Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Something from ... Luther's "The Bondage of the Will" (Entry #16)


INTRODUCTORY NOTES:  During the life of Martin Luther, Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus, was urged by Roman Catholic Church leaders to challenge Luther’s teachings and to condemn him.  Although Erasmus would rather have kept the peace in the Church, Erasmus was finally goaded into attacking Luther.  Erasmus intended to defend the official Roman Catholic teaching that God’s grace was needed to do the works by which man could then merit additional grace.  Luther’s response to Erasmus is known as The Bondage of the Will (De Servo Arbitrio).  Although Luther had published a myriad of writings in his career, he did not consider them worth preserving.  Luther regarded The Bondage of the Will as a rare exception to that rule.  In it, Luther writes at length that “free will” in spiritual matters is a lie, and that, if man actually has free will, then God loses such attributes as grace, omnipotence, and even his right to be God.
            The quotations from Luther in this blog post come from The Bondage of the Will translated by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. © 1957.
            The following are thoughts concerning Luther’s arguments, urging us to LET GOD BE GOD.  Something from Luther’s The Bondage of the Will.


LET GOD BE GOD: Let God be just.

            Who do you root for in the cricket leagues in India?

            If you are the average American, you don’t care.  You are not for any team, and you are not against any team.  You are ignorant of all teams and have zero rooting interest in it.  You could not be on more neutral ground.

            It does not work this way with God.  Many people believe that they are neither for God nor against him.  They are not for God because they don’t go to church.  They are not against him because they don’t seek the destruction of the church.  They don’t care.

            But there is no middle ground or neutral territory with God.  You are either in the kingdom of God or you are not.  You either love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength or you don’t.  You either have no other gods, or you do.  You either serve the Lord and give in glory in all you do, or you don’t.  And if God is not guiding your will, then Satan is.  It is either holiness or sin.  There is no middle ground on this.

            As much as we would like to think that we have a free will and can do whatever we want, we don’t.  Even when we want to stop sinning, we still do.  Our will is ruled by sin and Satan.  If we were ruled by God, we could be perfect.  But we are not, and we cannot change it.  Something from Luther on our lack of free will and God’s justice in exposing us as sinners.

            “The truth is rather as Christ puts it: 'He that is not with me is against me' (Matt. 12.30).  He does not say: he that is not with Me is not against Me either, but is in an intermediate position!  For if God is in us, Satan is out of us, and then it is present with us to will only good.  But if God is not in us, Satan is, and then it is present with us to will only evil.  Neither God nor Satan permits there to be in us mere willing in the abstract; but, as you rightly said, we have lost our freedom and are forced to serve sin—that is, we will sin and evil, we speak sin and evil, we do sin and evil.” (page 147)

            If God condemns, it is because he is just.  God does not condemn innocent bystanders who have not made up their minds about him.  All are sinners.  All commit sins.  They cannot change what they are, and so they are rightly condemned as they are.  God is just in this.

            But God is also gracious in this: He saves some.  If you are on God’s side and if you desire to serve and honor God, then understand that it is God who has acted to convert you, to create in you a clean heart, and to renew in you a right spirit.  You did not become a Christian on your own volition, and you do not remain eager to do good through your own volition.  It is God who has saved you and who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose.  So, even as a Christian, you do not have a free will.  You have a will which is guided by the Holy Spirit.  You have a will which is directed by God’s word.  You do not stand on your own and you do not remain in neutral territory.  You are with the Lord because he has brought you to himself.

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