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Increasing our Faith and Luther’s developing Notion of Faith

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In our Pastors’ Bible Study that meets Tuesday mornings at Resurrection Lutheran Church, Euclid Ave, in Oakland, CA we were discussing this Sunday’s lessons (Matthew 14:22-33 and Peter’s walking on water). We were noting that Jesus often reproaches his disciples as having little faith. How does our faith increase so that we can have a stronger more fervent faith? Perhaps the transition required can be charted by Luther’s insights below, where faith’s center of gravity transfers from being part of our effort to a “pure work of God in us.”

This was a footnote that I added to my dissertation, Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron.[1] One of Luther’s sermons of 1522 shows his peculiar notion of faith as well as its development as a concept that was completely independent of human doing.

177How Luther’s distinctive concept of faith continues to develop can be seen in his pamphlet, “Sermon about Unrighteous Mammon,” (untranslated), delivered August 17, 1522. It received 15 editions in Luther’s life-time, as well being included in three editions of sermon collections. He writes: “The real faith of which we speak, will not allow itself to be made out of our thought, because it is a pure work of God in us, without our being able to add anything we do to it. Thus St. Paul says in Romans 5:15: ‘It is God’s gift of grace won for us through Christ.’ That is why it is such a mighty, active, restless, and busy thing, which immediately renews the person, gives a second birth, and leads the person into new ways and into new being. It is impossible for this same self not to do good works, continuously, [spontaneously] without interruption.” Weimar Ausgabe 10.3: 285.24-30.

Also footnote 429 traces the development of faith through On Good Works, “Christian Freedom,” and Babylonian Captivity.[2]

429In On Good Works, Luther makes faith the first and highest of all good works, then the foreman and captain of all the others. Here in “Christian Freedom” he makes it the head and the whole essence of piety or being religious. In Babylonian Captivity, he made another move. “Faith is not a work, but the lord and life of all works.” LW 36:47, CL1:452:30, and WA6:520.26-27. And several pages later, writes that it is the work of God and not a human one, citing Ephesians 2:8. Then he states: “The other works he works through us and with our help, but this one alone he works in us and without our help.” LW 36:62, CL 1:463:41, and WA 6:530.17-18.[3]


[1] Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron, (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Dissertation Services, Proquest, March, 2001), page 167.

[2] Ibid., page 339.

[3] LW is Luther’s Works, CL is the Otto Clemens, and WA is the definitive Weimar Edition of Luther’s Works. WA, vol. 6, page 530, lines 17-18.

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Written by peterkrey

August 6, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Posted in 1, Luther

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