When Bondage Meets Freedom
On the Freedom of a Christian
“So the Christian who is consecrated by faith does good works, but the works do not make him holier or more Christian, for that is the work of faith alone. And if a man were not first a believer and a Christian, all his works would amount to nothing and would be truly wicked and damnable sins.” – Martin Luther 
“On the Freedom of a Christian” is, perhaps, my favorite work by Martin Luther. I like it just as much asLuther’s “The Bondage of the Will.” The only reason I like it better is for the accessibility and brevity of the piece. And though “The Bondage of the Will” has so many favorite themes such as the hidden and preached God as well as the hidden and revealed will of God, and though their titles would suggest dealing with completely different topics, the truth is, they really hammer home the same points and thus reach right into the heart of the Gospel.
Bondage and freedom are regarded as opposites of each other for good reason. But it should be noted here that when Luther writes “On the Freedom of a Christian” he only sees the Christian as truly being free. It is the Christian that is liberated from bondage to sin, death and the devil through faith in Christ who has broken the bonds of death. (Psalm 107:14) Or as Luther says it in The Small Catechism, “he has purchased and won us from all sin, death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death that we may be his own and live under him and serve him in everlasting innocence, righteousness and blessedness…”. As Christians we serve Christ only because He has made us free.
Yet the word begs the question, free from what? The answer is shocking. We have been freed from theLaw—yes from God’s Law. “It is clear, then, that a Christian has all that he needs in faith and needs no works to justify him; and if he has no need of works, he has no need of the law, and if he has no need of the law, surely he is free from the law. It is true that “the law is not laid down for the just” (1 Tim 1:9).”(p. 58) It is only in being freed from the Law that then a person can serve God in everlasting innocence, righteousness and blessedness.
Any work that is coerced by the Law, any obedience to the Law that comes as a result of the Law’s threat, is a damnable sin—it is done in service not to God but to sin, death and the devil. Such a work isa rejection of Christ’s death on the cross, and thus a breaking of the First Commandment. For it is Christ who has led us out from our spiritual Egypt of bondage in which we were ruled over by the Law.“Therefore faith alone is the righteousness of a Christian and the fulfilling of all the commandments, for he who fulfils the First Commandment has no difficulty in fulfilling the rest.”(pg. 62)
Purchased and Freed
So we come to the nature of bondage. Slaves don’t get credit for their work. Herod the Great is given credit for building Masada, and Caesarea. Slaves did the work. And who the work is being done for is the real question when it comes to whether or not the work is good. The same work can be good or bad depending on who it is done for. So it is that if our master is sin, death and the devil, even those works that the world would view as good are done in the service of a despot. They are evil, done in the name of evil, and sin will reward the service with death. This is the bondage we are born into when we are born in sin, and as children of wrath.
So it is that in order for the work to be good it must be done for a good Lord, a good Master. And a goodLord, a good Master… well there is only One Who is good. God alone is good (Mark 10:18). So it is, He
purchased us from sin, death and the devil because He is good and does not delight in the death of anyone. He bought you. You did not buy Him. But in purchasing you He freed you. He will not rule over you as the slave masters of Egypt with the whips and chains of threat and coercion. The Son has set you free, you are free indeed. Now the law can no longer condemn you. And only when the law can no longer condemn you can you freely work in love rather than fear so that it is in service to God rather than death. So bondage meets freedom, and God becomes our Master through Christ who we can’t help but serve because we have been set free.
Martin Luther’s book is a short one. It is accessible even to college students irresponsibly celebrating freedom. That is when I first read it. One of those books Dr. Rosenbladt would assign for a class he never required you to attend. It cut to the soul of the Reformer’s work. It opened our eyes. It gave us theGospel and set us free. I don’t consciously read it every year like I do my Bible, but very few years have gone by since in which I haven’t opened it.
 “On the Freedom of a Christian”, Martin Luther Selections From His Writings, John Dillenberger Ed.(Anchor Books, New York, 1962) pg. 69
Rev. Bror Erickson serves as pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Farmington, New Mexico. He graduated from Concordia University Irvine in 2000 where he studied apologetics under Dr. Rosenbladt, and Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 2004. He likes to translate the works of Bo Giertz and Hermann Sasse. He also enjoys writing reviews for Amazon.com and critiquing modern culture with the Gospel.
Bo Giertz wrote this book drawing upon the exegetical insights that he received from his mentor Anton Fridrichsen before, during and after his trip to Palestine in the early 1930's. The book is a third-person retelling of the Gospels that brings into account various Old Testament references and the contemporary interpretations of those passages by the Jews of Jesus' day as well as contemporary events throughout the Roman Empire,