Again, Happy Reformation Day! From his Commentary on Galatians:

Paul seemeth here to compare those that seek righteousness by the law, unto oxen that are tied to the yoke. For like as oxen draw the yoke that draw the yoke with great toil, receive nothing thereby but forage and pasture, and thereafter are appointed for slaughter: even so they that seek righteousness by the law, are captives, and oppressed with the yoke of bondage, this is, with the law, and when they have spent their strength a great while, this is their reward, that they are perpetual and miserable servants, even of sin, death, God’s wrath, and the devil. As if he would say, we stand not here upon a matter of small importance, but either of everlasting liberty, or everlasting bondage…

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Paul’s exhortation in Galatians, “do not return to a yoke of slavery”, has been interpreted so often in terms of not returning to those hard-to-break sinful habits that it can very difficult to cut through to the meaning. Fortunately, Luther knew himself well enough, held the Law in high enough esteem, and honest enough with himself to cut through our halfway solutions concerning ‘Atonement-and-now….habit changes!’ – no, Luther knew our predicament to be so dire that the answer after belief must remain the same as the answer before belief.All to say, his remarkably low anthropology led him to a proper view of the Law’s impossibility to effect good in our lives, and thus to the highest possible Christology. The answer is always the same – and if the Law didn’t work before for us, it’s probably not working after… but after “a great while” it instead produces burnout. If this sounds supersessionist or anti-Catholic, well, that’s probably because it is. But regardless of how we feel about Luther’s diagnosis of the ‘usual suspects’, the take-away is to recognize the part of ourselves constantly pulling us back toward a ‘life of bondage’, our inner Adam who’s continually refastening the yoke to the old, wearisome plow and pulling on like nothing ever happened, like we haven’t experienced failure and exhaustion in the effort a hundred times before. Luther continues:

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Who is not moved by these words of Paul (which call the law a yoke of bondage, and they which are circumcised make Christ unprofitable and cannot be stirred up to seek that liberty which is in Christ, his heart is harder than stone or iron[c. Ez 36:26]… So let us learn to separate Christ far from works, as well as from evil: from all laws, both of God and man, and from all troubled consciences: howbeit, not to afflict them more, but to raise them up, and to comfort them. Therefore, if Christ appear in the likeness of an angry judge, or of a lawgiver, that requireth a strict account of our life past, then let us assure ourselves that it is not Christ, but a raging fiend. For the Scripture setteth forth Christ to be our reconciliation, our advocate, our comforter. Such a one He ever is, and ever shall be: He cannot be unlike Himself.