Luther, Erasmus, and Weird Things Done With Grace

The next book on my pile is a book that’s been there a long time: The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. I haven’t read much of it, I’m still in the Introduction. The Introduction is long. I’m going to be reading this book for a long time!

Luther’s Bondage of the Will is him responding to the ideas of Erasmus, a theologian type who didn’t like stuffy theologians. Erasmus was more of a mystic than an academic. Luther represents academic theology. They liked each other but had disagreements about grace and free will.

The Introduction says:

Erasmus followed Jerome in interpreting the justification by works against which Paul writes as merely justification by outward ceremonial observance. Luther, believing that any kind of effort or any contribution man may attempt to make toward his own salvation is works-righteousness, and therefore under condemnation, preferred the thorough-going exegesis of Augustine, who magnifies the grace of God.

Let me just pause to let you know how much I’d like to puke now.

This is going to be a long book.

I’m no scholar on Erasmus, I imagine I will learn more about what he taught by reading this book. I am not defending him since I don’t know what he said.

I would like to point out the trend I’ve noted in my time in Christianity that is plainly evident in the above quote.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace.

That’s the underlying assumption of the quote. Therefore, the more you emphasize grace; the less you’ll emphasize human effort.

This is a handy way to promote sloth and laziness as spiritual virtue.

This has been my experience in the church. I’ve seen Grace-Happy people try to outdo one another in how little they do. Their complete absence of any virtuous effort proves how much they love God and His grace.

In fact, some even go so far as to say that sinning is better than doing good works. Sin requires grace; good works make grace unnecessary and lead to self-sufficient pride.

“Should we sin that grace may abound?” Paul asked. His answer was no. Much of Christianity’s answer has been, “Yeah, actually, that sounds reasonable.”

It is clearly true we are not saved by works. It is also equally clearly true that good works always come out of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 are always followed by an Ephesians 2:10.

“Faith without works is dead” is how James put it.

Luther wanted to throw the Book of James in the furnace.

Faith without obedience and works is not faith. It just isn’t. By faith people do what God says. If you don’t do what God says, then you’re not exercising faith.

The Bible is clear on this point.

People who like to sin muddy the clearness of the issue. We like to think that what we do doesn’t matter. God tells us what we do matters quite a bit; every judgment in the Bible is based on works. There are no exceptions.

But the popular belief in Christianity is that you doing stuff means you hate grace and are trying to merit your own salvation.

People need to read their Bibles more.

God provided the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means by which we can be saved. It’s the just way to justify the ungodly. We give ourselves to Him, to His grace, to save us, to deliver us from sin. One of the main reasons you come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be freed from sin. Upon receiving His grace and the new birth, becoming a partaker of the divine nature, you can now use all that God has given you to pursue Christlikeness and spiritual growth.

If there is no change in character, if righteousness doesn’t show up, then you didn’t get God’s grace. If there’s no new life, you’ve not become a servant of righteousness, there’s no sanctification and progress in faith, then grace didn’t show up.

You don’t prove you have God’s grace by how little you do; you prove you have God’s grace because you are able to do, and desire to do, what God says.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work
–2 Corinthians 9:8

6 thoughts on “Luther, Erasmus, and Weird Things Done With Grace”

  1. You’re fun! For *you* to be reading that book… I hope you will continue to comment about what you find there. I never could get through that book but have often heard it spoken of by both sides.

    The Bible as verses like Gen. 15:6 (And he believed in the Lord ; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
    Genesis 15:6 KJV) that seems to say that believing is a righteous act. I haven’t crosschecked the NT verses yet. Whatever it is, you’re a breath of fresh air to this ex-Lutheran! Rant on!

  2. People need to read their Bibles more

    And they need to believe their bibles instead of the teachings of man.
    And as the bible says – recording the teaching of Jesus Himself –

    whoever hears these sayings of Mine, AND DOES THEM, I will liken him to a WISE man who built his house on the rock…
    …everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and DOES NOT DO THEM, will be like a FOOLISH man who built his house on the sand</blockquote

    And as stated by James they need to be DOERs of the word and not hearers (readers) only.

    be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves

  3. oops, messed up the formatting of the quotes in my previous comment.

    The sentence starting “And as stated by James” should not have been included in the quoted section as it was my own comment and not a continuation of the quoted scripture.

  4. I hear ya. Yes, the Bible is abundantly clear that we’re hear to do stuff, primarily the stuff God says, which you’ll only know what He says by the hearing of faith, so doing what He says is proof you have faith and that His grace is operating in you.

    To prove you have His grace by the abundance of things you don’t do is sheer silliness. Not doing things is called being lazy, not relying on grace.

  5. You said:

    Ephesians 2:8-9 are always followed by an Ephesians 2:10.

    Yes! If only those “grace not works people” could learn to read past the proof texts they have been taught instead of merely parroting them.

    10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

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