Reading Time: 3 mins

An Excerpt from What is Christianity? by Francis Pieper

Reading Time: 3 mins

A Christian is a man who desires to enter heaven not through his own goodness and works, but through the righteousness and works of Christ.

This is an excerpt from What is Christianity? Faith and Morality Reconsidered (1517 Publishing, 2023), delivered in German by Francis Pieper and translated by Philip Bartelt.

Let us, therefore, deal with the nature of Christianity in a little more detail. Concerning the “nature” of a thing, we take this to mean “what makes a thing what it is” or “that according to which a thing is what it is, whereby it is distinguished from other such things.” So when we speak, for example, concerning the nature of man in contrast to the nature of animals, we find concerning the nature of man that, unlike animals, man has a rational soul. [1] This is also how we understand the nature of Christianity, namely, what makes Christianity, Christianity and thereby what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions.

A Christian is a man who desires to enter heaven not through his own goodness and works, but through the righteousness and works of Christ.

So what is that thing? What in or about a man makes him a Christian? It can’t be wearing this or that piece of clothing, as Luther reminds us. It also can’t be that he has body and soul, and indeed a rational soul; nor that he is a man or a woman, young or old; nor also that he is educated or uneducated; nor that he is white, black, or yellow, etc. It also cannot be that he is an American or a German or an Englishman; nor still that he believes in a god or that he seeks to live an honorable life in accordance with the dictates of conscience and the law of the land. No, only one thing makes a man a Christian: faith in Christ; that man, while being a sinner, flees to Christ to find a gracious God and salvation. [2] This is what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions that exist in the world. All other religions are religions of works, that is, religions that direct men to secure the favor of God through their own goodness, their own effort, and their own works. On this point, all non-Christian and so-called Christian religions agree. It is only in the kinds of works they prescribe that the various religions are distinct. But Christianity is not a religion of works, but the religion of faith, the religion of faith in Christ. A Christian is a man who desires to enter heaven not through his own goodness and works, but through the righteousness and works of Christ.

Where does this come from? Whence is the nature of Christianity? Wherein lies the foundation for the nature of Christianity? What is the distinction between Christianity and paganism? It lies in this: that Christianity has a Savior; all other religions do not. The pagan religions have mere teachers, teachers who give moral precepts to men, who through their adherence must bring themselves to heaven. Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has taken a different approach. Christ has not preached a new law, but he has given himself in the place of man to be under the eternally binding law. This he obeyed in man’s stead and paid the penalty for man’s transgression in his stead through his death and the shedding of his blood. As the Scriptures testify concerning Christ, “When the time was fulfilled, God sent his Son, born from a woman and put under the law, in order that he might redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5). And again: “See! The lamb of God, who bears the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “Surely, he bore our sickness and took upon himself our pain...He was wounded for our misery and crushed for our sin. The punishment was laid upon him so that we might have peace” (Isa. 53:4, 5). In sum, because the Son of God became man and as the God-man obeyed the law of God in man’s stead and in his stead also paid the penalty for man’s transgression of the law, thus becoming the Savior of all men, the nature of Christianity cannot consist in man’s striving to keep God’s law, but rather consists in believing in that man who has kept the law for him and for every sinner. Therefore Christianity is not a religion of works, but a religion of faith. The nature of Christianity subsists solely in faith in Christ. Luther used to say, “Someone is white because of his whiteness and black because of his blackness. Someone is a Christian because of Christ, which is to say that before God he flees to the works and suffering of Christ.” 

This is an excerpt from What is Christianity? Faith and Morality Reconsidered (1517 Publishing, 2023), delivered in German by Francis Pieper and translated by Philip Bartelt, pgs. 11-13. 

Buy What is Christianity?

[1]  PB: This is a classical definition of man from Greek philosophy. Aristotle’s Metaphysics notes that man is a naturally curious and perceptive creature and through his natural faculties is led to rationally contemplate the world. His On the Soul names reason and imagination, the creative link between the mind and the body, to be a unique attribute of man above all other animals. Aristotle’s Topics explicitly defines the essence of man as being a rational animal. The Moral Epistles of Seneca likewise explicitly names man as a rational animal and reason being the thing proper to man in which he can glory. 

[2] PB: Luther, in his “Disputation Concerning Man”, defines a human being based off of St. Paul’s words from Romans 3:28 “‘We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works.’ briefly sums up the definition of a man, saying, ‘Man is justified by faith.’” AE 34.139.