What Would Luther Do?
In Martin Luther’s essay, “The Freedom of a Christian,” we read the following: “I believe that it has now become clear that it is not enough or in any sense ‘Christian’ to preach the works, life, and words of Christ as historical fact, as if the knowledge of these would suffice for the conduct of life.”
WWJD Is a Bad Question
Luther is claiming that asking “What Would Jesus Do?” is a bad question for your spiritual formation. Luther continues: “Yet, this is the fashion among those who today are regarded as our best preachers…and such teaching is childish and effeminate nonsense.” Luther’s 16th century words are still relevant today. Thankfully, Luther explains why he considers WWJD a bad question:
- There are some who have no understanding to hear the truth of liberty and insist upon their goodness as means for salvation. These people you must resist, do the very opposite, and offend them boldly lest by their impious views they drag many with them into error. For the sake of the liberty of the faith do other things which they regarded as the greatest of sins….Use your freedom constantly and consistently in the sight of and despite the tyrants and the stubborn so that they also may learn that they are impious, that their laws and works are of no avail for righteousness, and that they had no right to set them up.
Are You Offended by the Gospel?
Don’t get all excited because you now have a great theologian giving you a divine sanction on your favorite sins. Luther spends the rest of his essay talking about what it looks like to love God and your neighbor. He is no antinomian. But do get angry if you’re offended by the gospel. That can be a good thing because it points you to some good news—that the remedy for guilt and condemnation is NOT your better law-keeping or adherence to your well-polished moral sense, but faith in the law-keeping of Jesus. Because of Christ, you are already vindicated in the eyes of God. God’s riches of forgiveness and freedom from guilt, condemnation, and shame are offered not on the basis of working or measuring up. Rather, you have a right standing before God because of the righteousness of Christ. So, what would Luther do? In the face of suffocating religion and moralism, he would offend boldly and celebrate the liberty of faith for the sake of the gospel.