Martin Luther: Bondage of the Will, part 4


CAN GOD REWARD US IF WE ARE NOT FREE?

In the diatribe, Erasmus raises yet another common logical/emotional objection to Calvinism’s view of the Sovereignty of God.  The objection is that if God rewards and punishes the deeds that men do, and if all men’s deeds were foreordained by God, then God ultimately punishes/rewards based on His own works in us, and not based on our own free merit.

Luther addresses this objection in his work on the Bondage of the Will, Packer/Johnston edition, Chapter 1, around page 97. Luther doesn’t waste any ink philosophizing on this issue. According to Luther, if God does reward us for good deeds that are only possible if He works them through us and if this is clearly revealed in His Word, who are we not to teach and believe it? [and to thank Him for it!]

CASE IN POINT

For an example of what Luther is saying, consider, for example, the following from the Apostle Paul…

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Phil 2:12-13)

Who is command to work out their own salvation? You are! How are you to do this? By your innate good nature and fleshly willpower? No! Remember, it is God who works in you! He not only works in you, but he changes the will (both to will and do).  And He works in you to accomplish the purpose that is according His own good pleasure – not yours!

IS GOD FAIR?

Is it fair? Is it fair that God shows mercy to some? Is God just in His dealings? The Apostle Paul, the first Calvinist, addressed this very question in his letter to the Roman (of all people) Christians.

“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Rom 9:18-22)

IS GOD THE AUTHOR OF SIN?

Luther goes on to explain that apart from the grace of God, everything men do is, of necessity, evil (2 Tim 2:25-26). Luther notes that our evil is of necessity – i.e., it is based on our nature. It is not of compulsion – God does not force us against our will; we gladly sin, willingly and voluntarily. The will cannot change itself, it is based on the nature – the nature must be changed in order to change the will! When God works in us to do good, it is not by compulsion, rather, He changes the nature.

Man’s Nature -> Man’s Pleasure -> Man’s Will

MAN IS CULPABLE FOR SIN

Based on Luther’s argument, then, man is responsible for all his own evil actions, but God alone is due all the praise for anything good found in man.

ALL PRAISE TO GOD ALONE

Oh flesh-lover, do not glory in your goodness, remember the words of the Apostle Paul:

For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? (1 Cor 4:7)

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