The Christian, like Christ, should be completely satisfied with faith. Let it be enough but always increasing, for it alone is life, righteousness, and salvation. In faith, we have everything that Christ and God have. As St. Paul states in Galatians 2:20, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” Therefore, even though Christians are entirely free, they are, at the same time, willing servants of and for their neighbor, walking alongside and dealing with them the way God through Christ dealt with them—and all for nothing, looking for nothing in return except God’s good pleasure. We should be of this mind:

Well, all right. I get it. Out of his abundant mercy, through Christ, God richly and freely gives me, an unworthy and damned person, apart from any merit on my part, the full riches of righteousness and salvation so that from now on, I need nothing more than to believe it so. For such a Father, who has showered me with countless blessings, I shall freely, cheerfully, and for nothing in return do what pleases him and become a Christ to my neighbor, the way Christ was and is for me, and do nothing else than what I see is necessary, useful, and a blessing to my neighbor, since through faith I already have enough of everything I need in Christ.

This is how love for God flows out of faith and how out of love flows a free, willing, and cheerful life that is lived freely, serving the neighbor for nothing. For just as our neighbors suffer and need our help, we suffer before God and need his grace. Therefore, just as God helped us freely through Christ, we should do nothing else than help our neighbors. This is what is involved in the Christian life. It is a noble life. Sadly, not only is this kind of living absent from the world. It is also rarely preached.

For just as our neighbors suffer and need our help, we suffer before God and need his grace. Therefore, just as God helped us freely through Christ, we should do nothing else than help our neighbors.

Thus we read in Luke 2:22 that the Virgin Mary went to the temple six weeks after Jesus’ birth for purification according to the law, just as all women did. Even though she was not unclean as they were, she did it nevertheless out of love, not to disparage the other women but for the benefit of her neighbors. Similarly, St. Paul permitted St. Timothy to become circumcised in Acts 16:3 not because it was necessary but so that he would not give the Jews, who were weak in faith, a cause to have evil thoughts. Yet he would not allow Titus to be circumcised because of the way they pressured him, saying he had to be circumcised and that it was necessary for salvation (see Gal. 2:3).

And then in Matthew 17:25–27, when the disciples were required to pay a tax, Christ questioned St. Peter, asking whether the children of the King were not free from paying taxes. St. Peter responded, yes. Jesus, nevertheless, sent him to the sea, saying, “[So as] not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” This is a great example for this teaching because Christ refers to himself and his own as children of the king, who by definition need to do nothing. Yet he freely subjects himself, serves, and pays the tax. Now, just as this work was not necessary and didn’t affect Christ’s own righteousness and salvation, so are all the other works by him and Christians unnecessary for salvation. Instead, they are duties we all accept without any compulsion for the sake and the benefit of others. All the works of priests, monasteries, and religious charities should be thought of in the same manner: that their work is for nothing other than the welfare of others. They should discipline their bodies to be an example for others, who also need discipline, but they should always be careful not to give the impression that one is made righteous and saved through them. That is done through faith alone.

This is an excerpt from “The Freedom of the Christian” written by Martin Luther and translated and edited by Adam Francisco (1517 Publishing, 2020), pgs. 29-33. Used with permission.

The Freedom of the Christian is the theme for this year’s Here We Still Stand Conference.
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