Some scholars of the Protestant Reformation fault Martin Luther’s psychological insecurities for his obsession with grace and Christian freedom. The implication being that Luther reinterpreted grace as a means of self-medication and that consequently, we should be skeptical of Luther and other Reformers who advocated the primacy of grace.

Yet, this is far from the case. The Reformers were not the first! Augustine of Hippo, who predates Luther by over 1,000 years, was hot on the same trail, which led, of course, straight back to the Apostle Paul and Jesus himself. Augustine was adamant that people are completely helpless apart from God. So just a little help, a few instructions (aka the “law”) to live morally and to be better people isn’t enough. We need something, someone far greater (aka “grace”) to do what we cannot do. Some see this kind of dependence as weakness, an affront to the American value of the “self-made person.” I think it’s freeing.

Here’s an excerpt from Augustine’s On the Grace of Christ:

Thus the law and grace are so different that the law is not only useless but actually an obstacle in many ways unless grace assists. This shows, moreover, the function of the law: it makes people guilty of transgression and forces them to take refuge in grace in order to be liberated and helped to overcome evil desires. It commands more than liberates; it diagnoses illness but does not cure. Indeed, far from healing the infirmity, the law actually makes it worse in order to move a person to seek the medicine of grace more anxiously and insistently, because “the letter kills but the spirit gives life” [2 Cor. 3:6].