From the Word
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Romans 13:8–10, RSV
We must properly distinguish between faith and love. Faith deals with the heart and love with works. Faith removes our sins, renders us acceptable, justifies us. Being accepted and justified in person, we have love imparted to us by the Holy Spirit, and we delight in doing good. It is the nature of the law to attack our person and demand good works; and it will not cease its demands until it gains its purpose. We cannot do good works without the spirit of love. The law constrains us to know our imperfections, and to recognize the necessity of becoming altogether different individuals, so that we may satisfy the law. The law does not exact so much of the heart as it does of works; in fact, it demands nothing but works and ignores the heart. It causes the individual to see that he must become an entirely different person. But faith, when it comes, creates a nature capable of accomplishing the works which the law demands.
It cannot in every case be said that faith fulfils the law. It, however, prepares the way and enables us to fulfil its demands. The law constrains us—teaches us that we must be changed before we can accomplish its works; it makes us conscious of our inability to fulfil it. On the other hand, love and works do not change or justify us. Our love and our works are evidence of justification and of a change, since these are impossible until the individual is free from sin and made righteous.
This explanation is given to enable us to perceive the true nature of the law, of faith and of love; to ascribe to each its own mission; and rightly to understand the Scripture declarations in their harmonious relations, namely, that while faith justifies, it does not fulfil the law, and that while love does not justify, it does fulfil the law.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 15–16.
Video with commentary