Thursday, August 13, 2009

Luther's Lapse

“…[699]…And why is it necessary to review one by one all the passages cited from Paul, a collection only of IMPERATIVE and CONDITIONAL passages, in which Paul exhorts Christians to the fruits of faith? The Diatribe by its appended conclusion proceeds to envisage a free will whose power is so great that it can do without grace all things Paul prescribes in his exhortations. Christians, however, are not LED BY A FREE WILL, but are DRIVEN BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD, as Romans 8,14 tells us. To be driven is NOT to act or do oneself. But WE ARE SO SEIZED AS A SAW OR AN AX IS HANDLED BY A CARPENTER” (Martin Luther, “Erasmus & Luther: Discourse On Free Will,” translated and edited by Ernst F. Winter. London & New York: Continuum, 2006, page 109).

I decided to spend the last two days reading a lighter book than most I’ve read this summer (although it isn’t light and contains a major theological debate). My appetite for “lighter” reading led me to read “Erasmus & Luther: Discourse On Free Will.” The book itself is a short summation of the works of both men, Erasmus’ work “The Free Will” and Luther’s work “The Bondage of the Will.” The discourse is only 120 pages, so I recommend buying the works of both men to see who truly wins the debate.

Nonetheless, as always, there is good material for the blog. Today’s concerns Luther’s statement above regarding free will. Luther sets out in the discourse as well as his book to prove that free will does not exist. In the discourse, however, he gives his “best shot” at so doing. In the quote above, notice that he uses Romans 8:14 to say “we are so seized as a saw or an ax is handled by a carpenter.”

I’d have to say at this point, however, that Luther creates his own lapse: for, taking into account the context of Romans 8:14, Erasmus’ stance is most correct.

Let’s look at Romans 8:14—

14 All those led by God's Spirit (V) are God's sons. (Rom. 8:14, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Luther says here that the word “led” means “to drive.” So to him, the verse should read, “All those DRIVEN by God’s Spirit are God’s sons.” I did some background on the Greek word “agontai” (lead), and Luther is correct in his translation; however, he is WRONG in his use of this verse: for Luther, being a supposed “Professor Biblical Exegesis” at the University of Wittenberg, should have seen his own lapse ahead of time and prevented it.

Romans 8:14 talks about being DRIVEN by the Spirit, but it does so in a context that STRESSES the actions of believers:

12 So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, (U) you will live. 14 All those led by God's Spirit (V) are God's sons. (Romans 8:12-14, HCSB)

Before talking about being led by the Spirit, Paul compares the two types of walks—to walk by the flesh, or to walk by the Spirit. Paul’s warning was stern, but true: “If you live according to the flesh, YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, YOU WILL LIVE.” This shows us, then, that how we live determines in the end where our destination will be.

Those who are “driven by the Spirit” are not those who are just pulled and dragged along, as a saw or an ax; instead, those who are driven by the Spirit are those who YIELD to the Spirit, who, of their own volition, WILL to follow God.

We see the emphasis on God’s sons in Hebrews as well:

5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons:
My son, do not take the Lord's discipline lightly,
or faint when you are reproved by Him;
6 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
and punishes every son whom He receives. (E) (F)
7 Endure it as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline—which all [d] receive [e] —then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (G) 9 Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn't we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? (H) 10 For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. (I) 11 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace (J) and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11, HCSB)

Look at verse 8: “But if you are WITHOUT DISCIPLINE—WHICH ALL RECEIVE—then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” This verse tells us that ALL of God’s children receive discipline (“which all receive”). However, not all submit to it. This is why the writer exhorts the Hebrew believers, “Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. SHOULDN’T WE SUBMIT EVEN MORE TO THE FATHER OF SPIRITS AND LIVE?” So accepting the chastening of the Lord is to “submit” to the Lord’s discipline. Those who REFUSE TO SUBMIT, while receiving discipline as sons, will be counted as “illegitimate children” and not sons. The unfortunate thing about this is that those who do not submit to the Lord’s chastening will not be counted as legitimate children—and, as a result, they will not receive the inheritance promised to them.

So living, as in the context of Hebrews 12:9 and Romans 8:14, involves submitting to the Lord’s work in our lives via the Holy Spirit. The Lord only drives those who want to be driven…

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