Faith and love

A succinct summary of Luther’s doctrine of justification and the Christian life is: “Faith makes of us lords and love makes of us servants.”

For Luther faith must always be directed and fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ; it’s not, strictly speaking, faith in the church, the sacraments, or any other means of grace. The fountainhead and source of all heavenly blessings are found in Christ alone. Quite rightly, Luther perceived that faith is the instrumental means of the soul being joined in a vital and saving union with the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. For instance: “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

Without faith it is impossible to please God and to have a right relationship with God. But by faith in Christ believers are made the richest of all: “We must enter into Christ, and not look at the lights that come from Him, but gaze at His light, which is the source of all lights.” Similarly: “ Christ to you with all His possessions.”

Believers are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ: their election, calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, conversion, justification, sanctification, sufferings, and final glorification are all in Christ. Luther believed firmly that “all things are yours.... and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). Without Christ there is no hope; in union with Him believers do not lack anything. In this sense “faith makes of us lords.”

But such a saving faith is never alone in Luther’s understanding, even as it is presented in Scripture. “ Christ to you with all His possessions,” he wrote, but continued: “Love gives you to your neighbour with all your possessions.” Again: “It is impossible for him who believes in Christ...not to love and do good...” an echo of James’ affirmation that faith without good works is barren and dead, being by itself.

It is a simple and sincere trust in Christ that places us in possession of Him and His salvation, but with such a dependence on Christ the disciple, like his Master, learns to serve and love his neighbour. As much as Paul, Luther’s mentor, emphasized justification by faith alone, he also stressed the inevitable presence of gratitude and service in the heart and life of the believer: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty: only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). He insisted that Law does not save, rather it shows our condemnation; and yet, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (v.14).

This tension must be maintained for a healthy view of our standing before God: we are declared righteous in His sight by the merits of Christ alone and by Christ alone we who believe become heirs of an everlasting kingdom; by love we thankfully serve, evidencing the genuineness of our faith.

The Christian must maintain good works, and yet, as Luther said, “Before God, no works are acceptable but Christ’s own works. Let these plead for you before God.”