In 1520, Martin Luther wrote a treatise called The Freedom of a Christian. Luther sought to explain the freedoms and obligations of a Christian life. He set down two clear propositions concerning the freedom and bondage of the human spirit that has faith in Jesus Christ. The first proposition is about our freedom, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.” The second proposition is about our obligations, “A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
Free from all and subject to all is a contradiction that only makes sense by understanding the work of Jesus Christ. First consider how we become a righteous, free, and pious Christian. The righteousness and the freedom from sin our souls require comes to us as a free gift of Christ. The soul is not helped if our external bodies are adorned with sacred robes or if we abstain from certain kinds of food or do special works. The one thing, and the only thing, that is necessary for a Christian life, righteousness, and freedom is faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). The Christian who trusts in the good news of Christ has everything needed to be free from the unrighteousness of sin. Where the Word of God is missing, where Christ is absent, there is no help at all for that soul. We hold no debt to anyone that must be paid in order to be set free from sin, death, or the devil. Our debt has been paid in full through Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross.
The Word of God brings freedom to the soul burdened by sin and struggle. The yearns and sighs for hope are answered by the Holy Spirit present and active in the Word. When there is a drought or famine of the Word of God, the individual will find healing has become far away. If you are living without the Word of God, then you are starving your soul of the bread of life. The Christian needs neither laws nor good works to be justified. Faith trusts in the gift of Christ’s righteousness. The sufficiency of faith in Christ for salvation will be offensive to those who look to works to signal virtue and righteousness.
The Christian is subject to none and is subject to all. In terms of righteousness we owe no one. Our righteousness is freely given in Christ Jesus. So how does the Christian become a servant to all and made subject to all? The Christian that has been redeemed by the blood of Christ freely makes it his occupation to serve God joyfully with an unconstrained love. We do not serve another person in order to put that person in our debt. As our savior has loved us, so we will love others. We are set free from the opinions others will hold of us. No man’s opinion of me matters compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing I am loved by God.
We should boldly and purposefully resist those who would require good works of us to have a good opinion of us. Fight against the wolves that would attack your place in the sheepfold of Jesus Christ. Christ is your shepherd, and you know his voice. Do not let the voice of any wolf distract you from the call of the good shepherd. Use your freedom to care for the weak and to help the lost Do not to enrich yourself with the opinions of other people. Your good works are not done to gain credit in the eyes of anyone. Your credit rating is high enough with Christ on your side. You don’t need your good works. God doesn’t need your good works. Your neighbor will be helped by your good works. Do good and love others.
We are free from having to save ourselves, and with this freedom we look to the needs of others.