Luther: Right Understanding Of Justification leads To True Sanctification

When I was a monk, I thought by and by that I was utterly cast away, if at any time I felt the lust of the flesh; that is to say, if I felt any evil motion, fleshly lust, wrath, hatred, or envy against any brother. I assayed many ways to help quieten my conscience but it would not be; for the concupiscence and lust of my flesh did always return, so that I could not rest, but was continually vexed with these thoughts: this without sin though has committed: though are infected with envy, with impatience, and with such other symptoms: therefore thou art entered into this whole order in vain, and all thy good works are unprofitable. If, then, I had rightly understood these sentences of Paul, “The flesh lusteth contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit contrary to the Flesh, and these two are one against another, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would do;” I should not have so miserably tormented myself, but should have thought and said to myself, as now commonly I do: “Martin, thou shalt not utterly be without sin, for thous hast flesh; thous halt, therefore, feel the battle thereof according to that saying of Paul: ‘The flesh resisteth the Spirit.’ Despair not, therefore, but resist it strongly, and fulfill not the lust thereof. Thus doing, thou are not under the law.”

—Martin Luther, Commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Philadelphia, 1860)

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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One comment

  1. A dose of Luther a day keeps the condemnation away – Another reason we never “grow” in sanctification beyond our justification…

    Verse 1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.
    … the liberty which Christ has procured for us.
    Paul is speaking of a far better liberty, the liberty “wherewith Christ hath made us free,” not from material bonds, not from the Babylonian captivity, not from the tyranny of the Turks, but from the eternal wrath of God.

    Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God.

    As an outgrowth of this liberty, we are at the same time free from the Law, sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, etc. Since the wrath of God has been assuaged by Christ no Law, sin, or death may now accuse and condemn us. These foes of ours will continue to frighten us, but not too much. The worth of our Christian liberty cannot be exaggerated.

    Our conscience must he trained to fall back on the freedom purchased for us by Christ.Though the fears of the Law, the terrors of sin, the horror of death assail us occasionally, we know that these feelings shall not endure, because the prophet quotes God as saying: “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment: but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.” (Isa. 54:8.)

    We shall appreciate this liberty all the more when we bear in mind that it was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who purchased it with His own blood. Hence, Christ’s liberty is given us not by the Law, or for our own righteousness, but freely for Christ’s sake. In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Jesus declares: “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” He only stands between us and the evils which trouble and afflict us and which He has overcome for us.

    – Luther, Galatians commentary

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