Grace and power

God does not require anything in return, Martin Luther discovered. He became convinced that God wants to liberate people and give each and every one new possibilities.

En målning.
Foto: Kristina Strand Larsson /Ikon

Grace has to do with power. Grace is God's way of exercising power, and with the word grace, Martin Luther most clearly expresses his concept of God. The desire for a gracious God was what drove Martin Luther in his search. A search for a God who does not punish, but liberates, as we would rather say today. Luther was looking for that kind relationship of faith to live in and a church that allowed such a faith.

Martin Luther was a biblical theologian and in reading biblical texts, he found God to be full of grace. In Lutheran theology this is called the Reformation discovery: God grants both forgiveness and peace, unconditionally. It's about just receiving it.

Everything is grace – you are called to freedom, not to be a slave to any system. This went against many viewpoints in Luther's time and became the basis for his criticism of monastic life, the sale of indulgences and other ways in which the church put conditions on what qualified as religious life and true faith. Martin Luther said that this interfered with and prevented people from a relationship with God in their lives that really was by grace. That there was absolutely no requirement for certain beliefs or the right deeds. Ethical requirements have to do with human relations. The relationship to God is different.

Liberating instead of punishing

Grace is the absence of demands. But is difficult to define freedom in relationships, because we perceive relationships as something that sets conditions. Often freedom in relationships is something we are unaccustomed to. God is free, which means that the relationship with God is different from the relationships between people. Luther often turned to imagery for help. In theology, we often think of a person standing in a courtroom who is guilty, but God as the judge unexpectedly acquitting the convicted person. It is a ruling by grace.

In this image God is shown as someone who exercises a power different from that of imposing penalties.  A liberating power.  A surprising power. One that believes in giving new opportunities after all. When that happens a person stands there surprised and amazed. God wants a relationship and gives faith as a gift to a person. Martin Luther said that this picture of God is overwhelming. Life is opened up in an unexpected direction. God surprises. The totally unexpected happens. That God wants to be with me, despite everything that should prevent it. That is grace. A loving way to use power to give life.

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