The Father William Most Collection
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
At the opening of Galatians, Paul pronounces a curse on an angel who would bring another Gospel. Many Protestants say that means: Cursed be anyone who says we need to obey to be saved.
But we must not neglect the context: Paul is dealing with the Judaizers who said circumcision and the law of Moses were needed for salvation. The Council of Jerusalem in 49 (cf. Acts 15) decided that is not required.
This did not mean that we are not required to obey anything. It merely means that although we must not disobey, our obedience does not earn salvation. Paul says in Romans 6.23: "The wages [what you earn] of sin is death - the free gift of God [what you do not earn] is eternal life." In 1 Cor 6.9-10 Paul gives a list of the chief sins and sinners and says those who commit such sins "will not inherit the kingdom". He does the same in Galatians 5.16-25 where he gives two lists, the works of the flesh, the fruits of the Spirit. If we do the works of the flesh we will die we, "will not inherit the kingdom". That word inherit is important. When we inherit from our parents, we do not say we earned what we get. We get it because the parents were good, not that we earned it. Yet we know we could have earned to lose it by being bad too long. So Jesus also said: "Unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom." Children know they do not earn the love and care they get - they know they could earn punishment.
In Romans 1:5, Paul speak of the "obedience of faith" that is, the obedience that faith is. A standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplement, p.333 describes Pauline faith as including belief, confidence, obedience and love. It says of
Romans 1.5 what we have just said: "the obedience that faith is."
In contrast, Luther said if we have faith, we need not obey. Luther in a letter to Melanchthon of August 1,1521 (Luther's Works, American Edition, 48.281-82) wrote: "If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly... as long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin.... No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day."
What a monstrous error! Faith includes obedience, as Paul said in Romans 1.5, 1 Cor 6.9-10, and Gal 5.16-25.and as the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Yet Luther said if you have faith, you need not obey at all.
In passing, what would become of the Holiness of God, that quality which loves all that is right and good.
Tragically, most Lutherans have no notion of what Luther really taught. He himself said his chief work was Bondage of the Will (tr. James J. Packer and O. R. Johnston, F. H. Revell Co., Old Tappan, NJ, 1957 - a Lutheran translation). On p. 273 he flatly denies that we have free will. So then: why talk of obeying? On pp.103-04 he says our will is like a beast, and either God or satan will ride it, so that we do good or evil, and then go to heaven or hell. But we have nothing to say about which rider we get. Yet on p.101, God "saves so few and damns so many" even though they have nothing to say about it. Those who go to hell are (p. 314) "undeserving".--that would not be a god, but a monster. Why then talk about obedience?