understanding of two kinds of righteousness. And by this time, he's moved away from the alien proper terminology of 1519 and he talks now about active and passive righteousness. The passive righteousness is that righteousness received from Christ, and the active righteousness is our own righteousness, the good works that we do. In the Galatians commentary, Luther is concerned about the two kinds of righteousness primarily from the perspective of a Christian who's distressed, a Christian who's distressed about obeying the law, who's convinced that the law is simply accusing; a Christian who questions whether or not God really saves sinners. In fact, it's exactly the kind of person Luther had been himself and in some ways still was as he continued to struggle and have doubts and nevertheless return to the grace of Christ. But that's the kind of person he's talking about here. So he writes, "The afflicted and troubled conscience has no remedy against desperation and eternal death unless it take hold of the promise of grace freely offered in Christ. That is to say this passive righteousness of faith or Christian righteousness." And then later Luther goes on to explain a little more about this righteousness. "As the earth does not engender rain, nor is able by her own strength, labor and travail to procure the same but receives it of the mere gift of God from above, so this Heavenly righteousness is given us of God without our works or deservings. As much, therefore, as the earth itself is able to do in getting and procuring to itself seasonable showers of rain to make it fruitful, even so much are we men able to do by our strength and works in winning this Heavenly and eternal righteousness. And,, therefore, we shall never be able to attain it unless God himself, by imputation, and by his unspeakable gift, bestow it upon us. The greatest knowledge, then, and the greatest wisdom of Christians is not to know the law; to be ignorant of works and of the whole righteousness, especially when the conscience wrestles with the judgment of God." Luther's point there is clear. When you, as a Christian, are worried about your salvation, the last thing you should look at is your own works, your act of righteousness, and the last thing you should pay attention to is what the law requires. Instead, you turn to the Gospel promise. You turn to the righteousness of Christ and firmly believe that that righteousness is God's gift to you. And that will enable you, then, to return properly to the active righteousness, to your own works, not for your salvation, but for the good of others. This is very important to keep in mind because Luther does, in fact, say Christians don't need to obey the law, Christians don't need to do good works for salvation. But that doesn't mean that those good works aren't important. It's a matter of understanding the two kinds of righteousness; that as far as our justification is concerned, we can contribute nothing. Our good works have no value in terms of gaining eternal life. But Christ has done everything and we receive what Christ has done for us by faith. In terms of our salvation, the law shows that we are sinners who deserve nothing but death and hell. But that leads us again to trust in the promise of Christ's righteousness applied to us. That's how it works in the realm of passive righteousness, in our relationship with God as regards our salvation. It's a little different story in the realm of the active righteousness, where we are concerned with our relationship with others and how we live out our lives as Christians. There, although the law still shows us our sins, we are also able to use the law as a guide to what works God would have us do. This is an important issue for the reformers because the Medieval church had created what Luther called manmade works. In other words, they said "do these things if you wish to please God and gain eternal life." Luther says if you as a Christian want to go do good works, don't worry about those kind of manmade works commanded by the church. Instead, look at what God himself asks you to do. He asks you to obey the Ten Commandments. And he asked you to be a good Christian in whatever station of life you find yourself. If you're a father or mother, go be a good parent. In whatever job you have, do the best you can. And that's what is pleasing to God in terms of active righteousness. And those are the kinds of works the people in your community, the people in your family need you to be doing. I would say this is a very important thing to understand for parish ministry. And it's a good test for preaching and teaching your congregation if you are explaining things properly in terms of these two kinds of righteousness and explaining to people that their works are not necessary for salvation but nevertheless have value as we live as Christians in this world. * * * * * This is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * *