Luther: “Do This And Live” Is Ironic

For he who does them shall live by them . . . I take this passage as a general statement, like that saying of Christ (Luke 10:28): “Do this, and you will live,” so that it is a kind of irony or ridicule. “Yes, just go ahead and do it!” Paul wants to show here what the righteousness of the Law and of the Gospel is, exactly and accurately. The righteousness of the Law is to keep the Law, according to the statement: “He who does them, etc.” The righteousness of faith is to believe, according to the statement, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Therefore the Law requires that we perform something for God. Faith does not require our doing; it requires that we believe the promise of God and accept something from Him. Therefore the function of the Law, at its highest level, is to work, just as that of faith is to assent. Thus the Law provides doing, and faith provides believing; for faith is faith in the promise, and the work is the work of the Law. This is why Paul lingers over the term “doing.” To show clearly what the righteousness of the Law and what that of faith is, he contrasts the one with the other, the promise with the Law and faith with works. He says that nothing follows from the Law except doing; but faith is something altogether different, namely, that which clings to the promise.

Martin Luther | Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1–4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 26 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 271–272.


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  1. great post! if anybody can anwer this. I have been trying to study justification by faith aline more and in the second helvetic confession there is a part that is eating me a live and I cant find an answer anywhere. Can someone please help me out? this is what it says

    THE SECTS. Such were the Ebionites said to be, who were descended from Ebion the heretic, and the Nazarites who were formerly called Mineans. All these we condemn, while preaching the pure Gospel and teaching that believers are justified by the Spirit [The original manuscript has “Christ” instead of “Spirit”.] alone, and not by the law. A more detailed exposition of this matter will follow presently under the heading of justification.

    and this part is killing me:

    justified by the Spirit [The original manuscript has “Christ” instead of “Spirit”.]

    which one is correct or are they both right? justified by the spirit and Christ? or just by Christ or just by the spirit?

    • Seems to me, you must consider, what is the work of the Holy Spirit? Isn’t He always working in the hearts and minds of the elect, to convict of sin so we turn to the Saviour, to be our teacher in the Word, to comfort us in Christ, and to work sanctification in our lives. The Holy Spirit is always pointing us to the Saviour, who saves. But the Holy Spirit never directs us to Himself, but always to Christ. That is how the Holy Spirit can be said to justify us, by the Spirit working in us to reveal the Saviour, Jesus Christ, and faith in Him.

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