This post is a continuation of “Part 3” of the series below, assessing the tradition with respect to John Piper and his defenders:
Martin Luther: Good Works, the Fruits of Faith
“’For in Christ I have all things at once, neither need I anything more, that is necessary unto salvation’ [Luther]. And to us it is evident, that this is the believer’s plea, viz: Christ’s most perfect obedience to the law, for him, in answer unto its demand of good works for obtaining salvation….” ~The Marrow Men
Finding passages from Martin Luther consonant with the above is perfectly simple. On every other page we see him extolling the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. He is even one of those simple rubes that puts Justification for Salvation and Salvation for Justification with no explanation, contrary to our more refined Reformed Scholastic forebears (yes, sarcasm). He teaches that the Gospel is only purely preached if good works are not added as conditions—why?—because faith apprehends the whole Christ, which is the whole of our salvation:
The false apostles preached a conditional gospel. So do the papists. They admit that faith is the foundation of salvation. But they add the conditional clause that faith can save only when it is furnished with good works. This is wrong. The true Gospel declares that good works are the embellishment of faith, but that faith itself is the gift and work of God in our hearts. Faith is able to justify, because it apprehends Christ, the Redeemer.
If anyone teaches otherwise, he is in fact an enemy of the Gospel:
Whoever teaches that good works are indispensable unto salvation, that to gain heaven a person must suffer afflictions and follow the example of Christ and of the saints, is a minister of the Law, of sin, wrath, and of death, for the conscience knows how impossible it is for a person to fulfill the Law.
Further, good works are only the outward signs and fruits of he who is already saved, being just in the sight of God:
Even as Abraham’s circumcision was an outward sign with which he proved his justice based on faith, so too all good works are only outward signs which flow from faith and are the fruits of faith; they prove that the person is already inwardly just in the sight of God.
And what is most clear to Luther, all of this is by faith alone—Sola Fide. But he does not thereby deny that true and saving faith is of necessity accompanied by works. A faith that does not work is not true faith at all.
Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides. He declares on the one hand, “In Christ Jesus circumcision availeth nothing,” i.e., works avail nothing, but faith alone, and that without any merit whatever, avails before God. On the other hand, the Apostle declares that without fruits faith serves no purpose. To think, “If faith justifies without works, let us work nothing,” is to despise the grace of God. Idle faith is not justifying faith. In this terse manner Paul presents the whole life of a Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our fellow-men.
But these works, to be very clear, are not necessary to salvation:
However, there are others who are not malicious, only weak, who may take offense when told that Law and good works are unnecessary for salvation. These must be instructed as to why good works do not justify, and from what motives good works must be done. Good works are not the cause, but the fruit of righteousness. When we have become righteous, then first are we able and willing to do good. The tree makes the apple; the apple does not make the tree.
The above is the most common metaphor Luther uses to describe the relationship between salvation and good works; it is the relation between the tree and the fruit it produces (of course by faith).
On this score, a most remarkable passage is found in his work, Concerning Christian Liberty. I will quote at length.
To make what we have said more easily understood, let us set it forth under a figure. The works of a Christian man, who is justified and saved by his faith out of the pure and unbought mercy of God, ought to be regarded in the same light as would have been those of Adam and Eve in paradise and of all their posterity if they had not sinned. Of them it is said, “The Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. ii. 15). Now Adam had been created by God just and righteous, so that he could not have needed to be justified and made righteous by keeping the garden and working in it; but, that he might not be unemployed, God gave him the business of keeping and cultivating paradise. These would have indeed been works of perfect freedom, being done for no object but that of pleasing God, and not in order to obtain justification, which he already had to the full, and which would have been innate in us all.
So it is with the works of a believer. Being by his faith replaced afresh in paradise and created anew, he does not need works for his justification, but that he may not be idle, but may exercise his own body and preserve it. His works are to be done freely, with the sole object of pleasing God. Only we are not yet fully created anew in perfect faith and love; these require to be increased, not, however, through works, but through themselves.
A bishop, when he consecrates a church, confirms children, or performs any other duty of his office, is not consecrated as bishop by these works; nay, unless he had been previously consecrated as bishop, not one of those works would have any validity; they would be foolish, childish, and ridiculous. Thus a Christian, being consecrated by his faith, does good works; but he is not by these works made a more sacred person, or more a Christian. That is the effect of faith alone; nay, unless he were previously a believer and a Christian, none of his works would have any value at all; they would really be impious and damnable sins.
True, then, are these two sayings: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works”; “Bad works do not make a bad man, but a bad man does bad works.” Thus it is always necessary that the substance or person should be good before any good works can be done, and that good works should follow and proceed from a good person. As Christ says, “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (Matt. vii. 18). Now it is clear that the fruit does not bear the tree, nor does the tree grow on the fruit; but, on the contrary, the trees bear the fruit, and the fruit grows on the trees.
As then trees must exist before their fruit, and as the fruit does not make the tree either good or bad, but on the contrary, a tree of either kind produces fruit of the same kind, so must first the person of the man be good or bad before he can do either a good or a bad work; and his works do not make him bad or good, but he himself makes his works either bad or good.
We may see the same thing in all handicrafts. A bad or good house does not make a bad or good builder, but a good or bad builder makes a good or bad house. And in general no work makes the workman such as it is itself; but the workman makes the work such as he is himself. Such is the case, too, with the works of men.
Such as the man himself is, whether in faith or in unbelief, such is his work: good if it be done in faith; bad if in unbelief. But the converse is not true that, such as the work is, such the man becomes in faith or in unbelief. For as works do not make a believing man, so neither do they make a justified man; but faith, as it makes a man a believer and justified, so also it makes his works good.
Since then works justify no man, but a man must be justified before he can do any good work, it is most evident that it is faith alone which, by the mere mercy of God through Christ, and by means of His word, can worthily and sufficiently justify and save the person; and that a Christian man needs no work, no law, for his salvation; for by faith he is free from all law, and in perfect freedom does gratuitously all that he does, seeking nothing either of profit or of salvation—since by the grace of God he is already saved and rich in all things through his faith—but solely that which is well-pleasing to God.
As fantastic as this whole passage is, the first paragraph helps beyond all of the metaphors that follow to spell out Luther’s understanding of the relation of good works to the justified sinner. The justified man—the saved man—is like Adam in the Garden, perfectly righteous before God, “justified and saved by his faith out of the pure and unbought mercy of God.” Luther argues that just as Adam was given work to do, so is the justified man. But in both cases this work is not given to gain salvation, but as true “works of perfect freedom, being done for no object but that of pleasing God.”
[…] for by faith he is free from all law, and in perfect freedom does gratuitously all that he does, seeking nothing either of profit or of salvation—since by the grace of God he is already saved and rich in all things through his faith—but solely that which is well-pleasing to God.
Salvation Sola Fide: John Calvin and the Causes of Salvation
 Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians; The Martin Luther Collection: 15 Classic Works (p. 222). Waxkeep Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid., p. 236.
 Preface to the Book of Romans; The Martin Luther Collection: 15 Classic Works (p. 680). Waxkeep Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians; The Martin Luther Collection: 15 Classic Works (p. 321). Waxkeep Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid., p. 242
 Concerning Christian Liberty; The Martin Luther Collection: 15 Classic Works [pp. 658-660]. Waxkeep Publishing. Kindle Edition.