Theology of Martin Luther

Theology of Martin Luther

The theology of Martin Luther was fairly instrumental in influencing the Protestant Reformation, specifically topics dealing with Justification by Faith, the relationship between the Law and the Gospel (also an instrumental component of Reformed theology), and various other theological ideas.

Justification by Faith

"This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification," insisted Luther, "is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness." [Herbert J. A. Bouman, "The Doctrine of Justification in the Lutheran Confessions," Concordia Theological Monthly 26 (November 1955) No. 11:801. [] ] Lutherans tend to follow Luther in this matter. For the Lutheran tradition, the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone for Christ's sake alone is the material principle upon which all other teachings rest.Herbert J. A. Bouman, "The Doctine of Justification," 801-802.]

Luther came to understand justification as being entirely the work of God. Against the teaching of his day that the righteous acts of believers are done in "cooperation" with God, Luther asserted that Christians receive that righteousness entirely from outside themselves; that righteousness not only comes from Christ, it actually "is" the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us (rather than infused into us) through faith. "That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law," said Luther. "Faith is that which brings the Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ" [ Martin Luther's Definition of Faith] ] . Thus faith, for Luther, is a gift from God, and ". . .a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it." [ Preface to Romans] ] This faith grasps Christ's righteousness and appropriates it for itself in the believer's heart.

Luther's study and research as a Bible professor led him to question the contemporary usage of terms such as penance and righteousness in the Roman Catholic Church. He became convinced that the church had lost sight of what he saw as several of the central truths of Christianity — the most important being the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He began to teach that salvation is a gift of God's grace through Christ received by faith alone.Markus Wriedt, "Luther's Theology," in The Cambridge Companion to Luther (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 88-94.] As a result of his lectures on the Psalms and Paul's letter to the Romans, from 1513-1516, Luther "achieved an exegetical breakthrough, an insight into the all-encompassing grace of God and all-sufficient merit of Christ." [Lewis W. Spitz, The Renaissance and Reformation Movements, Revised Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 332.] It was particularly in connection with Romans 1:17 "For therein is the righteousness of God is revealed from faith, to faith: as it is written: 'The just shall live by faith.'" Luther came to one of his most important understandings, that the "righteousness of God" was not God's active, harsh, punishing wrath demanding that a person keep God's law perfectly in order to be saved, but rather Luther came to believe that God's righteousness is something that God gives to a person as a gift, freely, through Christ. [Spitz, 332.] "Luther emerged from his tremendous struggle with a firmer trust in God and love for him. The doctrine of salvation by God's grace alone, received as a gift through faith and without dependence on human merit, was the measure by which he judged the religious practices and official teachings of the church of his day and found them wanting." [Spitz, 332.]

Luther explained justification this way in his Smalcald Articles:

The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us...Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31). [Martin Luther, The Smalcald Articles in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 289, Part two, Article 1.]

"See also:" Theology of the Cross

Law and Gospel

Another essential aspect of his theology was his emphasis on the "proper distinction" [Ewald Plass, "Law and Gospel", in What Luther Says: An Anthology (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 2:732, no. 2276] between Law and Gospel. He believed that this principle of interpretation was an essential starting point in the study of the scriptures and that failing to distinguish properly between Law and Gospel was at the root of many fundamental theological errors.Preus, Robert D. [ "Luther and the Doctrine of Justification"] Concordia Theological Quarterly 48 (1984) no. 1:11-12.]

Universal priesthood of the baptized

According to some interpreters, especially Philipp Jakob Spener, Luther developed the notion of all believers being "part of one body"as a means to claim the priesthood of all believers. While the notion and meaning is somewhat unclear, this concept was clearly developed in opposition against a prevailing medieval division of Christians into "spiritual" (the hierarchy) and "temporal" Christians (the laity). In this view all Christians are "priests" in the eyes of God. This notion is common to all Christian denominations generally labeled as "protestant".

"Simul justus et peccator"

Luther's theology emphasized that a Christian is at the same time a saint (justified Christian believer) and a sinner.

Sacraments and the Means of Grace

The Two Kingdoms

Martin Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms (or two reigns) of God teaches that God is the ruler of the whole world and that he rules in two ways.

He rules the earthly or left-hand kingdom through secular government, by means of law (i.e., the sword or force) and in the heavenly or righthand kingdom (his spiritual kingdom, that is, Christians and the Church) through the gospel or grace.

ee also

*Martin Luther's views on Mary


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