* Taken from Commentary on Galatians, © Copyright 1979, by Martin Luther, 84-87. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
“For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.”
It is necessary that we be well instructed to understand the difference between the righteousness of the law and grace. The righteousness of grace doth in nowise pertain to the flesh. For the flesh may not be at liberty, but must remain in the grave, the prison, the couch: it must be in subjection to the law. But the Christian conscience must be dead to the law, that is, free from the law, and must have nothing at all to do with it.
But this seemeth a strange and wonderful definition, that to live to the law, is to die to God: and to die to the law, is to live to God. These propositions are clean contrary to reason, and therefore no crafty sophister1 can understand them.
Now to live unto God, is to be justified by grace, or by faith for Christ’s sake, without the works of the law.
This then is the proper and true definition of a Christian: that he is the Child of grace and remission of sins, because he is under no law, but is above the law, sin, death, and hell. And even as Christ is free from the grave, and Peter from the prison, so is a Christian free from the law; the conscience by grace is delivered from the law. So is everyone that is born of the spirit. But the flesh knoweth not from whence this cometh, nor whither it goeth, for it cannot judge but after the law.
On the contrary the spirit saith: let the law accuse me, let sin and death terrify me never so much, yet I do not therefore despair: for I have the law against the law, sin against sin, and death against death. In like manner I find death in my flesh, which afflicteth me and killeth me: but I have in me a contrary death, which is the death of death: for this death crucifieth and swalloweth up my death. But we must receive the benefit of Christ with a sure faith: for nothing is required of us but faith alone, whereby we apprehend Christ, and believe that our sins and our death are condemned and abolished in the death of Christ.
This the blind sophisters do not understand, and therefore they dream that faith justifieth not, except it do the works of charity. But let us now set apart the law and charity until another time, and let us rest upon the principal point of this present matter: which is this, that Jesus Christ the Son of God died upon the cross, did bear in His body my sins, the law, death, the devil and hell. These invincible enemies and tyrants do oppress, vex, and trouble me, and therefore I am careful how I may be delivered out of their hands, be justified and saved. Here I find neither law, work, nor charity, which is able to deliver me. There is none but the Lord Jesus only and alone, which taketh away the law, killeth and destroyeth my death in His body, and by this means spoileth hell, judgeth and crucifieth the devil, and throweth him down into hell. To be brief, all the enemies which did before torment and oppress me, Christ Jesus hath brought to nought: He hath spoiled them, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them by His cross (), in such sort that they can now rule and reign no more over me, but are constrained to obey me.
By this we may plainly see that there is nothing here for us to do, only it belongeth unto us, to hear that these things have been wrought and done in this sort, and by faith to apprehend the same. Now when I have thus apprehended Christ by faith, and through Him am dead to the law, justified from sin, delivered from death, the devil and hell, then I do good works, I love God, I give thanks to Him, I exercise charity towards my neighbours. But this charity or works following, do neither form nor adorn my faith, but my faith formeth and adorneth charity. This is our divinity, which seemed strange and marvellous, or rather, foolish to carnal reason: to wit, that I am not only blind and deaf to the law, yea, delivered and freed from the law, but also wholly dead unto the same.
Christ, with most sweet names, is called my law, my sin, my death, against the law, sin and death: whereas, in very deed He is nothing else but mere liberty, righteousness, life, and everlasting salvation. And for this cause He is made the law of the law, the sin of sin, the death of death, that He might redeem from the curse of the law, justify me, and quicken me. So then, while Christ is the law, He is also liberty: while He is sin (for “He was made sin for us”), He is righteousness: and while He is death, He is life. For in that He suffered the law to accuse Him, sin to condemn Him, and death to devour Him, He abolished the law, He condemned sin, He destroyed death, He justified and saved me. So Christ is the poison of the law, sin, and death, and the remedy for the obtaining of liberty, righteousness, and everlasting life.
Thus Paul goeth about to draw us wholly from the beholding of the law, sin, death, and all other evils, and to bring us unto Christ, that there we might behold this joyful conflict: to wit the law fighting against the law, that it may be to me liberty: sin against sin, that it may be to me righteousness: death against death, that I may obtain life: Christ fighting against the devil, that I may be the child of God: and destroying hell that I may enjoy the Kingdom of heaven.
1 Sophister: An old term for sophist—a thinker, philosopher; or a fallacious reasoner, likely its sense here.