Martin Luther’s Definition of Faith

According to Luther, it is a foolish thing to try to define faith and works separately:

Here is an excerpt from “An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans,” Luther’s German Bible of 1522 by Martin Luther, 1483-1546 Translated by Rev. Robert E. Smith

“Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this “faith,” either.

Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing.  Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever.  He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words.

Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.

For further reading on Luther’s definition of faith, here is an article by an RC brother by the name of Peter Kreeft who states that when Luther used the word “faith”, “Luther used it in the broad sense of the person’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. It included repentance, faith, hope, and charity.”  If this is true, and I think the quote above lends itself to that conclusion, then Luther’s Sola Fide was over and against extra-biblical works (like indulgences) devised and demanded by a corrupt priesthood, rather than over and against repentance and a living faith working in love.

5 Responses to “Martin Luther’s Definition of Faith”

  1. Echo_ohcE Says:

    Works is not what faith IS, it’s what it DOES.

    No one on our side denies this.

    Pretend, for the sake of analogy, that faith is a person, a carpenter, and he builds a house. And what a splendid house it is! But the person who built the house IS NOT the house. The house is what the person has done.

    So it is with faith and works. To be sure, works flow from a living faith. But the works themselves are not the faith.

  2. Echo, I have no problem with that, and indeed, it was mildly entertaining. But ask Clark if “faith works”. He has said previously that Shepherd’s use of the term “obedient faith” adds works to justification and is equivalent to the Romish definition of faith.

  3. More than half way through the link you provide, Clark says this:’

    *Extraspective* is a key term here. Extraspective means, “looks away from one’s self” and “toward Christ and his righteousness.” Introspective, necessarily looks at one’s own sanctification. This was the Roman teaching, but it is the introspective doctrine of faith which our standards reject. A complex instrument makes a complex object, Christ and me. I, as a rotten sinner, am a miserable object of faith. By folding obedience into the definition of faith — this is the entire project behind the expression “obedient faith” — they have corrupted the genuine Biblical and Protestant doctrine of faith. Whoever holds to “obedient faith” cannot agree with the Apostle Paul in Rom 3.28 or with HC 21 or BC 22 & 24 *as they were intended.*

    I haven’t finished it yet, but what I have read of Clark on this link so far wrt faith and justification and the nature of faith, is what I believe. I think this quote is a good one, actually, because it makes a distinction with looking out verse looking in. I look out to Christ for my salvation, and that produces good works in me. I don’t trust that these good works are part of my justification, but merely a result of my justification.

    I do pause at his assertion that Rom 3:28 is talking about obeying the ethical demands of the law. Whenever I see the phrase “works of the law” I tend to think of the ceremonial rituals of the law. We are not justified by circumcision or sacrificing cows.

    it’s not often I get to agree with Dr. Clark since he’s so often talked incorrectly about Theonomy without backing up his talk. So, I figured I should take the opportunity now. However, I haven’t read Shepard’s book so I am NOT saying that I agree with his critique of Shepard, just that his explanation of justification by faith alone is the same as my understanding.


  4. Jeff,

    Clark’s position (as quoted above) does not do away with introspection, it simply introduces a different kind. How do you know your faith is good enough to unite you to Christ and His redemptive work for the elect? Enter introspection.

    I have no problem with looking to Christ alone for my justification, but the faith I do that with has to be living and obedient according to the scriptures and the Confession. The scriptures also say of Good Works that they strengthen the believer’s assurance (WCF XVI.II). Also, at the first AAPC conference in 2002, Wilson exhorted ministers to encourage their flock to be primarily “extrospective”, that is not look inside (because on any given day, you’ll find enough in there to hang yourself), but rather look to Christ’s work and receive that work in faith.

    This is another area that requires balance.

    There is one who looks only to his own obedience and finds himself lacking and is therefore discouraged. This man needs to be exhorted to look to Christ and His righteousness in faith.

    Then another looks to Christ and His finished work and sees no need to examine himself to see if he is in the faith and sees obedience to the demands of the Law as optional to his faith. He is justified by faith alone, right? On the last day, he will cry, “Lord, lord,” but Jesus will say to him, “Depart from me ye worker of iniquity. I never knew you.” This man needs to be hit over the head with the righteous demands of God’s Law.

  5. Oh, and you should seriously read Shepherd’s Call of Grace. I think Brian still has the autographed copy I was borrowing from Jacob. You could read it in a couple of evenings. It is like 100 pages.

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