Passive Righteousness Part 2

“Passive Righteousness” (part 2 of 2)

by Martin Luther

[“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage … For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love … For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:1,6,13, NKJV. ][1]

So, are we not required to do anything? Do we work nothing to obtain this righteousness? I answer, Nothing at all. For this is perfect righteousness, to do nothing, to hear nothing, to know nothing of the law, or of works, but to know and believe this only, that Christ is gone to the Father, and is not now seen; that He sits in heaven at the right hand of His Father, not as judge, but made unto us of God, wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption. In summary, He is our high priest interceding for us, and reigning over us, and in us, by grace. In this heavenly righteousness sin can have no place, for there is no law; and where no law is, there can be no transgression (Rom. 4:15). Seeing then that sin has no place here, there can be no anguish of conscience, no fear, no heaviness. Therefore St. John says (1 John 5:18): “He that is born of God cannot sin.”[Rom. 4:5; 1 Cor. 1:30][2]

… So both these [kinds of righteousness] continue while we live here. The flesh is accused, exercised with temptations, oppressed with heaviness and sorrow, bruised by its active righteousness of the law; but the spirit has reigned, rejoiced, and is saved by this passive and Christian righteousness, because it knows that it has a Lord in Heaven, at the right hand of His Father, who has abolished the law, sin, death, and has trodden under His feet all evils, led them captive, and triumphed over them in Himself (Col. 2:15) …

Let us diligently learn to discern between these two kinds of righteousness, that we may know how far we ought to obey the law. We have said before that the law in a Christian ought not to pass its limits, but ought to have dominion only over the flesh, which is in subjection to it, and remains under it. But if it shall presume to creep into the conscience, and there seek to reign, see that you play the cunning logician, and make the true division. Say: “0 law, you would climb up into the kingdom of my conscience, and there convict it of sin, and take from me the joy of my heart, which I have by faith in Christ, and drive me to desperation that I may be without hope, and utterly perish. Keep within your limits, and exercise your power upon the flesh: for I am baptized, and by the gospel am called to the partaking of righteousness and everlasting life.”

When I have Christian righteousness reigning in my heart, I descend from heaven as the rain makes fruitful the earth; that is to say, I do good works, how and wherever the occasion may arise. If I am a minister of the Word, I preach, I comfort the broken-hearted, I administer the sacraments [ordinances]. If I am a house holder, I govern my house and family well, and in the fear of God. If I am a servant, I do my master’s business faithfully. To conclude, whoever is assuredly persuaded that Christ alone is his righteousness, does not only cheerfully and gladly work well in his vocation, but also submits himself through love to the rulers and to their laws, yes, though they be severe, and, if necessity should require, to all manner of burdens, and to all dangers of the present life, because he knows that this is the will of God, and that this obedience pleases Him.[3] This is the substance of the argument of the Epistle, whereby Paul addresses this, responding to problem of false teachers who had darkened this righteousness of faith among the Galatians, against whom he sets himself in defending and commending his authority and office.


[1] This excerpt is from the introduction in the Commentary on Galatians by Martin Luther (1483-1546), published in 1979 by Kregel Publications. Translation by Erasmus Middleton, edited by John Prince Fallowes. A reprint of the 1850 edition published by the Harrison Trust, London. Reprinted in the appendix of From Fear to Freedom: Living as Sons and Daughters of God, by Rose Marie Miller (Shaw: 1994). Updated English with additional editing by John Woodward. The title, “Passive Righteousness” and bracketed references were added by the editor. The commentary is available online at

[2] Although the Holy Spirit will continue to convict the believer of sin, this will not bring condemnation or jeopardize the position and essential nature of the child of God (Rom. 8:1).

[3] The Spirit-filled life fulfills the moral requirements of the law, which are summarized in the calling to love God and others (Rom. 8:4; 13:8-10).

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