From Luther’s Commentary on Galatians

For it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

Paul goes on to prove from this quotation out of the Book of Deuteronomy that all men who are under the Law are under the sentence of sin, of the wrath of God, and of everlasting death. Paul produces his proof in a roundabout way. He turns the negative statement, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them,” into a positive statement, “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” These two statements, one by Paul and the other by Moses, appear to conflict. Paul declares, “Whosoever shall do the works of the Law, is accursed.” Moses declares, “Whosoever shall not do the works of the Law, is accursed.” How can these two contradictory statements be reconciled? How can the one statement prove the other? No person can hope to understand Paul unless he understands the article of justification. These two statements are not at all inconsistent.

We must bear in mind that to do the works of the Law does not mean only to live up to the superficial requirements of the Law, but to obey the spirit of the Law to perfection. But where will you find the person who can do that? Let him step forward and we will praise him.

Our opponents have their answer ready-made. They quote Paul’s own statement in Romans 2:13, “The doers of the law shall be justified.” Very well. But let us first find out who the doers of the law are. They call a “doer” of the Law one who performs the Law in its literal sense. This is not to “do” the Law. This is to sin. When our opponents go about to perform the Law they sin against the first, the second, and the third commandments, in fact they sin against the whole Law. For God requires above all that we worship Him in spirit and in faith. In observing the Law for the purpose of obtaining righteousness without faith in Christ these law-workers go smack against the Law and against God. They deny the righteousness of God, His mercy, and His promises. They deny Christ and all His benefits.

In their ignorance of the true purpose of the Law the exponents of the Law abuse the Law, as Paul says, Romans 10:3, “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”


I was having a discussion on another blog with a gentleman that could not seem to give up the idea of ‘HAVING TO DO’ works of the law.

I tried the ‘WE WANT TO DO’ works of the law tack, but he didn’t buy it.

So, I just thought I’d throw tidbits up here and there about what it means to be a law keeper.


Have you any thoughts?



16 Responses

  1. Steve,
    That is a great question. I blew the minds of some folks Sunday morning in my sermon when I stated that Jesus didn’t actually “perform” all of the commandments even though he kept them (I could tell I got their attention by the look on their faces). What I meant in short is that some commandments are so specific that they cannot be performed by all individuals. For instance, there are plenty of commands in the Law directed to women that Jesus simply could not do, but He affirmed that they were good and right.

    I understand the concept of keeping the Law as the acknowledgment that the Law is indeed correct and good even when we fall short of it.

    I wanted to give another interesting tidbit regarding the curse of the law that Jesus redeemed us from. Take a look at Deuteronomy 28:58-61 and compare it against Isaiah 53:3-6. The comparison really makes what Paul was saying in Galatians 3 hit home for me. Jesus took the curse of the Law in our stead and leaves us with the blessings that God promised to Abraham in their place.

  2. Great quote. I’ve been meaning to read through Luther’s whole commentary on Galatians.

    A former pastor of mine says he’s used this line on people who insist on doing something to earn favor from God: “If you can find anything that Jesus hasn’t already accomplished, you go ahead and do that.”

  3. Alden – I love that quote!

  4. Steve,

    One can see a lot of Luther’s thought in that excerpt you printed. E.g.s of variations on this from Luther (quotes from memory so they will not be verbatim):

    1. Whenever Scripture tells you to do the Law, if forbids you to do it by yourself.

    2. It really brings out the first commandment, to “do the Law” in the sense most mean is in fact to put another God beside/in front of God. Keep in mind “do” here is the same way Luther is using it in this commentary – that is to say “doing the law” even as or by the power of grace, a.k.a. formly “infused grace”.

    3. To perceive or speak or say or believe that one’s works are not deadly (deadly = can and does in reality separate one from God until damnation, which presupposes being saved in order that separation can occur, Galatians speaks of this) is dangerously giving up the true fear of God. In light of #1 and #2, infused grace, was/is the official formal doctrine of Rome. Grace is infused, therefore, one “can” more or less now “do the law” and one’s works are now not deadly but they would say dead (a worthless distinction). With that false distinction the fear of God is given up as the works are not truly feared as sin! That’s Rome, the grace is infused in the sacraments. In protestantism, other than Luther, the infused grace becomes more or less “informally distilled” (i.e. there is no doctrine of infused grace so stated). In OSAS and its more erudite version of perseverance of the saints, the informal “infusion” of grace is given not in the sacraments but some other immediate operation of the Holy Spirit on the soul in which one is “reborn”, “converted”, “saved”, etc… Once across that line of “rebirth” and cannot fall away, the infusion of grace is moved from the ex opere operato of the sacraments to the other unmediated work of the Holy Spirit. Then all “good works” done cannot by definition (OSAS and PoS) be viewed as deadly (can fall away from God savingly), because one cannot fall away. It’s impossible to then view your works as deadly and thus, like Rome, true fear of God is given up. Works can no longer be feared before God but begin to puff one up, faith is then dwindled either by Pharisiacal “I’m pulling it off” (I’m OSAS and don’t really fear God due to my threshold crossing “rebirth”) or despair (Maybe I didn’t cross the threshold). Either way by Rome’s formal infused grace in their ex opera operato “sacraments” or other protestantism in their unmediated immediate operation of the Spirit on the soul in which an informal “infused grace is given” – a line is crossed unto conversion, rebirth, salvation in which once crossed the power of some form of infused grace is given in order to now be able to somewhat do the Law (e.g. third use). Now both expunge the true fear of God, as Luther warned about works. Rome by making a distinction between dead works (done by the saint, of no value but one does not loose salvation over it all) and deadly works (tear a man away from God). This is where their mortal/venial idea comes from. On the other side of Rome’s sister, the other protestant confessions, the true fear of God is expunged by making the distinction of “crossing that cannot cross back line” (OSAS and POS), whereby the convert’s works NOW cannot ever be deadly but are considered just tainted with sin. In principle both are exactly the same game, just different wording. So instead of in Rome having a formal dead/deadly and mortal venial distinction consideration of sin and good works, in other Protestant confessions it changes to a more or less informal works are only deadly before conversion, once the line of conversion is truly crossed the works are only tainted by sin but never can be deadly. You see the later in Protestantism when they speak of “how much” in order to distil “how much” of quantity or quality of good works prove rebirth? It’s never answered other than in nebulous terms. E.g. I was attending a sermon years ago under a rather famous reformed baptist pastor in Romans and the issue in the sermon came up as to “how much” to see one is “truly converted”, his answer, “…I don’t think that much…” (direct quote). First, it doesn’t really answer the question and second it does not fear God so because there is the assumption that something of my work is pleasing to God post conversion. Here one can see the movement of the Roman Purgatory down to the here and now in Protestantism. Which is all OSAS/POC and all that goes with it mangages to do, move Purgatory from the afterlife to now here on earth. Others have made this point about protestantism, that this is their informal version of Rome’s infused grace, dead/deadly sin distinction, and mortal/venial sin. For a RC mortal/venial is merely distinguishing between what quantity/quality of sin/works will and will not make me fall away from God. For other protestants the similar but not so named mortal/venial is merely distinguishing between what quantity/quality of sin/works will or will not make prove I’m truly reborn, saved, converted, etc…


  5. When I was a kid, once in awhile I would just do something that needed to be done around the house without being told to do it.

    My parents were always extra happy for that.

    It still wasn’t done with a pure motive, though, and therefore wasn’t so great as appearances would seem.

    Like Larry often points out, if you have to be told to do it, you’ve already blown it. If you think of the benefits for yourself, you’ve already blown it.

    It can still be a good thing though, to help that little old lady across the street. Just not towards improving your status before God.

    In fact, helping that little old lady across the street might very well detract from our status if we believe we are helping it any.

    We don’t need to add anything to our status as an adopted child of God. We could never do so in a million years.

    This is where a right understanding of the Sacraments helps to keep us off that ladder of religious self-improvement.

    Good comments, guys!

  6. “If you can find anything that Jesus hasn’t already accomplished, you go ahead and do that.”

    That is a good one!

  7. Quite a contrast there between that Deuteronomy passage and the Isaiah passage, Jeff.

    This is where it is so important to rightly divide, or distinguish the law from the gospel.

    The law is there to condemn, so that the gospel may do it’s work in us.

  8. The understanding of Grace and Mercy and Love comes through a deep understanding of our fallen man and sin.

  9. Put it this way. Man is an idol factory.

    The gospel, however, is doxalogical. Doxology is the basis of the entire Christian life. Luther’s Larger Catechism: the first commandment summarizes all the rest of the commandments. Underneath every sin is idolatry in general, and underneath that is some form of works righteous. First commandment: believe the gospel and you can’t look to anything else for your justification–and that’s the basis for everything else.

    If we dont deeply understand the Gospel then our works (or more accurately today…. moralism) becomes a power play to make us look good in front of others and to feed ourselves in some moralistic, religious way. We are feeding from the tree of knowledge of good and evil… our original sin.

    The Gospel and the Cross, on the other hand shows both the depth of mans sin as well as the depth of Gods Mercy. Glory, and love and how it comes to us on the cross.


  10. If you want to read more on Martin Luthers preface to Galatians (modernly abridged by Tim Keller) go here:

  11. Law-Keeper or the lack of law-keeping more accurately can only be understood in light of mans COMPLETE and TOTAL depravity where if he sees the depth of his sin he understand his ABSOLUTE need for a savior.

  12. I liked what you said in another post regarding these things:
    “By the way, you are now free (because of Christ) to go out and do all the good works you want, without having to fear messing up in any way.”

    We are free to do good works as often as we see the opportunity. I think Larry’s saying “It’s when we do acts of kindness because we can and want to, not because we HAVE to, that makes it a good work in God’s eyes. Doing good works because you should, or you’re afraid you’ll fall out of favor is the wrong motivation.”

    Good works are supposed to be evidences of the Spirit in us, not of our own good morality. Jesus said, “You, being evil…” to his disciples for a reason. Read Judges 17 for a good picture of how man always twists things to suit what he thinks God will accept. And it’s almost always wrong!

  13. PK,

    “Jesus said, “You, being evil…” to his disciples for a reason. Read Judges 17 for a good picture of how man always twists things to suit what he thinks God will accept. And it’s almost always wrong!”

    Right on!

    You have hit a homerun with that observation!

    Thanks, ProdigalKnot!

  14. PK,

    Spot on!


  15. Good works doers who flip this up side down are a lot like Hollywood and cheer leaders who make a big deal out of making sure “their good works” are published in the media on one hand and on the other use law to motivate others, “come on guys, let’s get it together and dododo…rah, rah, rah, yea, yea, yea!”

    Faith just rolls it’s eyes at such feigned good works and shear hypocrisy.

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