Dutiful Children of Loving God Martin Luther Term Paper

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Dutiful Children of Loving God

Martin Luther's 1520 treatise on the Freedom of a Christian (sometimes translated from the German "Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen" as "A Treatise on Christian Liberty") developed key aspects of his theology. In this treatise he examines an idea that can be seen (within the context of his overall writings and teachings), the concept that Christians are fully forgiven children of God. Because God is perfect, his forgiveness is perfect. Thus even although humans will remain limited and corrupt, God's love (and the grace that arises through Jesus's self-sacrifice) humans can achieve salvation through the simple acceptance of faith into their lives.

In this treatise, Luther argues that humans are freed from the obligation to perform good deeds and are equally freed from having to obey God (in any sort of quid pro quo for salvation). All that Christians are obligated to do -- the only thing that they are not freed or liberated from doing -- is to have faith. But while Christians are not required to give anything to God (or to each other), they will want to do so. Luther does not explicitly posit that Christians will want to serve both the divine and others in the Christian community out of direct and spontaneous gratitude for the grace that leads to salvation. However, one could certainly interpret this treatise in this way.

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A cynic (or someone standing outside of the world of Christian theology) might argue that faith itself might be seen as a sort of good deed, that the inculcation and expression of faith is itself a way of creating a bargain between the human and the divine. Luther himself did not, of course, see it this way, and would (in all likelihood) be both horrified and infuriated by this suggestion, for it goes to the heart of his basic argument. Faith and works are opposing entities for Luther. While this is certainly a valid argument, it is also a valid argument that faith (as a human enterprise) is a form of action.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Dutiful Children of Loving God Martin Luther's Assignment

To return to Luther's argument (while bearing in mind the legitimacy of opposing arguments), Luther taught that the state of having been fully forgiven by God has as a consequence the idea that humans are no longer required to follow God's laws. Such obedience would have been required of humans before they were forgiven (or in a universe in which such forgiveness that is automatically granted to those have Christian faith). God's forgiveness (according to Luther) has essentially discharged this debt -- that is, the debt of the obligation of humans to obey divine law. However, although humans are no longer required to follow divine law, they should continue to do so out of their love for God.

This seems to be a contradictory set of conditions, and Luther is himself aware of this, for he begins the treatise with a pair of statements that explicitly acknowledges the fact that he is standing on two different poles. His opening statements express this balancing of opposites: "A Christian is a free lord, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all." How can this be? How can these two things both be true? Luther's response is that the true Christian yearns to be dutiful, indeed that her or his sense of love for and gratitude to God inspires the Christian to be dutiful in all things. Luther's argument thus can be seen to lose a sense of contradictoriness: His argument is a tenable one. (This is a different point than how difficult it would be to maintain such a pure love and such an unforced sense of duty must be at least for most people be extremely high.)

Liberated Duty

Luther's concept of a liberated duty arises from his overall model of the relationship between the human and the divine. To understand his concept of duty we must place it within the larger model of Luther's understanding of the construction of God's universe. Luther argued that salvation is not given to Christians because of their good works (or their payment for indulgences!) but rather results from a gift freely given from God. This gift of salvation arises from the existence of grace, a reservoir of goodness that serves as an antidote to human sin (both original and otherwise). Luther believed -- and this remains a central tenet within the Lutheran church today -- in the doctrine of justification as the "one and firm rock ... The chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness."

A key aspect of Luther's understanding of grace is that what we may see as the "work" of being a Christian is mainly undertaken -- or was mainly undertaken -- by Christ. Luther summarizes this idea in the treatise in the following way:

When you have learned this, you will know that you need Christ, who suffered and rose again for you, that, believing in Him, you may through this faith become a new man, in that all your sins are forgiven, and you are justified by the merits of another, namely, of Christ alone. . . .

In other words, salvation is through grace alone, and this is indeed the rock that (for Lutherans) upon which is founded all understandings of all aspects of the nature of the relationship between humans and God.

In another section of the treatise, Luther suggests that human action cannot help ensure (or even contribute towards) salvation because humans are so corrupt that any action performed by such humans would in turn also be corrupt. Even the human spirit or soul is being constantly abraded by the corrupted flesh, as Luther writes (citing Galatians):

Because of this diversity of nature the Scriptures assert contradictory things of the same man, since the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh (Gal. v)....[T]o put aside all manner of works, even contemplation, meditation, and all that the soul can do, avail nothing.

In this treatise, Luther is arguing that human action cannot elevate the soul to salvation because of the limited nature of humanity. Only Christ has sufficient goodness to act in a way that salvation can be guaranteed.

It is worth nothing that by arguing for the primacy of faith to the extent that he did, Luther was creating distance between his own beliefs and those he was hoping to instill in others and the beliefs and practices of Roman Catholics. But -- although this is somewhat afield here, but not entirely so -- it is equally worth noting that he was also putting distance between his teachings and those of Islam and Judaism, about which he wrote in condemnatory terms. This is an aspect of Luther's teachings that is often downplayed, the fact that he was creating distinctions not only between Rome and his own Christians in their shining city but also between Christianity as he understood it and the two other great monotheistic traditions.

Faith, Grace, and Liberty

Luther shifted the balance of the nature of the connection between human and God. Within Catholicism, people and God were linked through the visible (at least in large measure): People demonstrated their allegiance to God through actions in the world. Luther essentially took the (literally) mundane out of this equation. For Luther, the connection between human and God (via Christ) is entirely ethereal. (or, as he wrote: "Faith is that which brings the Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ." ) Christians are free, for Luther, because they are not required to demonstrate their fidelity to God through action. They are liberated because Christ's love and the grace that this generates (which is not dependent on any action of the individual but arises solely from Christ's love for… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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