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Monday, October 9, 2017

“Martin Luther: The Freedom of the Christian”

Romans 8:1-8

A central theme that Martin Luther encountered in Paul’s letters was freedom. At one point Luther wrote to the pope in an effort to explain his position. He titled his treatise, “The Freedom of the Christian.”  In this eighth chapter of Romans freedom is a key concept.  Paul mentions it several times.  In this opening section Paul is talking about three kinds of freedom.

The first kind is freedom from condemnation. In Christ we are free from judgment not because we haven’t sinned but because Christ in his death on the cross has covered all our sin, past, present and future.  Second, we have been set free from the demands of the law.  Paul calls this “the law of sin and death.”  The law of Christ is not a set of requirements.  Rather it is Christ’s model of love which cannot be reduced to a formula (Rom. 13:8-10).  Finally, we are free from the “flesh.”  What does Paul mean by this?

The flesh for Paul is not a biological description of mortality. Flesh is rather a principle, a way of life. The first thing it represents is our effort to please God in our own strength. This for Paul is an example of walking “in the flesh.” Setting our minds on the flesh is focusing on ourselves, our own abilities. This however leads to either illusion or despair.  Speaking of himself, Paul says, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18).  This brings us to a second meaning of the flesh where Paul speaks of the “works of the flesh”. For Paul, these are obvious.  We do not need the law to identify them. They include sexual immorality, idolatry, witchcraft as well as such mundane examples as enmity, factions, strife, jealousy, anger and quarrels (Gal. 5:19-21).  Paul is telling us that in Christ we are free from the domination of such things which was never the case under the law.

Paul talks about setting our minds on the Spirit. The more we focus on Christ, the more Christ lives within us as we saw yesterday (Gal. 2:19-20). Focusing on Christ is what it means to walk according to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit testifies to Christ (I Cor. 12:3).  We can’t escape the desires of the flesh but we can be free from gratifying them (Rom. 13:14). We then have this dual freedom. We are free from condemnation but we are also free from being dominated by our sinful nature.  Freedom for Paul leads to “life and peace.” For Luther this was the heart of the gospel message.

I thank you Lord for the freedom I have in Christ.  May I exercise that freedom by depending more and more on you.  Give me the grace to walk in your Spirit.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.