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Christian Liberty s a great thesis
of the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone. In two
sections Luther
expounds his paradoxical opening statement that “a Christian man is
the free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the
most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”

first asks what can make a man a “justified, free, and a true
Christian; that is, a spiritual, new, and

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man.” Only the Word of God, the Gospel of Christ can do that, the
gospel “concerning His Son, incarnate, suffering, risen, and
glorified through the Spirit, the sanctifier.” In the gospel we are
offered salvation, and only faith – not works – can grasp hold of
this word. To be sure we are motivated to do works

the Scriptures, but the purpose of the suggestions is to preparie us
to receive the mercy of God.

discusses three great “virtues” of faith. Firstly, faith gives us
true Christian liberty.We
are free from the Law
and works as regards our justification and salvation. Secondly, faith
honours God because in believing His promise it ascribes truth and
righteousness to Him. Thus to not believe the word of the gospel
would be to make God a liar. Thirdly, faith unites the soul to

the second section, Luther argues for the place of works in the life
of the Christian. Never a means to justification before God, works
are, firstly, for the purpose of subduing “the lusts of the body”
and secondly, the outworking of love to others. It is necessary that
the person be made good before they are able to do good works, and
not the other way round.

great strength of Concerning Christian Liberty is of course in
its brilliant definition by faith alone. It is important that Luther
begins with he Word: strictly speaking, we are justified not
through faith alone, but through the word of the gospel, received by
faith alone. This avoids the danger of treating faith as a “work”
that we need to do.We need to look inside us to see how much faith we
have rather than look outside to Christ and His work. The main
section about union with Christ is deeply moving in the promise which
it gives to the person who trusts in Him.


can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace? Christ, that
rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot,
redeeming her from all her evils, and supplying her with all His good
things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since
they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since
she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as
her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her
sins, saying: “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has
not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine.”

section on union with Christ does raise one question, which is the
relationship between the union of the believer with Christ and the
pact of Christ and the church. Does Scripture actually use the
marriage analogy for the individual believer’s relationship to

am not certain that Luther has done the best job he could have done
on the place of works in the Christian life. At one point, he
suggests that God commands Adam (and by analogy the Christian) works
to give him something to do, otherwise he’d be idle! The emphases
on battling against the lusts of the flesh and working out of love
for neighbour are really good, and he clearly shows that Christian
liberty does not lead to licence, but he does not really articulate
God’s purpose in saving us for good works; works
being God’s purpose in creation and re-creation.

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