Home > Faith > Don’t Confuse Faith and Good Works. Luther, Ascension Sermon.

Don’t Confuse Faith and Good Works. Luther, Ascension Sermon.


luther cranach2Luther, Ascension Sermon, Church Postil 

 

37. But you may say: Indeed, you yourself teach that a Christian must do good works; God himself commanded to do them, enjoining the keeping of the Law, and Christ also says: ”If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments,” Mt 19, 17. Now, faith alone does not justify and save. This message must be understood as not excluding good works; but Christ here, in addition and beyond good works, also demands faith, which the Jews and heathen did not exercise. Our papists also hold that good works are not sufficient unto salvation for those who have no faith, but that faith and good works must go together. Nor do they mean by ”works” the observance of the law of Moses, of circumcision and the Jewish temple service, which are now obsolete; but they mean the works demanded by the ten commandments, which teach the obedience all men owe to God. And in order to prove that these words must be thus understood, the papists refer to Mt 28, 19-20: ”Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them,” etc. and ”teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” These last words, they say, also belong to the command Christ here gave to the disciples; therefore, this text must be interpreted to mean that it demands not faith alone, but also good works.

38. We answer: All this, as I have said before, is mere babbling, false and perverted comment of blind sophists who understand nothing of this text and of the glorious doctrine of the Gospel, They know not what they say, concerning either faith or good works, nor do they know how properly to distinguish between the two. We also confess, and have always, better and more forcibly than the papists, taught that good works must be done; that they must follow faith, and that faith is dead if good works be absent. Therefore, this doctrine of faith does not denounce good works; it does not teach that they should not be performed. Nor is it the question here, whether or no good works are requisite. But faith and good works differ, and it must be taught with discrimination what is the value of each for and by itself. Each must be considered in its proper relations that we may understand both what faith accomplishes and receives, and why good works are necessary. This distinction is everywhere taught in the Gospel and was preached by the apostles. It is, therefore, but blindness, if not intentional malice, that these papal sophists, without here making any distinction, in a swine-like manner misconstrue and pervert these passages so that neither of them can be clearly understood.

 

41. To prove my statements, consider this: Christ says plainly and clearly; ”He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;” as though he would say: If you would know how you can be saved, then this shall be considered the chief and essential condition – to believe and be baptized. The question is not whether or no we must do good works. There is no dispute about that. But there is something more important. The point is not what we are doing ourselves, but where shall we seek with the certainty we shall find that by which we can be saved from sin and death, and can obtain life and salvation? Here Christ clearly explains what shall be the chief doctrine of the Gospel. He bases it entirely on faith and baptism, concluding that we shall be saved for the sole reason that we have Christ by faith and baptism.

42. Believing means: To hold to be true, and with all the heart to depend on, that which the Gospel and all the articles of faith say about Christ; that he has been sent to us by God the Father, that he suffered, died and rose again and ascended into heaven for the sole reason that we may obtain from God the Father forgiveness of sin and life eternal in his name. That our faith may grasp and hold this the more firmly, he gives us holy baptism, by this visible sign to prove that God the Father will accept us and unfailingly give us that which is offered to us in the Gospel.

43. Now, if I am to believe this, then I must not adulterate my faith with belief in my own works. I must not depend upon my own merits, daring to offer them to God, as do the monks and self-righteous Jews. There are two doctrines that will not agree and can never hold combined, namely, the belief that we, for Christ’s sake and without our merits, obtain God’s grace; and the belief that we obtain God’s grace by our own works. For if we could obtain this grace by our own merits, then we should not need Christ in addition. Such confusion and detestable patchwork of the sophists cannot be tolerated – the claiming that Christ, indeed, atoned for original sins and for sins done aforetime and that he opens the door of heaven, but that we ourselves, by our own good works, must now also atone for sins and merit grace in order to fully obtain salvation. This is to rob Christ of his honor; yea, to set him, his death, resurrection and ascension aside, as if his merit were not sufficient for us, and as if his sufferings and blood are not able to atone for sins. But St. John says he is the only propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. 1 Jn 2, 2,

44. And that the passage we are considering and similar ones must be thus understood, St. Paul teaches in his epistles, especially in that to the Romans, where he proves that we are freely justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood Rom 3, 24-25. Here he plainly mentions the word gratis, i. e., freely, without our merits, and not for the sake of our works. Thus, we may have a sure consolation, and not doubt God’s grace and salvation though we are truly unworthy and still have remnants of sin in us. If the people be taught thus: If you desire forgiveness of sins and a merciful God, you must do enough good works and possess sufficient merits to overcome and remove your sins – then faith is already nullified. Christ is then of no efficacy, conscience is robbed of all consolation, and man is driven to despair, because he seeks help by and in himself and dares to attempt to accomplish himself that for which Christ was sent and which only he could do for us. Christ came to fulfil the Law, and to earn for us, by his obedience, grace and life eternal.

45. So, our passage on faith, and others like it, must be understood in this light; not perverted and marred by misleading comments and additions, for the purpose of belittling faith and contradicting Christ’s meaning. Such error will surely result if the teaching of good works is confused with that of faith; if distinction is not made between the chief doctrine of Christ’s Gospel, appropriation by faith alone, and the teaching of the Law concerning good works. As I said above, these two doctrines cannot stand side by side; they are directly contradictory. To believe that for Christ’s sake alone grace and eternal life are granted, and yet at the same time to seek and claim to obtain them by our own merits, is absurd.

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  1. May 28, 2014 at 6:26 pm

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