Some of Luther’s “Theses” on the Gospel
- Thesis – Christ did not only die in our place but lived a Perfect life in our place. Therefore we do not simply get forgiveness for sins, but also complete acceptance, with His perfect past and record now (in God’s sight) becomes ours.
Luther: “It is an absolutely unique teaching in the world. So now we may certainly think: ‘Although I still sin, I don’t despair because Christ lives, who is both my righteousness and my eternal life.’ In that righteousness I have no sin, no fear, no guilty conscience, no fear of death. I am indeed a sinner in this life of mine and in my own righteousness, but I have another life, another righteousness above this life, which is in Christ, the Son of God, who knows no sin or death, but is eternal righteousness and eternal life.”
2. Thesis – Everyone, even the most unreligious person, is struggling to achieve a righteousness, but everyone, even the most religious person, is struggling to achieve it without dependence on Christ.
Luther: “For there is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works righteousness. There is no other alternative to Christian righteousness but works righteousness: if you do not build your confidence on the work of Christ you must build your confidence on your own work (without which Christ’s contribution is not effective).” Also: “Everyone went his own way…hoping without the aid of Christ and by His own works to redeem himself from evils and sins. All this is sufficiently seen in the practices and records of every culture and nation.”
3. The Gospel is not only the way to enter the kingdom, but it is also the way we grow in Christ, solve every problem, break through every barrier and face every challenge.
Luther: “All kinds of temptations vex and oppress us on every side, so that this doctrine can never be taught, urged and repeated enough. If this doctrine is lost, then is also the whole knowledge of truth, life and salvation lost; if this doctrine flourish, then all good things flourish.” He also says, that the Gospel is the way to face every trial and difficulty: “This distinction is easy to utter in words, but in use and experience it is very hard. So you who would be teachers and counselors of others I admonish to exercise yourselves continually in these matters through study, reading, meditation on the Word and prayer—that in the time of trial you will be able to both inform and comfort both your conscience and others, to bring them from law to grace, from active/works righteousness to passive/Christ’s righteousness.”
- Believing the Gospel is to repent, not just of sins, but also of our best achievements performed for self-salvation, since any failure of actual righteousness is always a failure to live in accordance with our imputed
Luther: “So learn to speak to ones’ heart and to the law. When the law creeps into your conscience, learn to be a cunning logician—learn to use arguments of the Gospel against it. Say: ‘O law!…trouble me not! For I will not allow you, so intolerable a tyrant and tormenter, to reign in my heart and conscience—for they are the seat and temple of Christ the Son of God, who is the king of righteousness and peace, and my most sweet Savior and Mediator.’ [Then] He shall keep my conscience joyful and quiet in the sound and pure doctrine of the Gospel through the knowledge of this passive and heavenly righteousness.” He calls this an effort to keep “this Christian righteousness reigning in my heart”.
5. The reason for particular sins is that something besides Christ is functioning as an “idol”, a pseudo-savior, which creates inordinate desires. Repentance for these self-salvation strategies is the secret of change.
Luther: “This rock…which we call the doctrine of justification…was shaken by Satan in paradise, when he persuaded our first parents that they might by their own wisdom and power become like God…therefore the whole world acted like madmen against this faith, inventing numerous idols and religions with which everyone went his own way, hoping to placate a god or goddess, by his own works, that is, hoping without the aid of Christ and by His works to redeem himself from evils and sins. All this is sufficiently seen in the practices and records of every culture and nation.”
6. The Gospel creates a new relationship to God, in which there is a new sense of delight in and service to God for the beauty of who He is in Himself.
Luther: “Whoever he be that is assuredly persuaded that Christ is his righteousness, does not only cheerfully and gladly work well in his vocation…but submits to all manner of burdens and dangers in this present life, because he knows that this is the will of God, and that this obedience pleases Him. No one should think we reject the importance of good works or obeying the law. When we receive the Christian righteousness, we consequently live a good life, naturally, out of gratitude. If we try to earn our righteousness by doing many good deeds, we actually do nothing. We neither please God through our works-righteousness nor do we honor the purpose for which the law was given.”