Pro Bono

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:

“O law! You would climb up into the kingdom of my conscience, and there reign and condemn me for sin, and would take from me the joy of my heart which I have by faith in Christ, and drive me to desperation, that I might be without hope. You have overstepped your bounds. Know your place! You are a guide for my behavior, but you are not Savior and Lord of my heart. For I am baptized, and through the Gospel am called to receive righteousness and eternal life…So trouble me not! For I will not allow you, so intolerable a tyrant and tormentor, to reign in my heart and conscience—for they are the seat and temple of Christ the Son of God, who is the king of righteousness and peace, and my most sweet savior and mediator. He shall keep my conscience joyful and quiet in the sound and pure doctrine of the Gospel, through the knowledge of this passive and heavenly righteousness.”