Last time we surveyed 18 of the 97 theses, but now we need to slow down a bit . . . Luther deserves more than summary and survey here:
37. Nature, moreover, inwardly and necessarily glories and takes pride in every work which is apparently and outwardly good.
Until we see this, we will always be on the brink of moralizing in our preaching. Surely it is better for people to live good lives rather than bad lives? It is good for those around, but for the individual? Their flesh will dictate a self-glorification through pride in anything good . . . thus rendering that good, bad.
So what? We need to stop preaching as if people are close to God’s glorious standard, but one blotch makes for less than perfection, one miss makes for less than 100% . . . in reality nobody is at 99/100. Even the best of us, apart from Christ, are absolutely bad. 0/100. Every apparently good work is corrupted by misplaced glory.
38. There is no moral virtue without either pride or sorrow, that is, without sin.
0/100. Something about our hearts is key here. It is easier to preach for external performance, but we would do well to ponder where he was leading with this statement. Pride? Self-love. Sorrow? Self-love. Self-love? Sin.
39. We are not masters of our actions, from beginning to end, but servants. This in opposition to the philosophers.
Speaking of the heart, who is in control? The supposedly self-moved responsible individual is in Luther’s sights. He highlights his opponents as being the philosophers, but here he is going after common sense, or could we say, serpent-sense?
The weight of this statement is immense. Every human lives the lie that we are free, independent and self-moved. Apparently I am the master of my destiny, but Luther thinks not. At the heart of the human problem is the human heart. If we preach simply to apply imperatives to performance, then we may not only be falling short of preaching texts in context, we may actually be preaching biblical truth in a serpent-like way. Serious stuff.
40. We do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds but, having been made righteous, we do righteous deeds. This in opposition to the philosophers.
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics teaches the common sense logic that we become good by practice. Common sense cannot be assumed correct in a fallen world! The Bible teaches the opposite. God makes us righteous and then the fruit flows from that transformation. It has always been hard to change a tree by adjusting the fruit. Preachers often try.