Hi Brethren, In my wanderings on the Internet, I ran across a wonderful
www.ccel.org------in that site I checked out Luther Commentary on Galatians &
I should post it to the edification of those who wish to read it. It sheds
much light on the
right uses of Law & Grace. I'm going to post it beginning with GAL 2:11-16.
VERSE 11. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the
because he was to be blamed.
Paul goes on in his refutation of the false apostles by saying that
Antioch he withstood Peter in the presence of the whole congregation. As he
stated before, Paul had no small matter in hand, but the chief article of the
Christian religion. When this article is endangered, we must not hesitate to
resist Peter, or an angel from heaven. Paul paid no regard to the dignity and
position of Peter, when he saw this article in danger. It is written: "He
that loveth father or mother or his own life, more than me, is not worthy of
me." (Matt. 10:37.)
For defending the truth in our day, we are called proud and obstinate
hypocrites. We are not ashamed of these titles. The cause we are called to
defend, is not Peter's cause, or the cause of our parents, or that of the
government, or that of the world, but the cause of God. In defense of that
cause we must be firm and unyielding.
When he says, "to his face," Paul accuses the false apostles of slandering
him behind his back. In his presence they dared not to open their mouths. He
tells them, "I did not speak evil of Peter behind his back, but I withstood
him frankly and openly."
Others may debate here whether an apostle might sin. I claim that we
not to make Peter out as faultless. Prophets have erred. Nathan told David
that he should go ahead and build the Temple of the Lord. But his prophecy
was afterwards corrected by the Lord. The apostles erred in thinking of the
Kingdom of Christ as a worldly state. Peter had heard the command of Christ,
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." But if
it had not been for the heavenly vision and the special command of Christ,
Peter would never have gone to the home of Cornelius. Peter also erred in
this matter of circumcision. If Paul had not publicly censured him, all the
believing Gentiles would have been compelled to receive circumcision and
accept the Jewish law. We are not to attribute perfection to any man.
Luke reports "that the contention between Paul and Barnabas was so sharp
they departed asunder one from the other." The cause of their disagreement
could hardly have been small since it separated these two, who had been
joined together for years in a holy partnership. Such incidents are recorded
for our consolation. After all, it is a comfort to know that even saints
might and do sin.
Samson, David, and many other excellent men, fell into grievous sins.
Jeremiah cursed the day of their birth. Elijah and Jonah became weary of life
and prayed for death. Such offenses on the part of the saints, the Scriptures
record for the comfort of those who are near despair. No person has ever sunk
so low that he cannot rise again. On the other hand, no man's standing is so
secure that he may not fall. If Peter fell, I may fall. If he rose again, I
may rise again. We have the same gifts that they had, the same Christ, the
same baptism and the same Gospel, the same forgiveness of sins. They needed
these saving ordinances just as much as we do.
VERSE 12. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the
The Gentiles who had been converted to faith in Christ, ate meats forbidden
by the Law. Peter, visiting some of these Gentiles, ate meat and drank wine
with them, although he knew that these things were forbidden in the Law. Paul
declared that he did likewise, that he became as a Jew to the Jews, and to
them that were without law, as without law. He ate and drank with the
Gentiles unconcerned about the Jewish Law. When he was with the Jews,
however, he abstained from all things forbidden in the Law, for he labored to
serve all men, that he "might by all means save some." Paul does not reprove
Peter for transgressing the Law, but for disguising his attitude to the Law.
VERSE 12. But when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself,
them which were of the circumcision.
Paul does not accuse Peter of malice or ignorance, but of lack of principle,
in that he abstained from meats, because he feared the Jews that came from
James. Peter's weak attitude endangered the principle of Christian liberty.
It is the deduction rather than the fact which Paul reproves. To eat and to
drink, or not to eat and drink, is immaterial. But to make the deduction "If
you eat, you sin; if you abstain you are righteous"--this is wrong.
Meats may be refused for two reasons. First, they may be refused for
of Christian love. There is no danger connected with a refusal of meats for
the sake of charity. To bear with the infirmity of a brother is a good thing.
Paul himself taught and exemplified such thoughtfulness. Secondly, meats may
be refused in the mistaken hope of thereby obtaining righteousness. When this
is the purpose of abstaining from meats, we say, let charity go. To refrain
from meats for this latter reason amounts to a denial of Christ. If we must
lose one or the other, let us lose a friend and brother, rather than God, our
Jerome, who understood not this passage, nor the whole epistle for that
matter, excuses Peter's action on the ground "that it was done in ignorance."
But Peter offended by giving the impression that he was indorsing the Law. By
his example he encouraged Gentiles and Jews to forsake the truth of the
Gospel. If Paul had not reproved him, there would have been a sliding back of
Christians into the Jewish religion, and a return to the burdens of the Law.
It is surprising that Peter, excellent apostle that he was, should have
guilty of such vacillation. In a former council at Jerusalem he practically
stood alone in defense of the truth that salvation is by faith, without the
Law. Peter at that time valiantly defended the liberty of the Gospel. But now
by abstaining from meats forbidden in the Law, he went against his better
judgment. You have no idea what danger there is in customs and ceremonies.
They so easily tend to error in works.
VERSE 13. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch
Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.
It is marvelous how God preserved the Church by one single person. Paul
stood up for the truth, for Barnabas, his companion, was lost to him, and
Peter was against him. Sometimes one lone person can do more in a conference
than the whole assembly.
I mention this to urge all to learn how properly to differentiate between
Law and the Gospel, in order to avoid dissembling. When it come to the
article of justification we must not yield, if we want to retain the truth of
When the conscience is disturbed, do not seek advice from reason or
Law, but rest your conscience in the grace of God and in His Word, and
proceed as if you had never heard of the Law. The Law has its place and its
own good time. While Moses was in the mountain where he talked with God face
to face, he had no law, he made no law, he administered no law. But when he
came down from the mountain, he was a lawgiver. The conscience must be kept
above the Law, the body under the Law.
Paul reproved Peter for no trifle, but for the chief article of Christian
doctrine, which Peter's hypocrisy had endangered. For Barnabas and other Jews
followed Peter's example. It is surprising that such good men as Peter,
Barnabas, and others should fall into unexpected error, especially in a
matter which they knew so well. To trust in our own strength, our own
goodness, our own wisdom, is a perilous thing. Let us search the Scriptures
with humility, praying that we may never lose the light of the Gospel. "Lord,
increase our faith."
VERSE 14. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to
truth of the gospel.
No one except Paul had his eyes open. Consequently it was his duty to
Peter and his followers for swerving from the truth of the Gospel. It was no
easy task for Paul to reprimand Peter. To the honor of Peter it must be said
that he took the correction. No doubt, he freely acknowledged his fault.
The person who can rightly divide Law and Gospel has reason to thank
is a true theologian. I must confess that in times of temptation I do not
always know how to do it. To divide Law and Gospel means to place the Gospel
in heaven, and to keep the Law on earth; to call the righteousness of the
Gospel heavenly, and the righteousness of the Law earthly; to put as much
difference between the righteousness of the Gospel and that of the Law, as
there is difference between day and night. If it is a question of faith or
conscience, ignore the Law entirely. If it is a question of works, then lift
high the lantern of works and the righteousness of the Law. If your
conscience is oppressed with a sense of sin, talk to your conscience. Say:
"You are now groveling in the dirt. You are now a laboring ass. Go ahead, and
carry your burden. But why don't you mount up to heaven? There the Law cannot
follow you!" Leave the ass burdened with laws behind in the valley. But your
conscience, let it ascend with Isaac into the mountain.
In civil life obedience to the law is severely required. In civil life
Gospel, conscience, grace, remission of sins, Christ Himself, do not count,
but only Moses with the lawbooks. If we bear in mind this distinction,
neither Gospel nor Law shall trespass upon each other. The moment Law and sin
cross into heaven, i.e., your conscience, kick them out. On the other hand,
when grace wanders unto the earth, i.e., into the body, tell grace: "You have
no business to be around the dreg and dung of this bodily life. You belong in
By his compromising attitude Peter confused the separation of Law and
Paul had to do something about it. He reproved Peter, not to embarrass him,
but to conserve the difference between the Gospel which justifies in heaven,
and the Law which justifies on earth.
The right separation between Law and Gospel is very important to know.
Christian doctrine is impossible without it. Let all who love and fear God,
diligently learn the difference, not only in theory but also in practice.
When your conscience gets into trouble, say to yourself: "There is a
die, and a time to live; a time to learn the Law, and a time to unlearn the
Law; a time to hear the Gospel, and a time to ignore the Gospel. Let the Law
now depart, and let the Gospel enter, for now is the right time to hear the
Gospel, and not the Law." However, when the conflict of conscience is over
and external duties must be performed, close your ears to the Gospel, and
open them wide to the Law.
VERSE 14. I said unto Peter before them all, If thou being a Jew, livest
after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the
Gentiles to live as do the Jews.
To live as a Jew is nothing bad. To eat or not to eat pork, what difference
does it make? But to play the Jew, and for conscience' sake to abstain from
certain meats, is a denial of Christ. When Paul saw that Peter's attitude
tended to this, he withstood Peter and said to him: "You know that the
observance of the law is not needed unto righteousness. You know that we are
justified by faith in Christ. You know that we may eat all kinds of meats.
Yet by your example you obligate the Gentiles to forsake Christ, and to
return to the Law. You give them reason to think that faith is not sufficient
Peter did not say so, but his example said quite plainly that the observance
of the Law must be added to faith in Christ, if men are to be saved. From
Peter's example the Gentiles could not help but draw the conclusion that the
Law was necessary unto salvation. If this error had been permitted to pass
unchallenged, Christ would have lost out altogether.
The controversy involved the preservation of pure doctrine. In such
controversy Paul did not mind if anybody took offense.
VERSE 15. We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles.
"When we Jews compare ourselves with the Gentiles, we look pretty good.
have the Law, we have good works. Our rectitude dates from our birth, because
the Jewish religion is natural to us. But all this does not make us righteous
Peter and the others lived up to the requirements of the Law. They had
circumcision, the covenant, the promises, the apostleship. But because of
these advantages they were not to think themselves righteous before God. None
of these prerogatives spell faith in Christ, which alone can justify a
person. We do not mean to imply that the Law is bad. We do not condemn the
Law, circumcision, etc., for their failure to justify us. Paul spoke
disparagingly of these ordinances, because the false apostles asserted that
mankind is saved by them without faith. Paul could not let this assertion
stand, for without faith all things are deadly.
VERSE 16. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law,
the faith of Jesus Christ.
For the sake of argument let us suppose that you could fulfill the Law
spirit of the first commandment of God: "Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God,
with all thy heart." It would do you no good. A person simply is not
justified by the works of the Law.
The works of the Law, according to Paul, include the whole Law, judicial,
ceremonial, moral. Now, if the performance of the moral law cannot justify,
how can circumcision justify, when circumcision is part of the ceremonial
The demands of the Law may be fulfilled before and after justification.
were many excellent men among the pagans of old, men who never heard of
justification. They lived moral lives. But that fact did not justify them.
Peter, Paul, all Christians, live up to the Law. But that fact does not
justify them. For I know nothing by myself," says Paul, "yet am I not hereby
justified." (I Cor. 4:4.)
The nefarious opinion of the papists, which attributes the merit of
the remission of sins to works, must here be emphatically rejected. The
papists say*1 that a good work performed before grace has been obtained, is
able to secure grace for a person, because it is no more than right that God
should reward a good deed. When grace has already been obtained, any good
work deserves everlasting life as a due payment and reward for merit. For the
first, God is no debtor, they say; but because God is good and just, it is no
more than right (they say) that He should reward a good work by granting
grace for the service. But when grace has already been obtained, they
continue, God is in the position of a debtor, and is in duty bound to reward
a good work with the gift of eternal life. This is the wicked teaching of the
Now, if I could perform any work acceptable to God and deserving of
and once having obtained grace my good works would continue to earn for me
the right and reward of eternal life, why should I stand in need of the grace
of God and the suffering and death of Christ? Christ would be of no benefit
to me. Christ's mercy would be of no use to me.
This shows how little insight the pope and the whole of his religious
have into spiritual matters, and how little they concern themselves with the
spiritual health of their forlorn flocks. They cannot believe that the flesh
is unable to think, speak, or do anything except against God. If they could
see evil rooted in the nature of man, they would never entertain such silly
dreams about man's merit or worthiness.
With Paul we absolutely deny the possibility of self merit. God never
gave to any person grace and everlasting life as a reward for merit. The
opinions of the papists are the intellectual pipe-dreams of idle pates, that
serve no other purpose but to draw men away from the true worship of God. The
papacy is founded upon hallucinations.
The true way of salvation is this. First, a person must realize that
he is a
sinner, the kind of a sinner who is congenitally unable to do any good thing.
"Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." Those who seek to earn the grace of God
by their own efforts are trying to please God with sins. They mock God, and
provoke His anger. The first step on the way to salvation is to repent.
The second part is this. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world
we may live through His merit. He was crucified and killed for us. By
sacrificing His Son for us God revealed Himself to us as a merciful Father
who donates remission of sins, righteousness, and life everlasting for
Christ's sake. God hands out His gifts freely unto all men. That is the
praise and glory of His mercy.
The scholastics explain the way of salvation in this manner. When a
happens to perform a good deed, God accepts it and as a reward for the good
deed God pours charity into that person. They call it "charity infused." This
charity is supposed to remain in the heart. They get wild when they are told
that this quality of the heart cannot justify a person.
They also claim that we are able to love God by our own natural strength,
love God above all things, at least to the extent that we deserve grace. And,
say the scholastics, because God is not satisfied with a literal performance
of the Law, but expects us to fulfill the Law according to the mind of the
Lawgiver, therefore we must obtain from above a quality above nature, a
quality which they call "formal righteousness."
We say, faith apprehends Jesus Christ. Christian faith is not an inactive
quality in the heart. If it is true faith it will surely take Christ for its
object. Christ, apprehended by faith and dwelling in the heart, constitutes
Christian righteousness, for which God gives eternal life.
In contrast to the doting dreams of the scholastics, we teach this:
person must learn to know himself from the Law. With the prophet he will then
confess: "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." And, "there
is none that doeth good, no, not one." And, "against thee, thee only, have I
Having been humbled by the Law, and having been brought to a right estimate
of himself, a man will repent. He finds out that he is so depraved, that no
strength, no works, no merits of his own will ever deliver him from his
guilt. He will then understand the meaning of Paul's words: "I am sold under
sin"; and "they are all under sin."
At this state a person begins to lament: "Who is going to help me?"
time comes the Word of the Gospel, and says: "Son, thy sins are forgiven
thee. Believe in Jesus Christ who was crucified for your sins. Remember, your
sins have been imposed upon Christ."
In this way are we delivered from sin. In this way are we justified
heirs of everlasting life.
In order to have faith you must paint a true portrait of Christ. The
scholastics caricature Christ into a judge and tormentor. But Christ is no
law giver. He is the Lifegiver. He is the Forgiver of sins. You must believe
that Christ might have atoned for the sins of the world with one single drop
of His blood. Instead, He shed His blood abundantly in order that He might
give abundant satisfaction for our sins.
Here let me say, that these three things, faith, Christ, and imputation
righteousness, are to be joined together. Faith takes hold of Christ. God
accounts this faith for righteousness.
This imputation of righteousness we need very much, because we are far
perfect. As long as we have this body, sin will dwell in our flesh. Then,
too, we sometimes drive away the Holy Spirit; we fall into sin, like Peter,
David, and other holy men. Nevertheless we may always take recourse to this
fact, "that our sins are covered," and that "God will not lay them to our
charge." Sin is not held against us for Christ's sake. Where Christ and faith
are lacking, there is no remission or covering of sins, but only
After we have taught faith in Christ, we teach good works. "Since you
found Christ by faith," we say, "begin now to work and do well. Love God and
your neighbor. Call upon God, give thanks unto Him, praise Him, confess Him.
These are good works. Let them flow from a cheerful heart, because you have
remission of sin in Christ."
When crosses and afflictions come our way, we bear them patiently. "For
Christ's yoke is easy, and His burden is light." When sin has been pardoned,
and the conscience has been eased of its dreadful load, a Christian can
endure all things in Christ.
To give a short definition of a Christian: A Christian is not somebody
has no sin, but somebody against whom God no longer chalks sin, because of
his faith in Christ. This doctrine brings comfort to consciences in serious
trouble. When a person is a Christian he is above law and sin. When the Law
accuses him, and sin wants to drive the wits out of him, a Christian looks to
Christ. A Christian is free. He has no master except Christ. A Christian is
greater than the whole world.
VERSE 16. Even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified.
The true way of becoming a Christian is to be justified by faith in
Christ, and not by the works of the Law.
We know that we must also teach good works, but they must be taught
proper turn, when the discussion is concerning works and not the article of
Here the question arises by what means are we justified? We answer with
"By faith only in Christ are we pronounced righteous, and not by works." Not
that we reject good works. Far from it. But we will not allow ourselves to be
removed from the anchorage of our salvation.
The Law is a good thing. But when the discussion is about justification,
is no time to drag in the Law. When we discuss justification we ought to
speak of Christ and the benefits He has brought us.
Christ is no sheriff. He is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the
the world." (John 1:29.)
VERSE 16. That we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not
works of the Law.
We do not mean to say that the Law is bad. Only it is not able to justify
To be at peace with God, we have need of a far better mediator than Moses or
the Law. We must know that we are nothing. We must understand that we are
merely beneficiaries and recipients of the treasures of Christ.
So far, the words of Paul were addressed to Peter. Now Paul turns to
Galatians and makes this summary statement:
VERSE 16. For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
By the term "flesh" Paul does not understand manifest vices. Such sins
usually calls by their proper names, as adultery, fornication, etc. By
"flesh" Paul understands what Jesus meant in the third chapter of John, "That
which is born of the flesh is flesh". (John 3:6.) "Flesh" here means the
whole nature of man, inclusive of reason and instincts. "This flesh," says
Paul, "is not justified by the works of the law."
The papists do not believe this. They say, "A person who performs this
deed or that, deserves the forgiveness of his sins. A person who joins this
or that holy order, has the promise of everlasting life."
To me it is a miracle that the Church, so long surrounded by vicious
has been able to survive at all. God must have been able to call a few who in
their failure to discover any good in themselves to cite against the wrath
and judgment of God, simply took to the suffering and death of Christ, and
were saved by this simple faith.
Nevertheless God has punished the contempt of the Gospel and of Christ
part of the papists, by turning them over to a reprobate state of mind in
which they reject the Gospel, and receive with gusto the abominable rules,
ordinances, and traditions of men in preference to the Word of God, until
they went so far as to forbid marriage. God punished them justly, because
they blasphemed the only Son of God.
This is, then, our general conclusion: "By the works of the law shall
flesh be justified."
VERSE 17. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves
are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
Either we are not justified by Christ, or we are not justified by the
The fact is, we are justified by Christ. Hence, we are not justified by the
Law. If we observe the Law in order to be justified, or after having been
justified by Christ, we think we must further be justified by the Law, we
convert Christ into a legislator and a minister of sin.
"What are these false apostles doing?" Paul cries. "They are turning
grace, and grace into Law. They are changing Moses into Christ, and Christ
into Moses. By teaching that besides Christ and His righteousness the
performance of the Law is necessary unto salvation, they put the Law in the
place of Christ, they attribute to the Law the power to save, a power that
belongs to Christ only."
The papists quote the words of Christ: "If thou wilt enter into life,
the commandments." (Matt. 19:17.) With His own words they deny Christ and
abolish faith in Him. Christ is made to lose His good name, His office, and
His glory, and is demoted to the status of a law enforcer, reproving,
terrifying, and chasing poor sinners around.
The proper office of Christ is to raise the sinner, and extricate him
Papists and Anabaptists deride us because we so earnestly require faith.
"Faith," they say, "makes men reckless." What do these law-workers know about
faith, when they are so busy calling people back from baptism, from faith,
from the promises of Christ to the Law?
With their doctrine these lying sects of perdition deface the benefits
Christ to this day. They rob Christ of His glory as the Justifier of mankind
and cast Him into the role of a minister of sin. They are like the false
apostles. There is not a single one among them who knows the difference
between law and grace.
We can tell the difference. We do not here and now argue whether we
do good works, or whether the Law is any good, or whether the Law ought to be
kept at all. We will discuss these questions some other time. We are now
concerned with justification. Our opponents refuse to make this distinction.
All they can do is to bellow that good works ought to be done. We know that.
We know that good works ought to be done, but we will talk about that when
the proper time comes. Now we are dealing with justification, and here good
works should not be so much as mentioned.
Paul's argument has often comforted me. He argues: "If we who have been
justified by Christ are counted unrighteous, why seek justification in Christ
at all? If we are justified by the Law, tell me, what has Christ achieved by
His death, by His preaching, by His victory over sin and death? Either we are
justified by Christ, or we are made worse sinners by Him."
The Sacred Scriptures, particularly those of the New Testament, make
mention of faith in Christ. "Whosoever believeth in him is saved, shall not
perish, shall have everlasting life, is not judged," etc. In open
contradiction to the Scriptures, our opponents misquote, "He that believeth
in Christ is condemned, because he has faith without works." Our opponents
turn everything topsy-turvy. They make Christ over into a murderer, and Moses
into a savior. Is not this horrible blasphemy?
VERSE 17. Is therefore Christ the minister of sin?
This is Hebrew phraseology, also used by Paul in II Corinthians, chapter
There Paul speaks of two ministers: The minister of the letter, and the
minister of the spirit; the minister of the Law, and the minister of grace;
the minister of death, and the minister of life. "Moses," says Paul, "is the
minister of the Law, of sin, wrath, death, and condemnation."
Whoever teaches that good works are indispensable unto salvation, that
gain heaven a person must suffer afflictions and follow the example of Christ
and of the saints, is a minister of the Law, of sin, wrath, and of death, for
the conscience knows how impossible it is for a person to fulfill the Law.
Why, the Law makes trouble even for those who have the Holy Spirit. What will
not the Law do in the case of the wicked who do not even have the Holy
The Law requires perfect obedience. It condemns all do not accomplish
will of God. But show me a person who is able to render perfect obedience.
The Law cannot justify. It can only condemn according to the passage: "Cursed
is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book
of the law to do them."
Paul has good reason for calling the minister of the Law the minister
for the Law reveals our sinfulness. The realization of sin in turn frightens
the heart and drives it to despair. Therefore all exponents of the Law and of
works deserve to be called tyrants and oppressors.
The purpose of the Law is to reveal sin. That this is the purpose of
can be seen from the account of the giving of the Law as reported in the
nineteenth and twentieth chapters of Exodus. Moses brought the people out of
their tents to have God speak to them personally from a cloud. But the people
trembled with fear, fled, and standing aloof they begged Moses: "Speak thou
with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die." The
proper office of the Law is to lead us out of our tents, in other words, out
of the security of our self-trust, into the presence of God, that we may
perceive His anger at our sinfulness.
All who say that faith alone in Christ does not justify a person, convert
Christ into a minister of sin, a teacher of the Law, and a cruel tyrant who
requires the impossible. All merit-seekers take Christ for a new lawgiver.
In conclusion, if the Law is the minister of sin, it is at the same
minister of wrath and death. As the Law reveals sin it fills a person with
the fear of death and condemnation. Eventually the conscience wakes up to the
fact that God is angry. If God is angry with you, He will destroy and condemn
you forever. Unable to stand the thought of the wrath and judgment of God,
many a person commits suicide.
VERSE 17. God forbid.
Christ is not the minister of sin, but the Dispenser of righteousness
Giver of life. Christ is Lord over law, sin and death. All who believe in Him
are delivered from law, sin and death.
The Law drives us away from God, but Christ reconciles God unto us,
is the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world." Now if the sin
of the world is taken away, it is taken away from me. If sin is taken away,
the wrath of God and His condemnation are also taken away. Let us practice
this blessed conviction.
VERSE 18. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make
"I have not preached to the end that I build again the things which
destroyed. If I should do so, I would not only be laboring in vain, but I
would make myself guilty of a great wrong. By the ministry of the Gospel I
have destroyed sin, heaviness of heart, wrath, and death. I have abolished
the Law, so that it should not bother your conscience any more. Should I now
once again establish the Law, and set up the rule of Moses? This is exactly
what I should be doing, if I would urge circumcision and the performance of
the Law as necessary unto salvation. Instead of righteousness and life, I
would restore sin and death."
By the grace of God we know that we are justified through faith in Christ
alone. We do not mingle law and grace, faith and works. We keep them far
apart. Let every true Christian mark the distinction between law and grace,
and mark it well.
We must not drag good works into the article of justification as the
who maintain that not only good works, but also the punishment which
evildoers suffer for their wicked deeds, deserve everlasting life. When a
criminal is brought to the place of execution, the monks try to comfort him
in this manner: "You want to die willingly and patiently, and then you will
merit remission of your sins and eternal life." What cruelty is this, that a
wretched thief, murderer, robber should be so miserably misguided in his
extreme distress, that at the very point of death he should be denied the
sweet promises of Christ, and directed to hope for pardon of his sins in the
willingness and patience with which he is about to suffer death for his
crimes? The monks are showing him the paved way to hell.
These hypocrites do not know the first thing about grace, the Gospel,
Christ. They retain the appearance and the name of the Gospel and of Christ
for a decoy only. In their confessional writings faith or the merit of Christ
are never mentioned. In their writings they play up the merits of man, as can
readily be seen from the following form of absolution used among the monks.
scripRefTrue, the merit of Christ is mentioned in this formula of absolution.
But if you look closer you will notice that Christ's merit is belittled,
while monkish merits are aggrandized. They confess Christ with their lips,
and at the same time deny His power to save. I myself was at one time
entangled in this error. I thought Christ was a judge and had to be pacified
by a strict adherence to the rules of my order. But now I give thanks unto
God, the Father of all mercies, who has called me out of darkness into the
light of His glorious Gospel, and has granted unto me the saving knowledge of
Christ Jesus, my Lord.
We conclude with Paul, that we are justified by faith in Christ, without
Law. Once a person has been justified by Christ, he will not be unproductive
of good, but as a good tree he will bring forth good fruit. A believer has
the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will not permit a person to remain idle,
but will put him to work and stir him up to the love of God, to patient
suffering in affliction, to prayer, thanksgiving, to the habit of charity
towards all men.
VERSE 19. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live
This cheering form of speech is frequently met with in the Scriptures,
particularly in the writings of St. Paul, when the Law is set against the
Law, and sin is made to oppose sin, and death is arrayed against death, and
hell is turned loose against hell, as in the following quotations: "Thou hast
led captivity captive," Psalm 68:18. "O death, I will be thy plagues; O
grave, I will be thy destruction," Hosea 13:14. "And for sin, condemned sin
in the flesh," Romans 8:3.
Here Paul plays the Law against the Law, as if to say: "The Law of Moses
condemns me; but I have another law, the law of grace and liberty which
condemns the accusing Law of Moses."
On first sight Paul seems to be advancing a strange and ugly heresy.
"I am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." The false apostles said
the very opposite. They said, "If you do not live to the law, you are dead
The doctrine of our opponents is similar to that of the false apostles
Paul's day. Our opponents teach, "If you want to live unto God, you must live
after the Law, for it is written, Do this and thou shalt live." Paul, on the
other hand, teaches, "We cannot live unto God unless we are dead unto the
Law." If we are dead unto the Law, the Law can have no power over us.
Paul does not only refer to the Ceremonial Law, but to the whole Law.
not to think that the Law is wiped out. It stays. It continues to operate in
the wicked. But a Christian is dead to the Law. For example, Christ by His
resurrection became free from the grave, and yet the grave remains. Peter was
delivered from prison, yet the prison remains. The Law is abolished as far as
I am concerned, when it has driven me into the arms of Christ. Yet the Law
continues to exist and to function. But it no longer exists for me.
"I have nothing to do with the Law," cries Paul. He could not have uttered
anything more devastating to the prestige of the Law. He declares that he
does not care for the Law, that he does not intend ever to be justified by
To be dead to the Law means to be free of the Law. What right, then,
Law to accuse me, or to hold anything against me? When you see a person
squirming in the clutches of the Law, say to him: "Brother, get things
straight. You let the Law talk to your conscience. Make it talk to your
flesh. Wake up, and believe in Jesus Christ, the Conqueror of Law and sin.
Faith in Christ will lift you high above the Law into the heaven of grace.
Though Law and sin remain, they no longer concern you, because you are dead
to the Law and dead to sin."
Blessed is the person who knows how to use this truth in times of distress.
He can talk. He can say: "Mr. Law, go ahead and accuse me as much as you
like. I know I have committed many sins, and I continue to sin daily. But
that does not bother me. You have got to shout louder, Mr. Law. I am deaf,
you know. Talk as much as you like, I am dead to you. If you want to talk to
me about my sins, go and talk to my flesh. Belabor that, but don't talk to my
conscience. My conscience is a lady and a queen, and has nothing to do with
the likes of you, because my conscience lives to Christ under another law, a
new and better law, the law of grace."
We have two propositions: To live unto the Law, is to die unto God.
unto the Law, is to live unto God. These two propositions go against reason.
No law-worker can ever understand them. But see to it that you understand
them. The Law can never justify and save a sinner. The Law can only accuse,
terrify, and kill him. Therefore to live unto the Law is to die unto God.
Vice versa, to die unto the Law is to live unto God. If you want to live unto
God, bury the Law, and find life through faith in Christ Jesus.
We have enough arguments right here to conclude that justification is
faith alone. How can the Law effect our justification, when Paul so plainly
states that we must be dead to the Law if we want to live unto God? If we are
dead to the Law and the Law is dead to us, how can it possibly contribute
anything to our justification? There is nothing left for us but to be
justified by faith alone.
This nineteenth verse is loaded with consolation. It fortifies a person
against every danger. It allows you to argue like this:
"I confess I have sinned."
"Then God will punish you."
"No, He will not do that."
"Why not? Does not the Law say so?"
"I have nothing to do with the Law."
"I have another law, the law of liberty."
"What do you mean--'liberty'?"
"The liberty of Christ, for Christ has made me free from the Law that held me
down. That Law is now in prison itself, held captive by grace and liberty."
By faith in Christ a person may gain such sure and sound comfort, that
need not fear the devil, sin, death, or any evil. "Sir Devil," he may say, "I
am not afraid of you. I have a Friend whose name is Jesus Christ, in whom I
believe. He has abolished the Law, condemned sin, vanquished death, and
destroyed hell for me. He is bigger than you, Satan. He has licked you, and
holds you down. You cannot hurt me." This is the faith that overcomes the
Paul manhandles the Law. He treats the Law as if it were a thief and
He treats the Law as contemptible to the conscience, in order that those who
believe in Christ may take courage to defy the Law, and say: "Mr. Law, I am a
sinner. What are you going to do about it?"
Or take death. Christ is risen from death. Why should we now fear the
Against my death I set another death, or rather life, my life in Christ.
Oh, the sweet names of Jesus! He is called my law against the Law, my
against sin, my death against death. Translated, it means that He is my
righteousness, my life, my everlasting salvation. For this reason was He made
the law of the Law, the sin of sin, the death of death, that He might redeem
me from the curse of the Law. He permitted the Law to accuse Him, sin to
condemn Him, and death to take Him, to abolish the Law, to condemn sin, and
to destroy death for me.
This peculiar form of speech sounds much sweeter than if Paul had said:
through liberty am dead to the law." By putting it in this way, "I through
the law am dead to the law," he opposes one law with another law, and has
them fight it out.
In this masterly fashion Paul draws our attention away from the Law,
death, and every evil, and centers it upon Christ.
VERSE 20. I am crucified with Christ.
Christ is Lord over the Law, because He was crucified unto the Law.
I also am
lord over the Law, because by faith I am crucified with Christ.
Paul does not here speak of crucifying the flesh, but he speaks of that
higher crucifying wherein sin, devil, and death are crucified in Christ and
in me. By my faith in Christ I am crucified with Christ. Hence these evils
are crucified and dead unto me.
VERSE 20. Nevertheless I live.
"I do not mean to create the impression as though I did not live before
But in reality I first live now, now that I have been delivered from the Law,
from sin, and death. Being crucified with Christ and dead unto the Law, I may
now rise unto a new and better life."
We must pay close attention to Paul's way of speaking. He says that
crucified and dead unto the Law. The fact is, the Law is crucified and dead
unto us. Paul purposely speaks that way in order to increase the portion of
VERSE 20. Yet not I.
Paul explains what constitutes true Christian righteousness. True Christian
righteousness is the righteousness of Christ who lives in us. We must look
away from our own person. Christ and my conscience must become one, so that I
can see nothing else but Christ crucified and raised from the dead for me. If
I keep on looking at myself, I am gone.
If we lose sight of Christ and begin to consider our past, we simply
pieces. We must turn our eyes to the brazen serpent, Christ crucified, and
believe with all our heart that He is our righteousness and our life. For
Christ, on whom our eyes are fixed, in whom we live, who lives in us, is Lord
over Law, sin, death, and all evil.
VERSE 20. But Christ liveth in me.
"Thus I live," the Apostle starts out. But presently he corrects himself,
saying, "Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." He is the form of my
perfection. He embellishes my faith.
Since Christ is now living in me, He abolishes the Law, condemns sin,
destroys death in me. These foes vanish in His presence. Christ abiding in me
drives out every evil. This union with Christ delivers me from the demands of
the Law, and separates me from my sinful self. As long as I abide in Christ,
nothing can hurt me.
Christ domiciling in me, the old Adam has to stay outside and remain
to the Law. Think what grace, righteousness, life, peace, and salvation there
is in me, thanks to that inseparable conjunction between Christ and me
Paul has a peculiar style, a celestial way of speaking. "I live," he
live not; I am dead, I am not dead; I am a sinner, I am not a sinner; I have
the Law, I have no Law." When we look at ourselves we find plenty of sin. But
when we look at Christ, we have no sin. Whenever we separate the person of
Christ from our own person, we live under the Law and not in Christ; we are
condemned by the Law, dead before God.
Faith connects you so intimately with Christ, that He and you become
were one person. As such you may boldly say: "I am now one with Christ.
Therefore Christ's righteousness, victory, and life are mine." On the other
hand, Christ may say: "I am that big sinner. His sins and his death are mine,
because he is joined to me, and I to him."
Whenever remission of sins is freely proclaimed, people misinterpret
according to Romans 3:8, "Let us do evil, that good may come." As soon as
people hear that we are not justified by the Law, they reason maliciously:
"Why, then let us reject the Law. If grace abounds, where sin abounds, let us
abound in sin, that grace may all the more abound." People who reason thus
are reckless. They make sport of the Scriptures and slander the sayings of
the Holy Ghost.
However, there are others who are not malicious, only weak, who may
offense when told that Law and good works are unnecessary for salvation.
These must be instructed as to why good works do not justify, and from what
motives good works must be done. Good works are not the cause, but the fruit
of righteousness. When we have become righteous, then first are we able and
willing to do good. The tree makes the apple; the apple does not make the
VERSE 20. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith
the Son of God.
Paul does not deny the fact that he is living in the flesh. He performs
natural functions of the flesh. But he says that this is not his real life.
His life in the flesh is not a life after the flesh.
"I live by the faith of the Son of God," he says. "My speech is no longer
directed by the flesh, but by the Holy Ghost. My sight is no longer governed
by the flesh, but by the Holy Ghost. My hearing is no longer determined by
the flesh, but by the Holy Ghost. I cannot teach, write, pray, or give thanks
without the instrumentality of the flesh; yet these activities do not proceed
from the flesh, but from God."
A Christian uses earthly means like any unbeliever. Outwardly they look
alike. Nevertheless there is a great difference between them. I may live in
the flesh, but I do not live after the flesh. I do my living now "by the
faith of the Son of God." Paul had the same voice, the same tongue, before
and after his conversion. Before his conversion his tongue uttered
blasphemies. But after his conversion his tongue spoke a spiritual, heavenly
We may now understand how spiritual life originates. It enters the heart
faith. Christ reigns in the heart with His Holy Spirit, who sees, hears,
speaks, works, suffers, and does all things in and through us over the
protest and the resistance of the flesh.
VERSE 20. Who loved me, and gave himself for me.
The sophistical papists assert that a person is able by natural strength
love God long before grace has entered his heart, and to perform works of
real merit. They believe they are able to fulfill the commandments of God.
They believe they are able to do more than God expects of them, so that they
are in a position to sell their superfluous merits to laymen, thereby saving
themselves and others. They are saving nobody. On the contrary, they abolish
the Gospel, they deride, deny, and blaspheme Christ, and call upon themselves
the wrath of God. This is what they get for living in their own
righteousness, and not in the faith of the Son of God.
The papists will tell you to do the best you can, and God will give
grace. They have a rhyme for it:
scripRefScripRefThis may hold true in ordinary civic life. But the papists
apply it to the spiritual realm where a person can perform nothing but sin,
because he is sold under sin.
Our opponents go even further than that. They say, nature is depraved,
the qualities of nature are untainted. Again we say: This may hold true in
everyday life, but not in the spiritual life. In spiritual matters a person
is by nature full of darkness, error, ignorance, malice, and perverseness in
will and in mind.
In view of this, Paul declares that Christ began and not we. "He loved
and gave Himself for me. He found in me no right mind and no good will. But
the good Lord had mercy upon me. Out of pure kindness He loved me, loved me
so that He gave Himself for me, that I should be free from the Law, from sin,
devil, and death."
The words, "The Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me," are
many thunderclaps and lightning bolts of protest from heaven against the
righteousness of the Law. The wickedness, error, darkness, ignorance in my
mind and my will were so great, that it was quite impossible for me to be
saved by any other means than by the inestimable price of Christ's death.
Let us count the price. When you hear that such an enormous price was
for you, will you still come along with your cowl, your shaven pate, your
chastity, your obedience, your poverty, your works, your merits? What do you
want with all these trappings? What good are the works of all men, and all
the pains of the martyrs, in comparison with the pains of the Son of God
dying on the Cross, so that there was not a drop of His precious blood, but
it was all shed for your sins. If you could properly evaluate this
incomparable price, you would throw all your ceremonies, vows, works, and
merits into the ash can. What awful presumption to imagine that there is any
work good enough to pacify God, when to pacify God required the invaluable
price of the death and blood of His own and only Son?
VERSE 20. For me.
Who is this "me"? I, wretched and damnable sinner, dearly beloved of
of God. If I could by work or merit love the Son of God and come to Him, why
should He have sacrificed Himself for me ? This shows how the papists ignore
the Scriptures, particularly the doctrine of faith. If they had paid any
attention at all to these words, that it was absolutely necessary for the Son
of God to be given into death for me, they would never have invented so many
I always say, there is no remedy against the sects, no power to resist
except this article of Christian righteousness. If we lose this article we
shall never be able to combat errors or sects. What business have they to
make such a fuss about works or merits? If I, a condemned sinner, could have
been purchased and redeemed by any other price, why should the Son of God
have given Himself for me? Just because there was no other price in heaven
and on earth big and good enough, was it necessary for the Son of God to be
delivered for me. This He did out of His great love for me, for the Apostle
says, "Who loved me."
Did the Law ever love me? Did the Law ever sacrifice itself for me?
Law ever die for me? On the contrary, it accuses me, it frightens me, it
drives me crazy. Somebody else saved me from the Law, from sin and death unto
eternal life. That Somebody is the Son of God, to whom be praise and glory
Hence, Christ is no Moses, no tyrant, no lawgiver, but the Giver of
the Savior, full of mercy. In short, He is no less than infinite mercy and
ineffable goodness, bountifully giving Himself for us. Visualize Christ in
these His true colors. I do not say that it is easy. Even in the present
diffusion of the Gospel light, I have much trouble to see Christ as Paul
portrays Him. So deeply has the diseased opinion that Christ is a lawgiver
sunk into my bones. You younger men are a good deal better off than we who
are old. You have never become infected with the nefarious errors on which I
suckled all my youth, until at the mention of the name of Christ I shivered
with fear. You, I say, who are young may learn to know Christ in all His
For Christ is Joy and Sweetness to a broken heart. Christ is a Lover
sinners, and such a Lover that He gave Himself for us. Now if this is true,
and it is true, then are we never justified by our own righteousness.
Read the words "me" and "for me" with great emphasis. Print this "me"
capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong to the
number of those who are meant by this "me." Christ did not only love Peter
and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny
that we are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins.
VERSE 21. I do not frustrate the grace of God.
Paul is now getting ready for the second argument of his Epistle, to
effect that to seek justification by works of the Law, is to reject the grace
of God. I ask you, what sin can be more horrible than to reject the grace of
God, and to refuse the righteousness of Christ? It is bad enough that we are
wicked sinners and transgressors of all the commandments of God; on top of
that to refuse the grace of God and the remission of sins offered unto us by
Christ, is the worst sin of all, the sin of sins. That is the limit. There is
no sin which Paul and the other apostles detested more than when a person
despises the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Still there is no sin more common.
That is why Paul can get so angry at the Antichrist, because he snubs Christ,
rebuffs the grace of God, and refuses the merit of Christ. What else would
you call it but spitting in Christ's face, pushing Christ to the side,
usurping Christ's throne, and to say: "I am going to justify you people; I am
going to save you." By what means? By masses, pilgrimages, pardons, merits,
etc. For this is Antichrist's doctrine: Faith is no good, unless it is
reinforced by works. By this abominable doctrine Antichrist has spoiled,
darkened, and buried the benefit of Christ, and in place of the grace of
Christ and His Kingdom, he has established the doctrine of works and the
kingdom of ceremonies.
We despise the grace of God when we observe the Law for the purpose
justified. The Law is good, holy, and profitable, but it does not justify. To
keep the Law in order to be justified means to reject grace, to deny Christ,
to despise His sacrifice, and to be lost.
VERSE 21. For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
Did Christ die, or did He not die? Was His death worth while, or was
If His death was worth while, it follows that righteousness does not come by
the Law. Why was Christ born anyway? Why was He crucified? Why did He suffer?
Why did He love me and give Himself for me? It was all done to no purpose if
righteousness is to be had by the Law.
Or do you think that God spared not His Son, but delivered Him for us
for the fun of it? Before I would admit anything like that, I would consign
the holiness of the saints and of the angels to hell.
To reject the grace of God is a common sin, of which everybody is guilty
sees any righteousness in himself or in his deeds. And the Pope is the sole
author of this iniquity. Not content to spoil the Gospel of Christ, he has
filled the world with his cursed traditions, e.g., his bulls and indulgences.
We will always affirm with Paul that either Christ died in vain, or
Law cannot justify us. But Christ did not suffer and die in vain. Hence, the
Law does not justify.
If my salvation was so difficult to accomplish that it necessitated
of Christ, then all my works, all the righteousness of the Law, are good for
nothing. How can I buy for a penny what cost a million dollars? The Law is a
penny's worth when you compare it with Christ. Should I be so stupid as to
reject the righteousness of Christ which cost me nothing, and slave like a
fool to achieve the righteousness of the Law which God disdains?
Man's own righteousness is in the last analysis a despising and rejecting
the grace of God. No combination of words can do justice to such an outrage.
It is an insult to say that any man died in vain. But to say that Christ died
in vain is a deadly insult. To say that Christ died in vain is to make His
resurrection, His victory, His glory, His kingdom, heaven, earth, God
Himself, of no purpose and benefit whatever.
That is enough to set any person against the righteousness of the Law
the trimmings of men's own righteousness, the orders of monks and friars, and
Who would not detest his own vows, his cowls, his shaven crown, his
traditions, yes, the very Law of Moses, when he hears that for such things he
rejected the grace of God and the death of Christ. It seems that such a
horrible wickedness could not enter a man's heart, that he should reject the
grace of God, and despise the death of Christ. And yet this atrocity is all
too common. Let us be warned. Everyone who seeks righteousness without
Christ, either by works, merits, satisfactions, actions, or by the Law,
rejects the grace of God, and despises the death of Christ.
1 * Luther here accurately outlines the Roman doctrine of grace de congruo