Of what use is faith without good works?

Friday, 2/21/14

In our first reading James asks, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but does not have good works?”

When people pointed out this text to Martin Luther he pushed James aside saying, “That is a very “strawy” Epistle.” Recently I did a little research on Luther’s stand on this. Let me repeat what I wrote about it.

From his overly-strict childhood Luther brought the conviction that God’s justice demanded severe punishment for sins. That certainty, coupled with his inability to avoid sinning, led to his despairing of salvation.

Having gained a doctorate in Theology at age thirty, he was put to teaching Paul’s Letter to the Romans at the University of Wittenberg. His life was changed there when he came to a fresh understanding of verse 17 in Chapter One of Romans:

            “In it {the gospel} is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith;
            as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.”  

For Luther that verse was saying that God’s justice does not come down on those justified by faith.

Luther was certainly right in saying we are justified by faith, but he was pushing it too far when he said that was all we need. I suppose it happens to all of us that we get a new idea that seems to answer all of our questions. When that happens, we need to sit back until the limitations of our brainstorm begin occurring to us.

Akin to Luther’s reliance on faith alone would be the belief that all we need is that we accept Christ as our personal Savior. Us old time Catholics pooh pooh that idea, but then, will we get by if we never make the effort to make Christ our personal Savior? 

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