Faith and works
by Seattle ALC
The main tenet of Christianity is that of being justified by faith. Yet is often found to be the most difficult to understand. The book of James is devoted to the relationship between faith and works. Many have struggled with this relationship, including Martin Luther. At one point he called James an “epistle of straw”. Yet he ultimately concluded it to be a “good book”. If this is one of your struggles, don’t be discouraged. Consider yourself in good company! It is proof that the Word is important to you. Continue to look to the Lord, He will supply. I found this writing by Martin Luther to be very helpful in my meditation on the relationship between faith and works. As we approach the 501st anniversary of the start of the Reformation, may it help you in clarity, and may the Lord give you peace.-Pastor Stan
Martin Luther on Faith from the Preface to his Commentary on the Romans:
“Faith is not that human illusion and dream that some people think it is. When they hear and talk a lot about faith and yet see that no moral improvement and no good works result from it, they fall in to error and say, “Faith is not enough. You must do works if you want to be virtuous and get to heaven.” The result is that, when they hear the Gospel, they stumble and make for themselves with their own powers a concept in their hearts which says, “I believe.” This concept they hold to be true faith. But since it is a human fabrication and thought and not an experience of the heart, it accomplishes nothing, and there follows no improvement.
Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God (cf. John 1). It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. Whoever doesn’t do such works is without faith; he gropes and searches about him for faith and good works but doesn’t know what faith or good works are. Even so, he chatters on with a great many words about faith and good works.
Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire. Therefore, be on guard against your own false ideas and against the chatterers who think they are clever enough to make judgements about faith and good works but who are in reality the biggest fools. Ask God to work faith in you; otherwise you will remain eternally without faith, no matter what you try to do or fabricate.”