Luther on Faith

In past weeks we have used Martin Luther’s definition of faith as “the ground drinking the rain that God sends.” Such a description of faith, in a culture that has made faith into a “work” that we do, seems passive, and leads people to ask, “What, then, is the role of obedience?”

Luther suggests that the question itself betrays an utter misunderstanding of true faith. From Luther’s “Preface to Romans:”

Faith is not that human notion and dream that some hold for faith… [Some people], when they hear the Gospel… make for themselves, by their own powers, an idea in their hearts, which says, ‘I believe.’ This they hold for true faith. But it is a human imagination and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, and so nothing comes of it and no betterment follows it.

Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1); it kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them. He who does not these works is a faithless man…

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace; and thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light in fires. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God to work faith in you; else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.


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  1. Short time blog reader, first time blog poster.

    Coming off of Sunday’s sermon where time was spent looking at Abraham’s justification by faith, created some questions in my applicable understanding of faith. In a sense I feel like I am looking for an answer that I may be unable to find. I agree with and am frustrated by what Luther states in his “Preface to Romans.” He points out the difference between belief and faith. These are two completely different concepts that are becoming more and more evident in my world. How many times do I engage with a person who “believes” in Jesus, but does not live like a disciple of Jesus? There is a difference between believing a story or a theory and putting your complete faith in that same story or theory.

    Paraphrasing Luther, he says that belief never reaches the depths of the heart, and so nothing comes of it and no betterment follows it. Faith he says is a living, busy, mighty thing that inevitably leads to spiritual transformation.

    Now I look further into Abraham’s faith. It Genesis 15: 6, “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The word believed is used in my NIV translation. So at this point he is righteous before God. Yet after this point, he does not seem to have the fullness of faith in God. He sleeps with Hagar and bears a child with her. To me this seems like he may doubt God’s ability to follow through on his promises (in the same way he identified Sarai as his sister when entering Egypt for protection). I feel at this time, he believed in what God had said, but doubted by what means it would happen.

    Can a living, busy, mighty faith coexist with doubt? I admit in some of my quite times I find myself doubting when I should be praising, thanking, and giving glory to God. What does this say about my faith? Is my faith being confused with belief?

    I find hope in Abraham and his spiritual transformation. I feel he was quite a different man when he was willing to give up his son Isaac. That looks like true faith to me. That looks like a faith that gives glory to God. He did not doubt God’s plan, but was willing to put faith in his will. The blessings he had been given in his life seemed to strengthen his faith. I strive to have a faith like this in my life, and I know it will happen because God promises that his work in my will be completed.

  2. I am sad that when we use a word to much, it loses its meaning. That is what has happened to me when I hear the word faith. It has lost substance to me. This is something that I have to wrestle with, because in order to have faith I need to understand what faith means. I thought I had faith once I became a “Christian”. I believe that Jesus died for my sins, therefore, I was justified, and therefore, I had faith. Right? It was like counting, 2+2=4, sweet I am saved! However, a couple months ago I realized I didn’t have faith with substance. I was watching the movie “Kingdom of Heaven”. As I watched this man that had “faith” in the Lord go against all odds, I idolized him. It made me think of Moses, Abraham, and Russel Crowe. Honestly, what man doesn’t idolize Gladiator? But, what I thought I idolized was not true to my character. I thought how great it would be to die for my God. Then I asked myself a question that flipped my world upside down. Would I be willing to die for God in a desert alone? The answer was no. My heart didn’t want to die for God, my heart wanted to die for a meaning that everyone would want to sell as a box office ticket. If I truly had faith, I would follow our Lord wherever he would take me, even if that meant into a desert to die alone. That is what faith is to me. Do I question my faith? Of course! However, this is a strength and not a weakness. When I question my faith, I don’t question God, but I question my understanding of God. That is how we grow in faith. We question our actions, not against God, but with God. This is how the idea of God travels from my head to my heart. This is what builds the understanding that would allow me to die for God, even in a desert.

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