Thursday, June 23, 2011

Concerning Christian Liberty

“by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 24:6, ESV)

     Many of you will be familiar with the idea that the Christian life is war—war on personal sins, war on sin in the church, war on the culture(s) of the world—and according to Proverbs, that war is best waged with the guidance of wise counselors. We usually take that to mean consulting “mature” Christians, perhaps our pastors or parents. We may even extend the principle, consulting Christian books, sermons, and the like.

Out of the Box
     From when do we pick up insights? Reading contemporary (even Filipino) authors is helpful because they (should be able to) apply God's word to our situation today. On the other hand, we may realize that to understand ourselves and our culture better, we also have to get an outsider's view of things. This is precisely what reading non-contemporary and non-Filipino/American authors like Martin Luther helps us to do.
     Also, I think it's particularly helpful for Filipino Evangelicals to read the works of the Reformers if only to get a better sense of the history of our faith. It's a sad reality that Filipinos have a poor sense of history. What's more is that true Christianity doesn't have very deep historical roots yet in our country (only about 100 years). We don't have ancient cathedrals, bells, relics and other historical items, at least not like the 90-or-so-% Catholic majority do. Yet, that may just be God's grace, because our faith cannot be rooted in relics. Rather, it must be rooted in the word of God, preserved through the centuries and handed down to us, so that we can behold the glory of Christ through the eyes of faith.

Luther's Liberty
     Martin Luther, from a historical point of view, was the founder of Protestantism. But it's much more useful for Evangelicals to think of him as God's instrument in rediscovering the Biblical gospel after centuries of distortion by the Medieval Catholic Church. In 1520, he wrote Concerning Christian Liberty, a treaties on faith, grace, good works, and salvation. According to Reformed author and historian Robert Godfrey, it is "what many regard as his best treaties" and is "the closest thing we have to a treaties on justification by Luther."
     I found it to be a very refreshing read. Luther's expositions on the value of grace, the function of faith, the sinfulness of the human heart, the high calling of the Christian life isn't compromised by moral ambiguity, personal guilt, half-heartedness, extravagance, and other elements that plague much of Evangelical rhetoric today.
     Let me give you a few examples:
"For whatsoever work is not directed to the sole end either of keeping under the body [suppressing sinful tendencies], or of doing service to our neighbour--provided he require nothing contrary to the will of God--is no good or Christian work."
"[The Christian] should reason thus:--Lo! my God, without merit on my part, of His pure and free mercy, has given to me, an unworthy, condemned, and contemptible creature all the riches of justification and salvation in Christ, so that I no longer am in want of anything, except of faith to believe that this is so. For such a Father, then, who has overwhelmed me with these inestimable riches of His, why should I not freely, cheerfully, and with my whole heart, and from voluntary zeal, do all that I know will be pleasing to Him and acceptable in His sight? I will therefore give myself as a sort of Christ, to my neighbour, as Christ has given Himself to me; and will do nothing in this life except what I see will be needful, advantageous, and wholesome for my neighbour, since by faith I abound in all good things through Christ."
Liberty in A Nutshell
     Some of the key lessons one should pick up Concerning Christian Liberty (and its preface, the letter to Leo X) are as follows:
  1. Right Doctrine: Faith in the promises of God, not religious teachings invented by people, saves. Wrong teaching is deadly, and cannot be tolerated. The preaching of God's word, on the other hand, must be undertaken with care and zeal.
  2. Law and Gospel: God did not give us religious disciplines (fasting, prayer, etc.) and works of charity so that we could earn his forgiveness and love. Rather, they are designed to show us just how sinful we are, when we fail to fulfill His commands. The way to God is by grace, through faith in Christ alone. Only the grace of God in Christ, not works, is powerful enough to make us sons of God, co-heirs with Christ, and priests in His kingdom. Faith in Christ, not works, displays God's goodness and beauty.
  3. Good Works: Good works cannot save a person. But they are a necessary fruit of salvation, and an evidence of a heart that has been changed by the grace of God.
    In conclusion, I highly recommend Concerning Christian Liberty to my fellow Christians. It's short enough to read in one or two sittings (though I took my time with it), and the English translations are easy to read.

P.S. You don't have to worry about finding a copy of the book, either, because you can easily find it online. I got my own copy from Project Gutendberg.

Related Posts on Reading:
  1. An Unexpected Tip from Rick Warren
  2. What Mature Minds Think About Reading (Parts 1 and 2)
  3. Reading Reaction

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