Luther’s Doctrine Of Justification By Faith Alone Essay Example
Studying the major turning points in religion is an important aspect of religious studies. And one of the most prominent turning points in that history is the religious revolution that was apparently sparked and started by the ideas and teachings of Martin Luther, a German born expert in theology, a friar, and a priest. Among his most famous works is the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. The objective of this paper is to discuss this doctrine in general, what it means, how a person such as Martin Luther arrived at writing its core principles and its implications on the succeeding Christian works.
Martin Luther is one of the prominent men in the history of religion, particularly that of Christianity mainly because he is one of the pioneers of Christianity which later on became known as the Protestant Reformation. Through his works in the field of religious studies, he managed to spark a revolution in religion. He was born in Germany. When he grew up, he became a friar, a priest, and a prominent professor of theology not only in Germany but also in other countries.
One of the most important points in his life was when he started his life in the religious sect as an Augustinian friar spreading the core teachings and principles of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the oldest surviving religions in human history. After a couple of years of practice, he started to reject, although internally at first, the very teachings that he was supposed to spread. As time passed, he thought that he was getting more and more enlightened; and as he got more and more enlightened the more he resented and rejected the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings and the core principles that have made it one of the oldest surviving religions in human history. Throughout his lifetime, however, he did not simply reject some of the oldest teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; he also worked hard to dispute them and eventually make the people believe that they have been under the spell of lies for only God knows how long.
A good example of a traditional Roman Catholic teaching that he openly disputed was the claim that freedom from God’s punishment as a result of one’s sins can be paid for or purchased using money. In an effort to refute this allegedly false teaching, he wrote his work entitled the Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, as a form of confrontation, albeit in the form of writing, against an indulgence salesman named Johann Tetzel, who was then a Dominican friar . Indulgences has been described based on the teaching of the catholic church as “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints” . So practically, indulgences are sin cleansers that people buy in exchange for money, in an effort to clear their sins and keep themselves from being punished by God.
According to Luther’s works against the traditional beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the controversial points and moral and ethical hazards of the Roman Catholic Church’s strong belief on the validity and effectiveness of indulgences is the fact that only those who have the financial capability to buy or pay for indulgences would be cleared of their sins and manage to escape God’s punishment; and only the poor would be the ones who would suffer from their sins, since it has been long established that all people, the rich and poor ones alike, commit sins. And so if this teaching is to be followed, there seems to be an obvious disparity between the religious privileges that the people belonging to the higher social strata and that of the people belonging to the lower ones. This is just one of the examples of the traditional Roman Catholic Church teachings that have been openly and decisively refuted by Martin Luther.
However, all those refutation and open criticism of the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings pale in comparison to the impact of one doctrine introduced and popularized by Martin Luther, the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. In terms of the impact made in the field of religious studies, it may be safe to say that the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is Martin Luther’s masterpiece, his legacy if one will. In this work of his, mentioned that “yes, faith alone suffices for salvation, I need nothing except faith” .
In order for readers to fully understand what the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone suggests, it would be important to explain what the term “justification” means within the context of theology and or religious studies first. Basically, justification pertains to the divine acts of God to remove a person’s guilt and penalty, often of his sins, and at the same time, declaring him, despite being a sinner, righteous through Christ’s blood and sacrifices. It is also important to note that between traditional Roman Catholic teachings and that of Protestants and Orthodox Christians, the operational definition of the term justification may vary. In the case of Roman Catholicism, for example, as what was discussed earlier, buying of indulgences is one of the many ways or methods how a person can be forgiven or justified of his sins.
But then again, as what history would suggest, Martin Luther together with the Protestants and orthodox Christians who would later join in and accept the revolutionized beliefs that he pioneered openly rejected this method, buying of indulgences cannot be considered as a mechanism of justification because doing so is nothing but a work of man. For Martin Luther, justification is and must therefore be the work of God and that it is against God’s teaching to consider the work of God to be similar to the work of man.
Luther also explained in his work how righteousness cannot come from a man or any activity or process conducted and or executed by a man because it must come entirely from the outside and not from one’s self; that righteousness specifically must come from Christ imputed to a person rather than infused into a person. According to Luther, one way how righteousness can be imputed to a person is to have faith and that is in fact, why faith alone can make someone just and how it can fulfill the law—that is without having to pay for a certain price, which can often be expensive as in the case of the process of buying indulgences.
Another important point that Luther pointed out in his work on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone suggests that righteousness comes from God via the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit is what, in fact, cleanses a person and makes him just, free of sins as a result of the forgiveness that has been offered by God, and not liable of any punishments that would have otherwise been sentenced had the person failed to consider going through the process of justification. Unfortunately, there is no other way how an individual can receive the Holy Spirit but to believe in God. To believe in God is to have faith in God and this, although it was not implied directly in Martin Luther’s work, can be considered as one of the reasons why an individual can be justified and freed from the liabilities and being punished as a result of his sons based on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone.
This leads to the next question on what is the source of faith or where exactly faith comes from. Martin Luther argued in his work that faith is a gift from god. But what exactly makes a person faithful? A faithful person, as explained by Luther in his work on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is a person who has a living and bold trust in God and God’s grace; one that is certain of His favor, so certain that he would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.
One of the primary targets of Luther’s work on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone can be considered as one of his attacks on the traditional teachings of the Roman Catholic Church particularly on penance and righteousness. This, the author of this paper believes, is a result of his realization that the Roman Catholic Church, which was also the largest religion at that time, has lost sight of what being a believer of Christ and thus Christianity really meant, to the point that some of the central truths that characterize the religion has already been lost.
One of the starting points for Luther was to prove that in order for a person to be justified, he need not pay for certain fees just to buy indulgences because regardless how large a sum of money one pays for an indulgence, that would have no effect on that person’s sins and his responsibility to be punished for such sins because justification can be obtained by having faith on God alone.
Luther later on decided to expand on his teachings in an effort to enlighten more people about the loss of the ability of the Roman Catholic Church to guide the people towards the path of the central truths of Christianity. After successfully convincing people about the invalidity of indulgences as a means of obtaining justification for one’s sins, Luther later on argued that having Faith in God not only leads to justification but also to salvation. Luther argued that salvation, just like faith, is a precious gift of God, and a result of God’s grace.
In his Smalcald Articles, he explained justification by suggesting that “the first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God, and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification; that He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all; all have sinned and are justified freely without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in his blood” .
The keyword in this short passage from Martin Luther’s work specifically the Smalcald Articles was the part where he said that He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; and the terms without their (man) own works and merits but only by God’s grace. This only meant that only God has the ability and the prerogative to justify a person and free him of his sins; that no human merit, work, or activity, can ever merit God’s grace which can be seen as an indirect attack on the sale of indulgences and other man-made means of obtaining justification which the Roman Catholic Church especially during Martin Luther’s time were heavily promoting.
One of the most significant implications of Luther’s work on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone on Christian works is that it laid the foundations for the revolutionized version of Christianity, which we now call Orthodox Christianity and Protestantism among other religious groups and or sects that have been established as a result of the revolutionary and reinforced ideas on real Christianity that Luther worked heavily for. It also enlightened a lot of people about the shortcomings of the Roman Catholic Church especially when it comes to issues related to salvation and justification; that the traditional Roman Catholic Church teachings were not particularly perfect as evidenced by the erroneous teachings on salvation and justification.
Cross, F. "The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church." Oxford University Press (2005).
Edwards, J. "Justification by Faith Alone." Prisbrary (2013).
Luther, M. "The Smalcald Articles in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions." Concordia Publishing House (2005).
McGrath, A. "A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification ." Cambridge University Press (2005).
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