I've been reading a whole lot of Martin Luther lately, as I'm sure you can tell. Last week I threw some thoughts of his on Paul's Epistle to the Romans down. Yet again, the theme of God’s free grace for sinners acts as a lens through which one might see 1 Peter. Amid noting that some books contain more “Gospel” than others (a somewhat troubling statement which lends itself to the "canon within a canon" issue), he gives a concise definition of what the Gospel truly is: the message “nothing but faith in Christ justifies.” This articulation is crucial at this point in time, because in Roman Catholic theology and piety, Christ is seen primarily as an example rather than as a gift. Seeing Christ as an example before apprehending Christ as a gift is a crushing burden; however, when taken in the opposite order, it's the Gospel. This message is Christ’s gracious gift, given to you personally that you might be joined to Him and possess all which is His (!), which allows the believer not only right standing with God, but also the ability to rightly see Christ as an example to imitate through the Spirit in love rather than anxiety or self-righteousness.
How might one come to see Christ as a gift? For Luther, this is absolutely not by the individual’s own doing. Rather, the believer is chosen “according to God’s arrangement.” Indeed, Luther goes so far as to say that “our will is unimportant; God’s will and choosing are decisive.” Believers are not only chosen by God; they are chosen for holiness. However, Peter’s comment that believers are “sanctified by the Spirit” does not refer merely to outward holiness, but to the “holiness that God works in us.” So it seems clear that for Luther, even the believer’s holiness is the result of God’s own action in the life of the believer, or a gift, if you will.
If man is brought to God regardless of his own personal action, then it stands to reason that man’s justification must be completely external to him as well. Thus, Luther finds that “everything has been given to us by the Father out of pure mercy and without any merit on our part” (here, we might rightly here echoes of his Romans lectures). The themes of God’s free grace to sinners and justification by faith alone appear again in Luther’s writing. All of God’s merciful dealings with man find their foundation in God’s move toward us first, from the believer’s call and justification through to their resultant holiness and “spiritual purification." Believers have all these benefits through the work of Christ given to them, which means that the only way to approach God is with Christ the mediator. Thus, all those who dare to come before God without Him have no righteousness with which to gain a hearing. If the believer has his righteousness through Christ, he no longer has any need of his own works and is thus free to “be of help to others.” God’s free justification by faith not only makes man righteous before God, but allows him to freely help his neighbor.
This faith which God gives the believer and which justifies him is the faith which believes in Christ’s power over sin and death and which completely remakes him. Luther says that “when God creates faith in man, this is as great a work as if He were to create heaven and earth again.” This faith of which Luther speaks is a weighty faith. It is not a faith that does nothing; indeed, “good works must follow from faith as a matter of course." Despite Reformational canards, Luther will not be made into an antinomian. However, these good works are not forced or done under duress, but rather these works are the natural result of God’s free recreation of the man. True faith works, but false faith does not. Thus, Luther’s sermons on 1 Peter make clear that Luther is not against the law, for he is certain that “it is characteristic of a Christian life to improve constantly and to become purer.” Yet from justification through to sanctification, all is a gift from God rather than a result of your striving, and all results from grasping hold of Christ by faith.