WHAT IS FAITH? Christian faith is not an opinion or human conviction, but a most firm trust and a clear and steadfast assent of the mind, and then a most certain apprehension of the truth of God presented in the Scriptures and in the Apostles’ Creed, and thus also of God himself, the greatest good, and especially of God’s promise and of Christ who is the fulfilment of all promises.
FAITH IS THE GIFT OF GOD. But this faith is a pure gift of God which God alone of his grace gives to his elect according to this measure when, to whom and to the degree he wills. And he does this by the holy Spirit by means of the preaching of the Gospel and steadfast prayer.
THE INCREASE OF FAITH. This faith also has its increase, and unless it were given by God, the apostles would not have said: “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). And all these things which up to this point we have said concerning faith, the apostles have taught before us. For Paul said: “For faith is the sure subsistence, of things hoped for, and the clear and certain apprehension” (Heb. 11:1). And again he says that all the promises of God are Yes through Christ and through Christ are Amen (II Cor. 1:20). And to the Philippians he said that it has been given tothem to believe in Christ (Phil. 1:29). Again, God assigned to each the measure of faith (Rom. 12:3). Again: “Not all have faith” and, “Not all obey the Gospel” (II Thess. 3:2; Rom. 10:16). But Luke also bears witness, saying: “As many as were ordained to life believed” (Acts 13:48). Wherefore Paul also calls faith “the faith of God’s elect” (Titus 1:1), and again: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Elsewhere he often commands men to pray for faith.
FAITH EFFICACIOUS AND ACTIVE. The same apostle calls faith efficacious and active through love (Gal. 5:6). It also quiets the conscience and opens a free access to God, so that we may draw near to him with confidence and may obtain from him what is useful and necessary. The same [faith] keeps us in the service we owe to God and our neighbor, strengthens our patience in adversity, fashions and makes a true confession, and in a word brings forth good fruit of all kinds, and good works.
CONCERNING GOOD WORKS. For we teach that truly good works grow out of a living faith by the Holy Spirit and are done by the faithful according tothe will or rule of God’s Word. Now the apostle Peter says: “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control,” etc.(II Peter 1:5 ff.). But we have said above that the law of God, which is his will, prescribes for us the pattern of good works. And the apostle says: “This is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain form immorality…that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in business” (I Thess. 4:3 ff.).
WORKS OF HUMAN CHOICE. And indeed works and worship which we choose arbitrarily are not pleasing to God. These Paul calls “self-devised worship” Col. 2:23. Of such the Lord says in the Gospel: “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:9). Therefore, we disapprove of such works, and approve and urge those that are of God’s will and commission.
THE END OF GOOD WORKS. These same works ought not to be done in order that we may earn eternal life by them, for, as the apostle says, eternal life is the gift of God. Nor are they to be done for ostentation which the Lord rejects in Matt., ch. 6, nor for gain which he also rejects in Matt., ch. 23, but for the glory of God, to adorn our calling, to show gratitude to God, and for the profit of the neighbor. For our Lord says again in the Gospel: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). And the apostle Paul says: “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). Also: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and to the Fatehr through him” (Col. 3:17), and, “Let each of you look not to his own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4), and, “Let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful” (Titus 3;14).
GOOD WORKS NOT REJECTED. Therefore, although we teach with the apostle that a man is justified by grace through faith in Christ and not through any good works, yet we do not think that good works are of little value and condemn them. We know that man was not created or regenerated through faith in order to be idle, but rather that without ceasing he should do those things which are good and useful. For in the Gospel the Lord says that a good tree brings forth good fruit (Matt. 12:33), and that he who abides in me bears much fruit (John 15:5). The apostle says: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10), and again: “Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). We therefore condemn all who despise good works and who babble that they are useless and that we do not need to pay attention to them.
WE ARE NOT SAVED BY GOOD WORKS. Nevertheless, as was said above, we do not think that we are saved by good works, and that they are so necessary for salvation that no one was ever saved without them. For we are saved by grace and the favor of Christ alone. Works necessarily proceed from faith. And salvation is improperly attributed to them, but is most properly ascribed to grace. The apostle’s sentence is well known: “If it is by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. But if it is of works, then it is no longer grace, because otherwise work is no longer work” (Rom. 11:6).
GOOD WORKS PLEASE GOD. Now the works which we do by faith are pleasing to God and are approved by him. Because of faith in Christ, those who do good works which, moreover, are done from God’s grace through the Holy Spirit, are pleasing to god. For St. Peter said: “In every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:35). And Paul said: “We have not ceased to pray for you…that you may walk worthily of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:9 f.).
WE TEACH TRUE, NOT FALSE AND PHILOSOPHICAL VIRTUES. And so we diligently teach true, not false and philosophical virtues, truly good works, and the genuine service of a Christian. And as much as we can we diligently and zealously press them upon all men, while censuring the sloth and Hypocrisy of all those who praise and profess the Gospel with their lips and dishonor it by their disgraceful lives. In this matter we place before them God’s terrible threats and then his rich promises and generous rewards — exhorting, consoling and rebuking.
GOD GIVES A REWARD FOR GOOD WORKS. For we teach that God gives a rich reward to those who do good works, according to that saying of the prophet: “keep your voice from weeping,…for your work shall be rewarded” (Jer. 31:16; Isa., ch. 4). The Lord also said in the Gospel: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matt. 5:12), and, “Whoever gives to one of these my little ones a cup of cold water, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (ch. 10:42). However, we do not ascribe this reward, which the Lord gives, to the merit of the man who receives it, but to the goodness, generosity and truthfulness of God who promises and gives it, and who, although he owes nothing to anyone, nevertheless promises that he will give a reward to his faithful worshippers; meanwhile he also gives them that they may honor him. Moreover, in the works even of the saints there is much that is unworthy of God and very much that is imperfect. But because God receives into favor and embraces those who do works for Christ’s sake, he grants to them the promised reward. For in other respects our righteousnesses are compared to a filthy wrap (Isa. 64:6). And the Lord says in the Gospel: “When you have done all that is commanded you, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Like 17:10).
THERE ARE NO MERITS OF MEN. Therefore, although we teach that God rewards our good deeds, yet at the same time we teach, with Augustine, that God does not crown in us our merits but his gifts. Accordingly we say that whatever reward we receive is also grace, and is more grace than reward, because the good we do, we do more through God than through ourselves, and because Paul says: “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (I Cor. 4:7). And this is what the blessed martyr Cyprian concluded from this verse: We are not to glory in anything in us, since nothing is our own. We therefore condemn those who defend the merits of men in such a way that they invalidate the grace of God.