When Law Looks Like Grace
Last week Ryan Reeves wrote a piece over at the Gospel Coalition which highlighted Luther’s concern that law can often look a lot like grace. For Luther, Reeves says,
The problem is what is required after our baptism. The church taught (rightly) that there is ongoing repentance and remorse in our life for ongoing sins. What had developed in the Middle Ages, though, was a set of beliefs that these works somehow restored the Christian to the state of grace. Sin tarnished the grace given to the believer, so works properly restored the believer to intimacy with a gracious God.
In other words, it isn’t getting in that is the issue. The medieval church agreed that our initial entrance into salvation was by God’s grace alone. The problem was that after we are in, it is up to us to work together with God to stay in. As Reeves points out, this has the effect of nullifying any assurance in the cross and confidence in its power to save to the uttermost. Because of this, despite their claim to the contrary, Luther believed that this all amounted to salvation by works. In this system, God graciously grants salvation apart from our works, but our works keep us in His grace if our motives are pure enough.
The thing is, as Reeves points out, we as Protestants are just as guilty of believing the same thing! We may not codify it into doctrine, but often times we live our lives as if our conversion was by grace but our holiness comes by our efforts to do better. Instead, scripture teaches that our salvation is by grace from start to finish. Our justification, sanctification, and our glorification are all by grace. So where do our works come in? Our good works are the fruit (or the result) of our justification.
Head on over to The Gospel Coalition and read What Does Luther Teach Us About Grace? While there, check out his YouTube video for an overview of Luther’s Reformation.
If you would like to learn more about the life of Luther I’d recommend Luther, Biography of a Reformer. If you want to read about Luther’s view of justification, I’d recommend Luther On Justification. Finally, if you want to read Luther’s own words on Faith, here is a very good translation of Through Faith Alone.
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