Everything that Luther wrote about the person of Christ was only to do full justice to such passages as: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 Jn.1:7); or "In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col.2:9); or "They crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor.2:8); or: "Éthe church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). The passages all declare that our Saviour Jesus Christ is the God-man. He is true God and true man, of two natures and yet of one person. By virtue of the personal union of the two natures sinners owe their salvation to the incarnate Son of God, very and true God, yet also true man. This doctrine Luther did not try to rationalize. He taught it as a Bible mystery, which we must not try to understand, but believe, just as Paul confesses as a great mystery of godliness that "God is manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim.3:16).
Luther's interest in the doctrine of Christ's person and work had a decidedly evangelical focus. To him the doctrines of Christ's perfect and complete redemption and of man's salvation by grace through faith in Him was of all the Gospel fundamentals the "most fundamental." The debt had to be paid. The demands of divine justice had to be satisfied. Man's sins had to be atoned for. His enemies had to be defeatedÑsin, death, hell, Satan! The Reformer writes: "Forgiveness of sins could not take place without payment or without satisfaction of His [God's] righteousness, for there is no room for mercy and grace to work for us and in usÉ Satisfaction must first be rendered to [the divine] justice in the most perfect manner." Again: "God cannot be kind and gracious over against sin nor do away with punishment and wrath, unless payment is first made for it and satisfaction has been rendered."
Luther would have objected strenuously to the modern view that Christ's redemption of man consisted essentially in His defeat of man's spiritual enemies, rather than in a vicarious and propitiatory sacrifice by which He satisfied the demands of divine justice and paid the debt which sinful man owed to God because of his breach of the Law. Luther writes: "But now He [Christ] puts Himself in our place, and for our sakes permits the Law, sin, and death to fall upon Himself."
Luther's writings abound with such expressions as: "Christ took upon Himself our sin and paid for it," or: "He is the Victim and Payment for the sin of the world;" "He had to taste eternal death and damnation and, in short, suffer all things which a damned sinner deserved and had to suffer eternally." Luther thus taught the vicarious satisfaction or substitutionary atonement of Christ very fully and emphatically. Those of his followers who present his doctrine in any other way, do him a great disservice.
Christ, having thus made reconciliation between an angry God and sinful men and having restored the guilty sinner to full grace, is our perpetual "Mediator and Intercessor." We need no longer any "sacrifices, because His blood has an everlasting atoning power." "He prays and intercedes for us." "God's wrath and hell are wiped out." Divine wrath and punishment no longer strike the sinner, "for He [Christ] is the beloved Child [of God] in whom dwells all grace, so that when the Father looks upon Him, there is nothing [for man] but love and grace in heaven and earth, and all His wrath is extinguished and gone."
As Christ has freed us from God's wrath, so He has freed us also from the power of the devil and death. Therefore, he who believes in Him need not fear them. But Christ has redeemed us not only by His holy, innocent suffering and death, but also by His perfect obedience of the divine law in the sinner's place. He has indeed fulfilled all righteousness for us.
Luther teaches but one obedience of Christ in our place, but for the sake of clarity Christ's obedience of the divine Law in our place is called the "active obedience," while His suffering and death is known as the "passive obedience." The purpose of this terminology is to bring out in clear relief Christ's complete redemption, so that there is nothing any more that the sinner must do for his salvation. He is merely to receive the redemption of Christ by faith, wrought by the Holy Spirit through the Word. This complete and gracious salvation of Christ we receive by personal faith, which Luther triumphantly pictures thus: "There is the Person who has accomplished it! To Him I cleave! He has done it for me, and grants to me His fulfillment."
Luther's doctrine of Christ's person and work may be summed up in Paul's triumphant Gospel proclamation: "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himselfÉ He hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor.5:19-21). The whole theology of Christ's redemption is gloriously set forth in his explanation of the second Article of the ApostlesÕ Creed, in which he writes: "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 sinner, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold and 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, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true."
How refreshing it is to listen to these clear teachings of Dr. Martin Luther! Here we have that healthy, Biblical emphasis so characteristic of the early Reformers to the objective truth of what God has done in Christ for sinners. Yet, we also are confronted in these writings with the demand of a subjective, believing response to and a thankful acceptance of the word of salvation which God in His mercy has sent to us (Acts 13:26).
Have you responded in this way yet--by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit?