Martin Luther and the Holy Spirit

Mark 1:4-11

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard a Lutheran preacher or seminary professor teach Martin Luther’s explanation of the role of the Holy Spirit. So I’m going to let Luther himself tell you from his sermon on John 14:23-31 in the Church Postil.

 14. You see very clearly that the Holy Spirit’s office is not to write books nor to make laws, but freely to abrogate them; and that he is a God who writes only in the heart, who makes it burn, and creates new courage, so that man grows happy before God, filled with love toward him, and with a happy heart serves the people. When the office of the Holy Spirit is thus represented, it is rightly preached …… when he [the Holy Spirit] comes in this manner he abolishes the letter of the Law and desires to liberate the people from their sins and from the Law; the latter is no more needed, for he, himself, rules inwardly in the heart. (volume III:278)


When Luther says “to liberate the people from…the Law,” he means from the domination of the Law. Jesus said the Law was not given to make people subservient to it. The Law was given to serve the people. The Law is not abolished for it has an important role in showing us our sinful nature and in serving as a guide for us to know if, in our actions, we love God. But we have been given the authority, in our baptisms, to let go of laws that are not in accordance with love or in the best interests of our neighbor.

This is no one time misstatement by Martin Luther. It was his firm conviction. It gave him the courage to stand against the Goliath of church dominance in doctrine and Law enforcement. He explains how our individual authority in dispensing with laws is to be applied in several sermons of the Church Postil:

3. We should well consider this passage, for Christ our Lord here commands and gives all Christians the power to be judges of all doctrine, and he gives them power to judge what is right and what is not right. It is now well on a thousand years that this passage has been perverted by false Christians, so that we have had no power to judge, but had to accept what the Pope and the councils determined, without any judgment of our own. (Matthew 7:15-22, second sermon, volume IV: 238)

8. Then they began to say: Yes, but how can we know what is God’s Word, and what is right or wrong? This [the church leaders say] we must learn from the Pope and the councils. Very well then, let them conclude and say what they please, yet I will reply, you cannot put your confidence in that nor thus satisfy your conscience, for you must determine this matter yourself, for your very life depends upon it. Therefore God must speak to your heart: “This is God’s Word”; otherwise you are undecided. (Matthew 7:15-22, second sermon, volume IV: 239)

     People innately assume the power to judge doctrines on their own, but many times, it’s the words of Law in a book that rule them rather than the Holy Spirit. Luther gives much clearer direction on how to decide which laws to follow in a sermon on Luke 14:1-11.

9. Since then all law exists to promote love, law must soon cease where it is in conflict with love. Therefore, everything depends upon a good leader or ruler to direct and interpret the law in accordance with love. (volume V:161)

10. And thus we should apply every law, even as love suggests, that it be executed where it is helpful to a fellow-man, and dispensed with where it does harm. (volume V:162)

17. As Christ here treats of the law relating to the Sabbath and makes it subserve the needs of man, so we should treat laws of that kind and keep them only so far as they accord with love. If laws do not serve love, they may be annulled at once, be they God’s or man’s commands. (volume V:164-5)

20. If you are a Christian you have power to dispense with all commandments so far as they hinder you in the practice of love. (volume V: 165)

28. The sum of this Gospel then is: Love and necessity control all law; and there should be no law that cannot be enforced and applied in love. If it cannot, then let it be done away with, even though an angel from heaven had promulgated it. (volume V:165)

According to Martin Luther, the Holy Spirit gives us the power and Christ gives us the authority to dispense with laws that hurt our neighbor. Many laws of the institutional church were (and still are) for its own benefit and at the expense of people. Many laws in the Bible are harmful to our neighbor. With the help and teaching of the Holly Spirit, we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

Why doesn’t the church want to tell you these things? Maybe because then it will lose its power over you. If it has nothing to hold over your head, like eternal punishment, then it will lose control and never be able to keep you in line. All hell would break loose.

Maybe not. Maybe peace would reign.

The institutional church is like the Law. It was established to serve you.

You are free. You don’t have to be subservient to the church. A church that looks like Jesus Christ is a servant leader. It was set in place to serve you, not the reverse.

So how do you know if you or anyone else has been baptized by the Holy Spirit?

That’s relatively easy. Just read Galatians 5:22-23 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

On the other hand, the signs that the Holy Spirit isn’t ruling in a person’s heart are listed in Galatians 5:19-21 – “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries and the like…those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The actions of hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambition, dissensions, and envy tend to get buried in the middle of the REALLY bad stuff.

Anyway – I thought I’d let Martin Luther and St. Paul speak about the Holy Spirit today. I hope they help you to discern the will of God in your life.

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