Chapter 24: On Christian Freedom
When we speak about freedom we generally make the mistake of asking what we are free from rather than what we are free for. Protestants are often very proud that the Reformation freed them from the Roman Catholic Church and its regulations, from its superstitions and from the authority of the Pope. All this is true, they must be answered, but what king or master do you now acknowledge? It is possible to get free from a false master only by accepting a good one; one is freed from superstition only by true faith, from the false law only by the true law. The man who has simply gotten "free" is without a master and therefore more deeply a slave. For there is no slavery comparable to the slavery of masterlessness. For then a man is slave to his own passions, or to that worst of all tyrants, the Ego, or as the Bible expresses it -- to sin. For Master-Ego and sin are exactly the same -- the sinful man is the man who recognizes no Lord but himself.
One can get free only by getting free from this Ego tyrant, sin. This liberation can occur only by the acceptance of God as our Lord. And we accept God as our Lord only by being saved through Christ from our sin. Freedom comes at no lesser price, one cannot underbid Jesus Christ.
"God saw with His eternal grace
My sorrow out of measure:
He thought upon His tenderness --
To save was His good pleasure.
He turned to me a Father's heart;
Not small the cost
To heal my smart:
He gave His best and dearest."
Luther knows what he is saying -- the cross of Jesus Christ is the price that had to be paid for our freedom. Not even God could "make it cheaper." Therefore the Apostle Paul says, "Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men." That is the freedom of a Christian man.
Paul always calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ. And in that servitude is his freedom. We are so created of God that we cannot be free, true men, happy, glad, strong manly men without Him -- only through Him. God created us for fellowship with Himself. Fellowship with God is, so to speak, the substance of human life. When we part with God and essay to stand on our own feet, we know our situation to be like that of the son in the parable who said to his father; "Father, give me my inheritance" -- then went into the far country and fell into misery. Without God we get into the far country and into misery. We waste that "human substance" which consists of fellowship with God and love. The redeeming work of Christ consists in bringing us, the lost, back home to the Father, and thus to liberty.
Only he who has become a "servant of Jesus Christ" is -- as Luther says -- a free Lord of all and subject to none, through the faith." He is free from worry -- "If God is for us who can be against us?" He is free from human authorities and Lords, from all legalistic service of the letter. Free from the guilt of sin, free from the fear of death -- for he has, through Christ, the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. He no longer needs to observe so and so many hundred laws like the pious Jew or Catholic, but only this one -- to remain by God his Father and Lord, bound by no other tie to this Lord and Father except the bond of childlike respect and grateful love. "Love God and do what you want!" was the way the great Augustine phrased it.
Just when one has become free by his reverence and love of God, and by his grateful faith in redemption through Jesus Christ, he is bound to men in a new way. So Luther adds a second statement to his first sentence: "A Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all and subject to every one through love." The slave of sin, slave of his own self is separated from men and wants to dominate them. He must seek his own. He is possessed by selfishness. But he who has been freed by Christ from this worst of all sicknesses and is placed in the love of God, is free from himself and free for others. The misery and the welfare of other men all at once become important for him. He sympathizes with them, rejoices with them, as though he were one with them. He would be ready to give all things, even his life for the sake of others. That is just the human element which now appears when the inhuman, the sinful has disappeared. He has become a true servant of man -- as Jesus was a servant of man. This freedom, the most glorious thing there is, begins at home. It grows the more we grow into communion with God: it subsides the more we separate ourselves from God. It is the fruit of faith alone. For faith is simply belonging wholly and completely to God. God desires to make us such glad free men through the Gospel.