Sunday, January 01, 2006

Luther's Analogy on the Works of Marriage and Works For God

From Martin Luther’s Treatise On Good Works (1520):

When a man and a woman love and are pleased with each other, and thoroughly believe in their love, who teaches them how they are to behave, what they are to do, leave undone, say, not say, think? Confidence alone teaches them all this, and more. They make no difference in works: they do the great, the long, the much, as gladly as the small, the short, the little, and vice versa; and that too with joyful, peaceful, confident hearts, and each is a free companion of the other.”

Source: Martin Luther, Works of Martin Luther Volume 1 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1948), 191.

This is a synopsis of an ideal and healthy marriage relationship. Out of love, a husband and wife freely serve each other. They aren’t trying to “earn” the other’s love and affection. They do what they do because they love the other- it’s natural for them to simply act lovingly toward each other in what they do. Whether it’s a great act taking excessive time, or a little act taking a few moments, all are done with the same love. All spring from the same loving heart.

Luther then contrasts this with the “workings” of an unhealthy marriage:

But where there is a doubt, search is made for what is best; then a distinction of works is imagined whereby a man may win favor; and yet he goes about it with a heavy heart, and great disrelish; he is, as it were, taken captive, more than half in despair, and often makes a fool of himself.”

Source: Martin Luther, Works of Martin Luther Volume 1 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1948), 191.

Perhaps Luther is saying: if you're not sure whether your spouse loves you, one may search for a “way” to earn that love. The relationship has “doubt.” You begin to imagine monumental acts that will win love. In fact the ‘way” becomes a burden and produces despair. Think back to some of your failed relationships- perhaps those in which you cared for someone more than they cared for you. You may have tried everything to win their love, but ultimately failed. Wasn’t it a burden? Did it at times make a fool of you? Does it embarrass you now to think about?

These words from Luther were used as an analogy for a spiritual point:

So a Christian who lives in this confidence toward God, knows all things, can do all things, undertakes all things that are to be done, and does everything cheerfully and freely; not that he may gather many merits and good works, but because it is a pleasure for him to please God thereby, and he serves God purely for nothing, content that his service pleases God.

On the other hand, he who is not at one with God, or doubts, hunts and worries in what way he may do enough and with many works move God. He runs to St. James of Compostella, to Rome, to Jerusalem, hither and yon, prays St. Bridget's prayer and the rest, fasts on this day and on that, makes confession here, and makes confession there, questions this man and that, and yet finds no peace. He does all this with great effort, despair and disrelish of heart, so that the Scriptures rightly call such works in Hebrew “Avenamal,” that is, labor and travail. And even then they are not good works, and are all lost. Many have been crazed thereby; their fear has brought them into all manner of misery. Of these it is written, Wisdom of Solomon v: "We have wearied ourselves in the wrong way; and have gone through deserts, where there lay no way; but as for the way of the Lord, we have not known it, and the sun of righteousness rose not upon us."

Source: Martin Luther, Works of Martin Luther Volume 1 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1948), 191-192.

As Christians, we live our lives in a God pleasing way, not because we want to achieve peace with God, but because we already have peace with God. The gospel gives us confidence in God’s love towards us. The gift of faith brings us new life. There is a love relationship between Creator and the created. There is no burdensome work that must be performed to remain in fellowship with God. The works we do flow from a heart of love for God for what he has done for us through His Son.

1 John 2:12 “I write to you dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” 1 John 5:13 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

I don’t think I have ever met a Roman Catholic who knows with certainty he or she is saved. The Roman Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott has said, “The reason for the uncertainty of the state of grace lies in this: that without a special revelation nobody can with certainty of faith know whether or not he has fulfilled all the conditions which are necessary for achieving justification.” Have you fulfilled all the conditions in your marriage to earn your spouse’s love?

Consider Christ’s work on the cross. All of your sin was forgiven- you now have peace with God (Romans 5:1). While we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). Romans 5:9-10 says we “have been” justified and we “were reconciled to Him.” If you are a Christian, go forth in this new year with confidence in God's love, in whatever you do.

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