The outing of Marting Luther is long overdue. Why I have not thought to out him long ago is a mystery to me, but I thought of it today, and I feel I must follow through.
Martin Luther did not believe in eternal security. He did not believe in salvation by faith alone.
At least, he did not believe in eternal security or faith alone in any way that would be recognizable today.
Let’s take a look at the things he wrote.
Commentary on Galatians, in reference to Galatians 5:4:
We can hear [Paul] say, “I do not condemn the Law in itself, what I condemn is that men seek to be justified by the Law … It is this I condemn, because it makes Christ of no effect. It makes you void of Christ so that Christ is not in you, nor can you be partakers of the knowledge, the spirit, the fellowship, the liberty, the life, the achievements of Christ. You are completely separated from him, so much so that he has nothing to do with you any more, or for that matter you with him.”
I should point out here that Martin Luther is not abandoning his stance on faith in Christ alone. He is simply saying that this faith can be abandoned for the Law and result in eternal separation from Jesus. In the same paragraph, he goes on to say …
If you know Christ at all, you know that good works do not serve unto righteousness, nor evil works unto condemnation. I do not want to withhold from good works their due praise, nor do I wish to encourage evil works. But when it comes to justification, I say, we must concentrate upon Christ alone, or else we make him non-effective. … If you choose Christ you are righteous before God. If you stick to the Law, Christ is of no use to you.
Martin Luther then addresses the phrase, “Ye are fallen from grace.”
That means you are no longer in the kingdom or condition of grace. When a person on board ship falls into the sea and is drowned it makes no difference from which end or side of the ship he falls into the water. Those who fall from grace perish no matter how they go about it. Those who seek to justified by the Law are fallen from grace and are in grave danger of eternal death. If this holds true in the case of those who seek to be justified by the moral law, what will become of those … who endeavor to be justified by their own regulations and vows? They will fall to the very bottom of hell. …
The words, “Ye are fallen from grace,” must not be taken lightly. They are important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has merited for us by his death and resurrection. To lose the grace of God means to gain the wrath and judgment of God, death, the bondage of the devil, and everlasting condemnation.
On Galatians 5:21 …
This is a hard saying, but very necessary for those false Christians and hypocrites who speak much about the Gospel, about faith, and the Spirit, yet live after the flesh. But this hard sentence is directed chiefly at the heretics who are large with their own self-importance, that they may be frightened into take up the fight of the Spirit against the flesh.
It might be said here that Luther is defending our modern version of faith alone, in which what we do does not matter. The saved, we moderns would say, are not being spoken of here.
True enough. However, Martin Luther is pointing out that those who sin without repentance are not among the saved, no matter how much they speak about the Gospel, faith, and the Spirit. Living after the flesh is proof enough that you are a hypocrite or heretic.
A little earlier, addressing veres 19, he writes:
Christians also fall into sin and perform the lusts of the flesh. David fell horribly into adultery. … However great these sins were, they were not committed to spite God, but from weakness. When their sins were brought to their attention these men did not obstinately continue in their sin, but repented. Those who sin through weakness are not denied pardon as long as they rise again and cease to sin. There is nothing worse than to continue in sin. If they do not repent, but obstinately continue to fulfill the desires of the flesh, it is a sure sign that they are not sincere.
Be sure, Martin Luther never justified those who did not repent and turn from sin. On Galatians 5:24, he writes:
True believers are not hypocrites. They crucify the flesh with its evil desires and lusts. Inasmuch as they have not altogether put off the sinful flesh they are inclined to sin. … They are likely to be provoked to anger, to envy, to impatience, to carnal lust, and other emotions. But they will not do the things to which the flesh incites them. They crucify the flesh with its evil desires and lusts by fasting and exercise and above all, by a walk in the Spirit.
Is this the person that we moderns claim is eternally secure?
If this is the person that is eternally secure, then we are agreed. Those who crucify the flesh with its passions and desires, and who do so by the Spirit, these are the children of God, and they will appear before the throne of God without fault and blameless.
Why? Because they have never sinned?
No, but because they walk in the light and thus the blood of King Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses them from every sin (1 Jn. 1:7).
But if you claim that what you do does not matter, you are a hypocrite, and you will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Martin Luther and Galatians 6
It is concerning Galatians 6:6-9 that I received the biggest shock in anything I had read in Martin Luther’s writings.
I regularly reference Galatians 6:9, because there Paul felt free to say doing good—and doing so without growing weary—will result in the reaping of eternal life. I was very curious what Martin Luther would say about that passage. I am finding that Luther was not one to dodge difficult verses, at least not in the letters of Paul.
Luther showed me that I was the one who was missing the context of Galatians 6. I was stunned to read this exposition of sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit in verses 7 and 8:
This simile of sowing and reaping also [like 1 Cor. 9:13-14] refers to the proper support of ministers. “He that soweth to the Spirit,” i.e., he that honors the ministers of God is doing a spiritual thing and will reap everlasting life. “He that soweth to the flesh,” i.e., he that has nothing left for the ministers of God, but only thinks of himself, that person will reap of the flesh corruption, not only in this life, but also in the life to come. The Apostle wants to stir up his readers to be generous to their pastors.
If we don’t give to those who minister to us we will reap corruption, even in the life to come? Surely Martin Luther isn’t tying selfishness to eternal condemnation!
He pronounces those who sow to the Spirit blessed for this life and the life to come, while those who sow to the flesh are accursed now and forever.
Luther does apologize for how selfish this sounds. He explains that a minister of the Gospel fears to explain passages like this lest he seem to be speaking for his own benefit. Still, he says, the people must be told these things so that they know their duty.
Is Galatians 6:7-8 really talking about supporting the shepherds and servants of the church? I had never considered such a thing! Have you!
Yet Luther is clearly correct. The context is indeed the support of Christian teachers. Verse 6 reads, “Let him who is taught in the Word share in all good things with him who teaches.”
Martin Luther wasn’t suddenly stricken with heresy during the time he was writing the commentary on Galatians. The statements above are consistent with other things he taught. For example:
[The Lord] cautions his Christians against becoming secure, so that the day of his coming might not come upon them unawares. … We must not become like those secure and ungodly people who crowd their hearts with surfeiting [excess] and concerns about earning a livelihood. … When they are at their securest … they will suddenly be laid low and burn with a fire that will never be extinguished. (The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther. Baker Book House:2000. Vol. V, p. 38)
True, it is difficult to do good and in turn receive nothing but ingratitude. Remember, however, that you are a Christian, and if you wish to remain a Christian, you will have to exert yourself more earnestly than the non-Christian, as exemplified by our Father in heaven. That is a promise. If you in your heart forgive him who has offended you, so in turn you will be forgiven by God and men. (ibid., Vol. VI, pp. 273-74)
Whatever you think of Martin Luther and some of the more awful things he said in his lifetime, including his crusade against the Jews and his support—no, his cheering on—of the slaughter of the peasants in the Peasant’s War, he was no supporter of sin. He preached not only an imputed righteousness, but an imparted one, and he took Paul’s warnings more seriously than many of us do.