24th March 2009

Blog :: A Provocation

Ok - multiple choice quiz time: Who said the following:

Faith is God's work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words.

Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!

Was it:
A) Martin Luther
B) John Wesley
C) Menno Simons

All right - what sort of works-righteousness legalist said all that stuff? He sure lacked the sophistication to separate justification and sanctification properly - as we know the one has nothing, nothing to do with the other!

Well that might be a bit too strong - but I have heard many times over the past few years that Justification (a Christian's positional salvation) is secure no matter what the state of their Sanctification (their personal salvation manifested in a changed life). Any weakening of this position tends to be seen as a move towards works-righteousness - the idea that we earn our salvation by our good works rather than accepting it as the free gift by grace through faith that it is.

It should cause one to pause, then, to realise that the works-righteousness preacher above is none other than the famous proponent of Grace alone through Faith alone - Martin Luther, writing in his preface to the Epistle to the Romans. It's hard to make the case that Luther was insufficiently radical in his understanding of grace and faith and it is basically Luther's understanding of Romans particularly that still shapes most of Evangelicalism's understandings of faith, grace, and salvation.

John Wesley's conversion came while listening to a reading of Luther's preface to Romans. Wesley is the great revivalist of Methodism - and for most people Lutheranism and Methodism would seem to occupy opposite poles in their understanding of salvation and good works. And yet I suspect that most would identify the quote with Wesley's (or worse! - the Anabaptist) side of the theological continuum.

And that is precisely my provocation. If you see Martin Luther's comments as betraying the Sola's of the reformation, as failing to understand the nature of salvation, where does that place you within historic Christian thought?

Posted on March 24th 2009, 11:17 AM

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