Love That Brings Freedom


Who is Jesus? As elementary as it seems, that question can prove embarrassingly difficult. Answers pile up quickly: Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior, the Redeemer. But what do these words mean? Does a person who knows them really know Jesus?

When the Lutheran theologian, Philip Melanchthon, speaks of Jesus in the Augsburg Confession, he is careful to use all of the right words. He uses words and phrases like “two natures” and “divine and human” and then these words fought their way into the church’s vocabulary after hard fought battles. And we Lutherans when we use these words in our statements of belief, our Lutheran Confessions, want to leave no doubt that we accept these words and stand in the mainstream of the church’s thinking.

But Martin Luther wrestles about these words. He knew that it was one thing to know about Jesus and another to know him. So, while using the right words, Luther and others wanted those words to be heard in all their depth and power. The word that came home with special force is the oldest one the church has used to speak of Jesus: He is Lord.

The Lord of All

When Martin Luther wrote his Large Catechism–a teacher instruction book for teachers and pastors–he uses this word, Lord as he explains the second article (the one that talks about Jesus) of the Apostles Creed. Luther said, “If you are asked, ‘What do you believe in the Second Article, concerning Jesus Christ?’ Answer briefly, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ, true Son of God, has become my Lord.’”

Lord sounds like just another name for Jesus. But there is something far deeper to the meaning of the word Lord. The Holy Scriptures speak of Lord as someone who has dominion, who moves people in one direction or another, who binds or frees.

We all know lords who bind. Some of them use plain threats to get their victims to do their will. Others are subtler and trickier. Advertisers, for example, wouldn’t get far without naked force. They don’t push and shove; they win dominion by pulling softly and quietly until we buy what they are selling.

Sin is a binding lord–and one far more effective than advertising. The subtle lie is its trademark. Like a skilled general, it deploys its force where they are most difficult to detect: in the fears and loves and trusts of the heart. It leads us along by its deceptions, all the while leaving the impression that we are perfectly free. But once it gains dominion it introduces its partner lords: destruction and death.

Sin is a binding lord–and one far more effective than advertising.
— James A. Nestingen

All these other lords have one thing in common: They make sure their victims have no choice but to do their bidding. By force or deception, they shut off every alternative in order to maintain their grip.

But there is another kind of lordship. It doesn’t coerce, deceive, or manipulate. And when it takes away our alternatives, we experience not bondage, but freedom.

Lovers have this kind of lordship over one another. Two people meet, become interested in each other, go places together, share secrets, and start giving themselves to each other. Their love grows and develops.

Sometimes love ends because of some force or meanness or deception. But when it really takes hold, it can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. It never ends.

Having a Choice

This kind of love brings freedom. In some things–deciding what clothes to wear, shopping for groceries, or voting for politicians–freedom means having a choice. But in other areas of life, true freedom means not having a choice, being taken hold of and left with no alternatives.

But in other areas of life, true freedom means not having a choice, being taken hold of and left with no alternatives.
— James A. Nestingen

Things that are good, and true, and beautiful include the joy of lovers, enthusiasm for a job, taking a grandchild by the hand, hearing good music, or sinking one’s teeth into a hot slice of freshly baked bread. At such points, who would want to talk about having a choice? Yet, isn’t that still freedom?

Who then is Jesus? He is Lord. But the word Lord is only a beginning. To know Jesus is to know more than something about Him. To know Him is to know Him as your Lord, as one who has given Himself completely for you, who withholds nothing from you to make sure that no other lord controls you. It is to know Him as the one who casts down and raises up, kills and makes alive, who gives you no alternative but this: that you and all His people, “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10) fear, love, and trust Him above all things.

Adapted from: Nestingen, James Arne. The Faith We Hold: The Living Witness of Luther and the Augsburg Confession. Adapted by Scott L. Keith, Ph.D. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983).

Permission to use given by the author.


A graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., in 1967, Nestingen earned the master of divinity degree from Luther Seminary in 1971 and the master of theology degree in 1978. He received his doctorate in theology from St. Michael's College, University of Toronto, in 1984.

Following his ordination in 1971, he served as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Coquille, Ore., for three years before becoming curriculum editor at Augsburg Publishing House from 1974-1976.

Nestingen has written and spoken prolifically on Luther's catechisms and confessional Lutheran theology.