“One thing, and one alone, is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty; and that is the most holy word of God, the Gospel of Christ, as he says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me shall not die eternally (Jn 11:25),’ and also, ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (Jn 8:36),’ and, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Mt 6:4).’” -Martin Luther On Christian Liberty
This chapter of the Wisdom Wednesday series on Martin Luther will hopefully clear up some issues that I have wrestled with. Growing up in a church that emphasized the “word” made me feel confused every time I heard it. No one ever explained what that loaded word meant, so I hope Luther will help unpack this for us.
“Word” has a dual meaning within this passage, it can mean the language recorded on the page and it can also mean the Word (Logos, a Greek term that has an eternal meaning to it), of God. Jesus was described in John as the Logos, the Word of God that was given to the world (see John 1).
Words have power
Words have power, they mean something. If you have ever been lied to, or have fallen victim to believing an elaborate tale (only to find out later it was false), you know how broken words can leave you crushed. But please hear, this word of God gives a promise, it promises that if you trust in Jesus, you will have life. If you take hold of God’s word and the offer that Jesus gives to each one of us, then you will be free.
While the word of God (Scripture) is quite an expansive collection of books, Luther would tell his readers that the word of God that we can especially cling to is in the promise of life through Jesus, the incarnate, suffering, risen, and glorified through the Spirit that sanctifies.
Through this Jesus (and the word/Scripture that testifies about him), salvation is brought to all who put their faith in him: For those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead, then they shall be saved (Romans 10:9).
Faith in God is what will bring salvation, it is not about how hard you try.
How refreshing is it that all we have to do is trust in another instead of working our butt off to earn something?
For Luther, holding on to the promise of God is all that we can do. It is also through this faith that we are free yet servants to all. Freedom rooted in faith leads to a life of service to others.
Have you ever had those moments where you were put on the spot and had to say something? Only, when you were in that tight place, you froze and said nothing. Or maybe you said the exact opposite of what needed to be said. Isn’t that an awkward feeling?
For me, I remember being asked a question about Jesus, and being in a large group it was a little unnerving. I choked, didn’t really say a whole lot and the conversation continued onto other things. To be honest, it plagued me for a bit of time and I felt like I turned on my faith.
Perhaps you’ve had a similar situation confront you. You might have said exactly what needed to be said, or maybe it went down a trail that was completely unexpected. But if you have ever been in a place of denying or choking in the moment, I have good news for you.
You are not defined by your denial.
We are told that Peter, days after the resurrection story in John, was fishing out on the sea. He and his crew were doing the same thing they’ve always done and caught zero fish. Then emerged some figure on the distant shore, and this figure yelled out at the group. Faintly hearing the man, the crew listened and tossed the nets onto the other side of the boat. They caught so many fish that the net could not even be dragged into the boat!
Now, what would you do in this situation?
We are told they realized that it was Jesus, the one who was brutally executed days before this. Somehow by the power of God, he was raised three days later in bodily form.
After hearing the command, and then seeing the large amount of fish, Peter jumped into action. Peter, hearing the voice of the rabbi he followed for years, couldn’t wait for the ship to make its way to the shore. Instead, he dove into the sea, racing towards the shore.
I imagine a scene where Peter emerges from the sea dripping wet, and the other men sailing not too far behind. Then Jesus punches Peter in the face.
Oh wait, he didn’t do that. Oops.
Jesus didn’t react how I would have. No, Jesus called them into a private meal, he called them to share breakfast with him. It is here, in this scene on the beach, that Jesus spoke directly to Peter. He confronted him about the denial, but notice it’s not in this brutally condemning manner. He is telling him, “Peter, your past denials do not define you.”
Jesus did not forget the denials, he didn’t whitewash them. No, instead, he did not allow those to be the frame of reference for Peter’s life. Jesus is reconstituting Peter into a different story, one where he was a brave leader in the Early Church. One where he faithfully followed Christ, even if the result was being crucified upside-down. Simon Peter did not lose the chance to live up to the meaning of his name, and be the rock that we see in Acts.
For us, dear reader, we are not defined by our past. We are brought into the story of faith, the story of the Kingdom of God.
You are not defined by your failures or denials. No, you are defined by the Risen Lord and who he says you are. If you are in Christ, then you are a child of God, and you are not defined by your past, you are defined by the righteousness of Christ.
How do you cling to this new reality- this new story?