A year after the posting of his Ninety-five Theses, Martin Luther was called before the German congregation of his Augustinian order to give an accounting of his teachings. In what became known as his Heidelberg Disputation, Luther laid out with precision a series of twenty-eight statements he referred to as “theological paradoxes” to contrast the growing Protestant understanding of the gospel with the reigning Catholic theology of the day. The importance of this presentation is seen in that a number of the early reformers, men such as Martin Bucer, were in attendance and were greatly influenced by Luther’s teaching.
Without seeing Luther’s deeply Biblical underpinnings set against the theological context of the times, these paradoxes can read more like unsatisfying contradictions at points. Nowhere is this more evident than when he treats the subject of good works. For instance, Thesis 6 states this:
The works of God (we speak of those that he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.
On the surface, this statement can appear to be saying that the perfect, holy God can take actions which have no merit in them and even have sin in them somehow. Yet this is to miss Luther’s point and the brilliancy that is actually shining through […]