From the Word
3 Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
Luke 17:3–5, RSV
There are those who hear and read the gospel and what is said by faith, and immediately conclude that they have a correct conception of what faith is. They think that faith is something which is altogether in their own power to have or not to have, as any other natural human work. When in their hearts they begin to think that the doctrine is right, and believe it is true, they immediately conclude that faith is present. But as soon as they see and feel in themselves and others that no change has taken place, that they remain in their old ways, they conclude that faith is not sufficient, that they must have something more and greater than faith. Then they cry: “Faith alone does not do it.” Why? Because there are so many who believe, and are no better than before. Such people are those whom Jude in his epistle calls dreamers, who deceive themselves with their own dreams.
The true faith, of which we speak, cannot be manufactured by our own thoughts, for it is solely a work of God in us without any assistance on our part. It is God’s gift and grace. Faith is something very powerful, active, restless, effective, which at once renews a person and regenerates him and leads him altogether into a new manner and character of life, so that it is impossible not to do good without ceasing. Just as natural as it is for the tree to produce fruit, so natural it is for faith to produce good works.
Whoever has not this faith talks but vainly about faith and works, and does not know what he says. For he has not received it; he juggles with lies and applies the Scriptures where they speak of faith and works to his own dreams and false thoughts, which is purely a human work. Whereas the Scriptures attribute both faith and good works not to ourselves, but to God alone. We should therefore despair of ourselves and pray to God for faith as the apostles did. When we have faith we need nothing more, for it brings with it the Holy Spirit, who not only teaches us all things, but also firmly establishes us in them, and leads us through death and hell to heaven.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 316–17.