Posted by: duncandrews | July 5, 2011

Luther on serving God purely for nothing

I’m reading a bit of Luther at the moment, for an essay on his ethics. There’s something about Luther I really like – he seems so alive, and passionate, and not paralysed into inaction by fear of making mistakes.

Anyway, I came across this yesterday, and thought I’d share it. I think he’s on to something significant regarding ethics. He pictures the Christian’s relationship to God, not primarily in terms of commands and regulations, but in terms of faith, of a deep confidence that God is pleased with you. He gives this analogy:

When a man and a woman love and are pleased with each other, and thoroughly believe in their love, who teaches them how they are to behave, what they are to do, leave undone, say, not say, think? Confidence alone teaches them all this, and more. They make no difference in works: they do the great, the long, the much, as gladly as the small, the short, the little, and vice versa; and that too with joyful, peaceful, confident hearts, and each is a free companion of the other. But where there is a doubt, search is made for what is best; then a distinction of works is imagined whereby a man may win favor; and yet he goes about it with a heavy heart, and great disrelish; he is, as it were, taken captive, more than half in despair, and often makes a fool of himself.

So a Christian who lives in this confidence toward God, knows all things, can do all things, undertakes all things that are to be done, and does everything cheerfully and freely; not that he may gather many merits and good works, but because it is a pleasure for him to please God thereby, and he serves God purely for nothing, content that his service pleases God.

– Luther, Treatise on Good Works

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