We are kicking off our summer study for the campus church tonight at the Old Louisville Coffee House.
We are going to spend several weeks in the book of Galatians in a series entitled Pro Bono. This is a Latin term used to express something that is done for the public good, free of charge. Often lawyers will donate their services for clients of humble means, calling it “pro bono” work. This term provides a fitting description of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.
In this letter Paul provides the watershed manifesto of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Martin Luther believed that it is by this single doctrine that the church would stand or fall. Luther emphasized the believer’s absolute dependency on the grace of God for salvation. Luther explained this as passive righteousness, that is a righteousness that can only be received and not earned. In this manner, redemption is the result of the pro bono work of Christ.
In Luther’s day the Roman Catholic church had perverted this doctrine by teaching that one must merit, or earn, God’s favor. This distortion reached a climax in the selling of indulgences, where grace could actually be purchased through monetary means. Luther’s growing dissatisfaction led to his public challenge of the church’s doctrine and authority. Luther believed that religion is the “default mode” of the human heart. In order to prevent the legalistic pull of self-righteousness, Luther encouraged believers to “speak the gospel” to themselves daily.
Grace is not earned. It is the free gift of God in Christ. It is not merited. It is pro bono. The following words from Luther remind us to resist legalism and rest in God’s unmerited favor: