Reading the Bible with Dead Guys: Martin Luther on Galatians 5:1

This article is part of the Reading the Bible with Dead Guys series.

Reading the Bible With Dead Guys is a weekly blog series giving you the chance to read God’s Word alongside some great theologians from church history. With content adapted from the Crossway Classic Commentaries series, these posts feature reflections on Scripture by giants of the faith like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, and more.

Today we’ll hear from Martin Luther (1483-1546) on Galatians 5:1.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” - Galatians 5:1

Freedom. What freedom? Not the freedom given us by the emperor, but that with which Christ has made us free—freedom from God’s everlasting wrath. And where is this done? In the conscience. Our freedom stays there and goes no further, for Christ has made us free, not civilly, not physically, but divinely; that is to say, we are made free in such a way that our conscience is free and quiet, not fearing God’s future wrath. This is true and inestimable freedom, and if we compare its majesty with the other sorts, those others are like one drop of water compared with the whole sea. Who can describe our state when we are assured in our heart that God neither is nor will be angry with us, but will forever be a merciful and loving Father to us for Christ’s sake.

Who can describe our state when we are assured in our heart that God neither is nor will be angry with us, but will forever be a merciful and loving Father to us for Christ’s sake.

It is indeed a wonderful freedom to have the most high and sovereign majesty so favorable to us. He not only defends, maintains, and helps us in this life, but also will so deliver us that our bodies that are sown in corruption, dishonor, and weakness will rise again in incorruption, glory, and power (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). This is greater than heaven and earth and all creation.

Another freedom follows upon this whereby, through Christ, we are set free from the law, sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, and so on. As the wrath of God cannot frighten us, since Christ has delivered us from it, so the law, sin, and death cannot accuse and condemn us. And even if the law accuses us, and sin frightens us, they cannot drive us to despair; for faith, which overcomes the world, says, “These things have nothing to do with me; Christ has set me free and delivered me from them all.” Similarly, death, which is the mightiest and most dreadful thing in all the world, is utterly vanquished in the conscience by the freedom of the Spirit. It is easy to say this, but in time of temptation it is a far harder matter than we can say to apply it to ourselves and to feel the excellency of this freedom and its fruit.

Therefore, our conscience must be instructed and prepared beforehand, so that when we feel the accusation of the law, the terrors of sin, the horror of death, and the wrath of God we may remove these dire sights and fearful ideas from our minds and replace them with the freedom purchased by Christ, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, life, and the everlasting mercy of God. Although the contrary feeling may be very strong, we must assure ourselves that it will not last long (Isaiah 54:8). But this is very hard to do. Therefore, it is easier to speak of the freedom that Christ has purchased for us than it is to believe it. If we could apprehend it with a sure and steadfast faith, then no rage or terror of the world, the law, sin, death, or the devil could be so great that it could not be swallowed up, just as a little drop of water is swallowed up in the sea. This Christian freedom swallows up at once and completely removes the whole heap of evils, the law, sin, death, God’s wrath, and the snake himself, with his head and whole power, and replaces it with righteousness, peace, and everlasting life. Blessed is anyone who understands and believes (Luke 11:28).


Martin Luther

Luther's commentary on Galatians is considered among the finest of all time. Abridged and stylistically adapted for today's readers his astounding work is part of the Crossway Classic Commentaries.

Jesus Christ has purchased this freedom with his own blood, in order to deliver us, not from any bodily or temporal servitude, but from a spiritual and everlasting slavery under powerful tyrants—namely, the law, sin, death, and the devil—and so to reconcile us to God his Father. Since these enemies have been overcome, and we are reconciled to God by the death of his Son, it is certain that we are righteous before God and that whatever we do pleases him. Although there are certain remnants of sin in us still, we are not blamed for them but are pardoned for Christ’s sake.

This article was adapted from Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians, part of the Crossway Classic Commentaries series edited by Alister McGrath and J. I. Packer.

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