Luther on Galatians

Pastor’s Reflection-June 18, 2013

Luther on Galatians

Preaching these past few weeks through Galatians has led me again into one of the finest expositions of this letter ever written, Luther’s 1535 Commentary on Galatians.  (American Edition, Volume 26)  Luther’s articulation of God’s Word, balanced with razor-sharp distinction between the Law and the Gospel makes it a book that every Christian should have as a part of their spiritual library.

Included below is a sampling of his writing on topics so very central to our life in Christ.

On the Law:

  • But the true use of the Law is this, that I know that by the Law I am being brought to an acknowledgement of sin and am being humbled, so that I may come to Christ and be justified by faith.  The Law is abused, first, by hypocrites who attribute to it the power to justify, and, secondly, by men of despair who do not know that the Law is a custodian until Christ comes, that is, that the Law humbles us, not to harm us but to save us. For God wounds in order to heal; He kills in order to make alive.
  • The Law does not justify him; but it places his sin before his eyes, crushes him, leads him to a knowledge of himself, and shows him hell and the wrath and judgment of God. This is the proper function of the Law. Then there follows the application of this function: the sinner should know that the Law does not disclose sins and humble him to make him despair, but that the Law was instituted by God so that by its accusation and crushing it might drive him to Christ, the Savior and Comforter.

On Faith and the Gospel:

  • Therefore faith is a constant gaze that looks at nothing except Christ, the Victor over sin and death and the Dispenser of righteousness, salvation, and eternal life. In his epistles, therefore, Paul sets forth and urges Jesus Christ in almost every verse. He sets Him forth through the Word, since Christ cannot be set forth any other way than through the Word and cannot be grasped any other way than through faith.
  • This is beautifully shown by the story of the bronze serpent, which is a figure of Christ (John 3:14). The Jews, who were being bitten by the fiery serpents, were commanded by Moses to do nothing but look at that bronze serpent with a fixed gaze. Those who did so were healed merely by their fixed gaze at the serpent. But the others, who did not listen to Moses, looked at their wounds rather than at the serpent and died. Thus if I am to gain comfort in a struggle of conscience or in the agony of death, I must take hold of nothing except Christ alone by faith, and I must say: “I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who suffered, was crucified, and died for me. In His wounds and death I see my sin; and in His resurrection I see victory over sin, death, and the devil, and my righteousness and life. I neither hear nor see anything but Him.” This is the true faith of Christ and in Christ, through which we become members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (Eph. 5:30).

References:  Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther’s Works, Vol. 26 : Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4. Saint Louis : Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1963 (Luther’s Works 26), S. 26:348, 356