Lesson 4: The Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

Freed by ChristLuther’s explanation is a beautiful short statement of the Gospel. He conveys the unbounded joy associated with this good news by placing it in the context of an individual hearing it for the first time. All seems to have been done “for me.” There is pure relief that everything is going to be all right. God is not out to punish me; he comes in love. Luther’s treatment reminds me of a marvelous public figure whom I love, because she makes me feel as if I were the only person in her world when I am with her. Listen for that sentiment.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

After a little reflection we see there is much more going on here than an emotional feeling of well being. This simple paragraph also summarizes Luther’s theology of the cross. If justification by grace through faith alone places salvation not on what we do, but on what Jesus does for us on the Cross, then his atonement theory is critical.

His theory is not that Christ’s sacrifice is substituted for the punishment we deserve and God’s law demands. That flies in the face of Luther’s picture of God acting in unconditional love. It also is not about Jesus’ emptying himself out for others in order to inspire our imitation. That places too much responsibility on our actions.

Luther speaks of atonement as redemption. Jesus’ sacrifice redeems us from Satan’s power. It is like a ransom needed to free hostages. Humans separated themselves from God by selling their souls to Satan. They are held captive by Satan, their own sin, and the fear of death. Now Jesus buys them back or as Luther says, wins them for himself. He purchases their freedom with his blood.

Freedom is at the heart of this theology. Christ frees us from sin, death, and Satan, and thereby from the fear that oppresses us in this situation. No longer fearing for ourselves and our salvation, we can turn our efforts to helping other people. One of his finest treatises, “The Freedom of the Christian,” uses two paradoxical statements to capture his thought: “A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all.”

Of course, Luther knew, as we do, that Christ dies for all people. We have seen this unconditional love for all expressed throughout the catechism. He will emphasize it again in his explanation of the third article

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