From the Word
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18 But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
James 2:14–18, RSV
Faith receives the good works of Christ, love bestows good works on our neighbor. Our faith is strengthened and increased when Christ is held forth to us in his own natural works, namely, that he associates with the blind, the deaf, the lame, the lepers, the dead and the poor; that is, in pure love and kindness toward all who are in need and in misery, so that finally Christ is nothing else than consolation and a refuge for all the distressed and troubled in conscience. Here is necessary faith that trusts in the gospel and relies upon it, never doubting that Christ is just as he is presented to us in this gospel, and does not think of him otherwise, nor lets any one persuade us to believe otherwise. That gospel which suffers Christ to be seen and to be doing good only among the needy will not belie you.
If you desire to believe rightly and to possess Christ truly, then you must reject all works that you intend to place before God. They are only stumbling blocks, leading you away from Christ and from God. Before God no works are acceptable but Christ’s own works. Let these plead for you before God, and do no other work before him than to believe that Christ is doing his works for you and is placing them before God in your behalf. God demands of us no other work that we should do for him than to exercise faith in Christ. With that he is satisfied, and with that we give honor to him, as to one who is merciful, longsuffering, wise, kind and truthful. After this think of nothing else than to do to your neighbor as Christ has done to you, and let all your works together with all your life be applied to your neighbor. Look for the poor, sick and all kinds of needy, help them and let your life’s energy appear in this, so that they may enjoy your kindness, helping wherever your help is needed, as much as you possibly can with your life, property and honor. Know that to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor in love, whether he be enemy or friend, or whether you can help in temporal or spiritual matters. This is serving God and doing good works.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 439–40.