The freedom of a Christian

Martin Luther realised one day that a good relationship between God and man is not something we can achieve by ourselves. He concluded that God's freely flowing relationship to us, righteousness, is a gift that God bestows on people completely free through faith.

Painting made with deep colors, picturing a lone figure standing on a large objects.
Foto: Kent Wisti

Luther had studied intensively. He wrestled with whole books of the Bible and with individual Bible verses when, as a professor at the University of Wittenberg, he was preparing his lecture series on Psalms, Galatians, Romans and Hebrews. One day it suddenly happened. The scripture opened up to him in a new way.

Luther's insight is usually called his Reformation Discovery. No one knows exactly when it took place. But regardless of when the discovery took place, the event came to characterise Luther's life and theology in a very profound way. In the publication On the Freedom of a Christian from 1520 Luther summarises what he had concluded.

A two-fold freedom

Luther's main point in the book is that a Christian has a two-fold freedom through faith in Jesus Christ. The first freedom is closely connected with Luther's Reformation Discovery, his insight that a person is only redeemed by faith, not by their own deeds. Luther emphasises that when a  person hears the Gospel, which is the joyful and liberating message about  Jesus Christ, God can awaken a faithful trust in her that leads to her being freed from sin, guilt and death.

The simplest way this can be explained is that Jesus and the person, through faith, are united as one. Jesus takes over the distinguishing characteristics of the person that separate her from God and the lead to her death: evil, sin and guilt. The person in turn shares Christ's divine characteristics: righteousness, immortality and love. This exchange is sometimes called the blessed exchange or the happy exchange. The exchange means that Jesus takes the person's sin and guilt while the person in turn is given new life and new possibilities for life through Jesus.

Be a christ for others

The second freedom that a Christian has involves her, through faith, receiving Christ's love, says Luther. Christ's love awakens in her the desire to live as God wants. God wants us to love one another. A  Christian is liberated through faith to act lovingly towards her fellow human being. She wants to and can be a Christ for others. She tries to help others, not for God to like her and reward her with the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but because God gives her this through faith. The love that she receives from God becomes a driving force that makes her try to do good towards others.

Karin Johannesson                                  

The text is a shortened version. The entire text is available in Swedish at