Friday, 20 July 2012
On Luther's Explanation of the Commandments
Here's a question an alert and observant confirmation student might ask:
Q. Why does Luther explain the First Commandment as requiring us to "fear, love and trust in God above all things", whereas in his explanation of commandments two to ten he stipulates only that we "should fear and love God...". What happened to trust?
A. The first commandment is foundational in that it requires our trust in God, which we also define as faith.
Such trust or faith is the root of obedience to the following nine commandments.
Thus, whenever we Christians "strive daily to live a holy life", using the commandments as a guide to what pleases God, our willing obedience stems from our trust/faith in God.
Likewise, whenever we fall into actual sin by breaking God's commandments, the root of our disobedience is our lack of faith/trust in God. which is indeed "the original sin".
I therefore teach my confirmation students that when we sin, we always trespass against at least two commandments of God - the particular commandment we have broken in thought, word or deed, by things done or left undone, and the first commandment to have no other "gods" but God!
This is why, I go on to explain, people without true faith do not really please God with their "good works", as many mistakenly believe: without true faith, none of their good works merits anything towards salvation, although God may, out of grace, reward good works in this life with earthly goods - a good reputation, prosperity, a happy family life, and so on, although these rewards are, strictly speaking, undeserved.
Consider Luther's own words from the Large Catechism in his conclusion of his explanation of the First Commandment from the Large Catechism:
"Let us, then, learn well the First Commandment, that we may see how God will tolerate no presumption nor any trust in any other object, and how He requires nothing higher of us than confidence from the heart for everything good, so that we may proceed right and straightforward and use all the blessings which God gives no farther than as a shoemaker uses his needle, awl, and thread for work, and then lays them aside, or as a traveler uses an inn, and food, and his bed only for temporal necessity, each one in his station, according to God's order, and without allowing any of these things to be our lord or idol. Let this suffice with respect to the First Commandment, which we have had to explain at length, since it is of chief importance, because, as before said, where the heart is rightly disposed toward God and this commandment is observed, all the others follow. "