Wednesday Bible Study Notes
Galatians - Introduction
Why read the Epistle to the Galatians? God wants to establish the righteousness of faith, so that we may have a perfect knowledge and know the difference between Christian righteousness and all other kinds of righteousness.
What other kinds of righteousness are there?
There is a political righteousness, which the emperor, the princes of the world, philosophers, and lawyers consider
There is also a ceremonial righteousness, which human traditions teach. Parents and teachers may teach this righteousness without danger, because they do not attribute to it any power to make satisfaction for sin, to placate God, and to earn grace; but they teach that these ceremonies are necessary only for moral discipline and for certain observances.
There is, in addition to these, yet another righteousness, the righteousness of [the Law or of ]the Decalog, which Moses teaches. We, too, teach this, but after the doctrine of faith.
Note: these kinds of the righteousness of works are gifts of God, as are all the things we have.
God will teach us faith-righteousness in this Bible study. Therefore it is appropriate to call the righteousness of faith [or christian righteousness] “passive.” This is a righteousness hidden in a mystery, which the world does not understand. in fact, christians themselves do not adequately understand it or grasp it in the midst of their temptations. therefore it must always be taught and continually exercised. and anyone who does not grasp or take hold of it in afflictions and terrors of conscience cannot stand. For there is no comfort of conscience so solid and certain as is this passive righteousness.
What is the problem? When the Law shows us our sin, our past life immediately comes to our mind. Then the sinner, in his great anguish of mind, groans and says to himself: “Oh, how damnably I have lived! If only I could live longer! Then I would amend my life.” Thus human reason cannot refrain from looking at active righteousness, that is, its own righteousness; nor can it shift its gaze to passive, that is, Christian righteousness, but it simply rests in the active righteousness. So deeply is this evil rooted in us, and so completely have we acquired this unhappy habit!
It is a marvelous thing and unknown to the world to teach Christians to ignore the Law and to live before God as though there were no Law whatever. For if you do not ignore the Law and thus direct your thoughts to grace as though there were no Law but as though there were nothing but grace, you cannot be saved. “For through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). On the other hand, works and the performance of the Law must be demanded in the world as though there were no promise or grace. This is because of the stubborn, proud, and hardhearted, before whose eyes nothing must be set except the Law, in order that they may be terrified and humbled. For the Law was given to terrify and kill the stubborn and to exercise the old man. Both words must be correctly divided, according to the apostle (2 Tim. 2:25 ff.).
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 26 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 6.