We believe that this true faith, worked in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the operation of the Holy Spirit,1 regenerates him and makes him a new man.2 It makes him live a new life and frees him from the slavery of sin.3 Therefore it is not true that this justifying faith makes man indifferent to living a good and holy life.4 On the contrary, without it no one would ever do anything out of love for God,5 but only out of self-love or fear of being condemned. It is therefore impossible for this holy faith to be inactive in man, for we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls
faith expressing itself through love (Gal 5:6). This faith induces man to apply himself to those works which God has commanded in His Word. These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, since they are all sanctified by His grace. Nevertheless, they do not count toward our justification. For through faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do any good works.6 Otherwise they could not be good any more than the fruit of a tree can be good unless the tree itself is good.7
Therefore we do good works, but not for merit. For what could we merit? We are indebted to God, rather than He to us, for the good works we do,8 since it is
He who works in [us], to will and to act according to His good purpose (Phil 2:13). Let us keep in mind what is written:
So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty (Luke 17:10).” Meanwhile we do not deny that God rewards good works,9 but it is by His grace that He crowns His gifts.
Furthermore, although we do good works, we do not base our salvation on them. We cannot do a single work that is not defiled by our flesh and does not deserve punishment.10 Even if we could show one good work, the remembrance of one sin is enough to make God reject it.11 We would then always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be constantly tormented, if they did not rely on the merit of the death and passion of our Saviour.12
- 1 Acts 16:14; Rom 10:17; 1 Cor 12:3.
- 2 Ezek 36:26, 27; Jn 1:12, 13; Jn 3:5; Eph 2:4-6; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:23.
- 3 Jn 5:24; Jn 8:36; Rom 6:4-6; 1 Jn 3:9.
- 4 Gal 5:22; Tit 2:12.
- 5 Jn 15:5; Rom 14:23; 1 Tim 1:5; Heb 11:4, 6.
- 6 Rom 4:5.
- 7 Mt 7:17.
- 8 1 Cor 1:30, 31; 1 Cor 4:7; Eph 2:10.
- 9 Rom 2:6, 7; 1 Cor 3:14; 2 Jn 8; Rev 2:23.
- 10 Rom 7:21.
- 11 Jas 2:10.
- 12 Hab 2:4; Mt 11:28; Rom 10:11.