Knowledge that God is Good
A man who does not know why he believes does not know what he believes, and a man who does not know what he believes will never walk the path of light. The natural tendency of mankind is to root his credence in something because a person they admire believed it first. The danger of this tendency lies in the fact that mankind can then base their whole understanding of any concept, idea, or theology on reputation as opposed to reality. Martin Luther, however, steps away from this pit many blindly fall into and decides to tell the world the falsities that lie in the works referring to free will that made Erasmus well known. This, therefore, allows people to see through the facade that is reputation and read about the reality Luther sees.
Luther tends to establish his understanding of scripture based on the knowledge that God is good, perfect, and holy while humanity is everything He is not: evil, flawed, and vile. He uses Romans 5.20 to prove the idea that the more unworthy we are of Christ, the more benevolent God will be towards us, “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (English Standard Version). Luther responds to this verse, “If all the works done before the reception of the highest grace were evil, is it then evil works that must gain God’s favor for us” (pg 63 maybe)? Luther believes in an idea commonly known today as total depravity, meaning he believes that before salvation, “Reception of the highest grace,” no man is capable of walking a path good, righteous, or honoring to the Lord; due to this belief, he reasons that any work done to attain salvation would, therefore, have to be an allowing factor in salvation. If man, by his own will, is capable of turning to or away from redemption—as opposed to only through the power, love, and foreknowledge of Jesus and his sacrifice—then how, due to the immense sin of mankind, can one find any amount of good in himself to make the decision to turn to Christ? Luther argues that the human will, the means by which one thinks and perceives, would never be capable of removing the sinful lens, the way in which each person looks at the world, long or well enough to understand the vastness of one’s own sin. The truth of this idea perfectly represents the falsities which exist in the doctrine of free will.
As soon as man enters the world, through his own sinful ignorance, he is only capable of seeking the goods of the world that will one day perish; yet God offers redemption from this path of ungratifying futility. Luther asserts that “After he [man] is made and created… he does and endeavors nothing toward his preservation as a creature. Both his creation and his preservation come to pass by the sole will of the omnipotent power and goodness of God, who creates and preserves us without ourselves.” (134) This belief is likely based on Paul’s constant discussion in the first three chapters of Romans which confirms mankind’s dire need for salvation. The best representation of Paul and Luther’s beliefs likely rests in Romans 3.10-12, which states, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands: no one seeks for God… they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” These verses tell the reader of their own depravity and helplessness without God, for they are so entrapped in their sin they do not even realize there is a path away from it. Luther dives deeper into these words and questions the meaning of them, asking himself: if every man is worthless, evil, and understands nothing—not even that he needs salvation—then how can man, through his own free will, turn towards eternal salvation? He concludes that man is simply incapable of this, for if a man does not know what he needs, how can he obtain it?
Luther also explores mankind’s relationship with sin: why there is a constant need to embrace it and why so many become absorbed in the pathway it leads them on. This pathway is not one of freedom or light, though it may seem that way at first, but one of bondage to an evil master unwilling to open his clutch on the chains unless something holding greater power commands him to. Jesus confirms this idea in John 3.4, which states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Similarly, Luther claims, “The will having lost its liberty is tied and bound in slavery to sin.” Yet, how can anything, which was once so depraved it lost its own liberty, be good? How can anything under the command of sin honor God? Luther provides an answer to this question in saying, “We have now taken God’s grace away from it [salvation], and what the grace of God does not do is not good. Hence it follows that free will without the grace of God is not free at all, but is the permanent bond-slave and servant of evil, since it cannot turn itself unto good.” As confirmed in Ephesians 2.8, salvation relies on the grace of God, yet the mere idea of free will lessens some of the power it contains, rendering it partially reliant on a force outside of Gods own. This, however, cannot be true because God is not El-Shaddai, God almighty, if even the smallest fraction of his power is taken away, nor is he the God of grace if he does not contain all grace. The foundation of Christianity is God’s enduring love and grace, without it, no man can come to know God.
Even though mankind is bound to sin, Luther wholeheartedly believes that God’s forgiveness knows no bounds, for if they did, God would not be, as stated in Nehemiah 9.17, Elohay Selichot, the God of Forgiveness. Christ’s love, mercy, and pardoning nature can also act as a comforting warmth to mankind, and without it they are cold and helpless: incapable of doing anything good. In response to Erasmus’ definition and understanding of free will, Luther claims: