“The Chief Things Which Concern a Christian”

Martin Luther’s series of Invocavit sermons has an extremely metal beginning:

The summons of death comes to us all, and no one can die for another. Every one must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone. We can shout into another’s ears, but every one must himself be prepared for the time of death, for I will not be with you then, nor you with me. Therefore every one must himself know and be armed with the chief things which concern a Christian. And these are what you, my beloved, have heard from me many days ago.

He then goes on to list what these “chief things” are. They take us from sin (Law) to forgiveness (Gospel) to faith, love, and patience.

So, first, we are dead in sin and deserving of God’s wrath: “In the first place, we must know that we are the children of wrath, and all our works, intentions, and thoughts are nothing at all.”

Next, God has given us a remedy: “Secondly, that God has sent us his only-begotten Son that we may believe in him and that whoever trusts in him shall be free from sin and a child of God, as John declares in his first chapter, “To all who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” [John 1:12].” Faith makes children of God from children of wrath.

Third, God saves us from sin for love: “Thirdly, we must also have love and through love we must do to one another as God has done to us through faith. For without love faith is nothing, as St. Paul says (I Cor. 2 [13:1]): If I had the tongues of angels and could speak of the highest things in faith, and have not love, I am nothing.”

Luther continues by noting that it is not enough “to repeat the doctrines and formulas”:

Here let us beware lest Wittenberg become Capernaum [cf. Matt. 11:23]. I notice that you have a great deal to say of the doctrine of faith and love which is preached to you, and this is no wonder; an ass can almost intone the lessons, and why should you not be able to repeat the doctrines and formulas? Dear friends, the kingdom of God,—and we
are that kingdom—does not consist in talk or words [I Cor. 4:20], but in activity, in deeds, in works and exercises. God does not want hearers and repeaters of words [Jas. 1:22], but followers and doers, and this occurs in faith through love. For a faith without love is not enough—rather it is not faith at all, but a counterfeit of faith, just as a face seen in a mirror is not a real face, but merely the reflection of a face [I Cor. 13:12].

This is quite a statement from a man who wAnTeD tO rEmOvE JaMeS fRoM tHe BiBlE!–not least because he is using James to make his point.

Finally, the Christian needs patience under affliction:

Fourthly, we also need patience. For whoever has faith, trusts in God, and shows love to his neighbor, practicing it day by day, must needs suffer persecution. For the devil never sleeps, but constantly gives him plenty of trouble….Thus faith, by much affliction and persecution, ever increases, and is strengthened day by day. A
heart thus blessed with virtues can never rest or restrain itself, but rather pours itself out again for the benefit and service of the brethren, just as God has done to it.

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