In the years I worked under Dr. C. John (Jack) Miller, he would often give strugglers the assignment to re-write Luther’s Introduction to Galatians in their own words. The original translation from German to English is long, wordy, and has historically irrelevant parts, but the material is invaluable. If Romans is Paul’s theology write large, than Galatians is that same theology write small. It is compact and addresses the real-life issues with the Judaizers. The Judaizers were leaders in many of the churches Paul started who had returned to a form of “works righteousness.” Some of your best, and loving friends may be no different. Their “wisdom” will blind you.
Bill Slack’s response to Jack Miller’s assignment was clear and concise and eventually made its way into the Sonship discipleship materials. I gladly share Slack’s work with the hope that it offers clear light in the on-going debate between legalism and grace.
Martin Luther’s Argument of the Epistle of St. Paul in the Galatians
Paraphrase in modern English by Bill Slack
Christian righteousness is the greatest righteous. God puts it on us without our lifting a finger. It’s not political or ceremonial. It doesn’t have to do with our obeying God’s law. It has nothing to do with what we do or how hard we work, but it is given to us and we do nothing for it. It’s “passive righteousness” because we don’t have to work for it. With this “free righteousness” we don’t do anything, we don’t give anything to God, but we receive and allow someone else to do it. That’s why we’ll call it “passive righteousness.”
This passive righteousness is a mystery that someone who doesn’t know Jesus can’t understand. As a matter of fact, Christians don’t completely understand it and don’t take advantage of it when they’re tempted. So we have to constantly teach it over and over again to other and repeat it to ourselves, because if we don’t understand it have it in our hearts, we will be defeated by our enemy, and we’ll be totally depressed. There is nothing that gives us peace like this “passive righteousness.”
When we see the Law, we see our sin. The evil in our lives comes to mind, it tears us apart, and we groan and think, “How bad I have been. My life is full of hate and evil. Please, God, let me live and I will fix up what I have done wrong.” Man is so evil that all he can see is what he should do to be righteous. He is so evil he cannot see what Christ has done for him to be righteous.
So the afflicted and troubled conscience has no cure for depression and death unless it takes hold of the forgiveness of sins by grace, offered free of charge in Jesus Christ, that is “Christian” or “passive” righteousness. When the person realizes this, he is at peace and can say “I am not going to work for my righteousness, even though I need to have it, and I need to be righteous. Because even if I could work up to righteousness, still I could not trust it to make me right at the judgment of God. So I throw away all my works, my tries at obeying God’s law, and firmly hold on to “passive righteousness,” that is the righteousness of grace, mercy and the forgiveness of sins. In short, I trust only in the righteousness that Christ and the Holy Spirit give me!
It is like this: the earth doesn’t produce rain, nor is it able by its own power or work to get it. The earth simply receives it as a gift of God from above. It is the same with “passive righteousness.” It is given to us by God without our deserving it or working for it. So let’s look at what the earth is able to do to get the rain each season so that it can be fruitful. And we will see how much we are able in our own strength and works to do to get heavenly and eternal righteousness. We see we will never be able to attain it unless God Himself, by the great gift of His Son, gives us Jesus’ perfect record, and gives us Jesus’ perfect righteousness.
So when I see a man that is bruised enough already, burdened by the Law, terrified with sin, and thirsting for relief, that is when in truth it is time to take the Law and “works” righteousness out of his sight and show him by the Gospel “passive” righteousness (Christian righteousness) which offers the promise of Christ without the Law, that Christ came for the hurting and for the sinners. The man is raised up and has good hope; he is no longer under the Law but covered by grace.
So do we do nothing? Don’t we do any work to obtain this righteousness? I answer, nothing at all, for this is perfect righteousness, “to do nothing,” but to know “ believe only this, that Christ is gone to the Father and not now seen. He sits at His Father’s right hand not as a judge but making us before God wise, righteous, holy, and redeemed; briefly, that He is our high Priest pleading for us and reigning over us and in us by grace.
But if there is any fear or our conscience is bothered, it is a sign that our “passive righteousness” is “withdrawn” – that is, grace is hidden from us, and Christ is darkened – out of our sight. But when we truly see Christ, we have full and perfect joy in the Lord with peace of mind, and we certainly know “Although I am a sinner by the Law and under condemnation of the Law, still I don’t despair, still I don’t die, because Christ lives, who is both my righteousness and my everlasting life.” I am indeed a sinner in this life of mine and in my own righteousness, as a child of Adam; where the Law accuses me; death controls me and eventually would destroy me. But I have another life, another righteousness, above this life which is in Christ, the Son of God, who knows no sin or death but is eternal righteousness and eternal life.
The flesh is accused, tempted, weighed down with sorrow, bruised by the “works” righteousness of the Law; but the Spirit reigns, rejoices and is saved by this “passive” and Christian righteousness.
Because of this St. Paul sets out diligently in this letter to teach us, to comfort us, and to keep us constantly aware of this Christian righteousness that is so great. For if the truth of our being justified by Christ alone is lost, and then all Christian truths are lost. For there is no middle ground between “passive” and “works” righteousness. The person who wanders away from “passive” righteousness has no other choice but “works” righteousness; that is to say “If he does not depend on the work of Christ, he must depend on his own work.”
So we must truthfully proclaim and continually repeat the truth of this “passive” or “Christian” righteousness so that Christians continue to hold to it and never confuse it with “works” righteousness. Otherwise we will never be able to understand God’s truth, because on this truth and only this truth the church is built and has its being.
“Wherefore I do admonish you, especially those who will become teachers and counselors, and each individual, that you practice this by study, by reading, by meditation of the Word, and by prayer, that when you are tempted you will be able to teach and comfort yourself and others, and bring them from the Law to grace, from “works” righteousness to “passive” righteousness and to conclude “from Moses to Christ.” For when we are in trouble or our conscience bothers us, the devil likes to lay on us the guilt of sin, our wicked past, the wrath and judgment of God and eternal death to drive us to desperation, make us slaves to him and pluck us from Christ. Furthermore, he wants to set against us the parts of the Gospel where Christ requires works from us and with plain words threatens damnation to us if we do not do them. Now, if we cannot see the differences between the two kinds of righteousness and we do not take hold of Christ by faith, sitting on the right hand of God (Hebrews 7:25) who pleads our case, sinners that we are, to the Father, then we are under the Law, not under grace, and Christ is no more a Savior, but a Lawgiver; so that now there is no salvation, but a definite despair, and everlasting death, unless we repent.
Give no more heed to the Law than what it deserves, and say to yourself, “You, Law, would climb up into my conscience and rule me and reprove me of sin and would take away my joy that I have by faith in Christ and drive me to despair that I would be without hope and perish. This you try to do without authority, keep yourself within your bounds, and use your influence on my flesh, but do not touch my conscience.”
When I have this righteousness reigning in my heart, I descend from heaven like rain making the earth fruitful, that is to say, I enter into a new kingdom and I do “good works” whenever and however I get the opportunity. To conclude, whoever is convicted that Christ is his only righteousness, doesn’t lonely do his work cheerfully, gladly and well, but also, if necessary, submits to all kinds of burdens and dangers in this life with love because he knows this is God’s will, and God is pleased by his obedience. This is what the letter of Galatians speaks of. Here Paul shows us this by addressing the presence of false teachers among the Galatians who had covered up this “passive” righteousness. He set himself against them and defends and commends his authority and office.