Faith alone has always been a controversial claim. Martin Luther was accused throughout his life of antinomianism: of claiming that the Christian does not need to obey the law or do any good works. If we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, then we contribute nothing to our salvation. And if we contribute nothing, then where’s the incentive for obedience? If the gospel is all carrot and no stick, his critics argued, the church will descend into chaos.
Luther directly denied this. He clung to the freedom that faith brings, but he held that true faith leads to good work. Faith makes love.
Faith Makes Love
After understanding the gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone, a student of Luther’s said, “If this is true, then I can do whatever I want.” To this, Luther replied, “Exactly. Now what do you want to do?”
According to Luther in The Freedom of a Christian, love is not left behind by faith. Rather, faith is the source of love.
Behold, from faith thus flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing, and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praises or blame, of gain or loss.
Faith transforms the heart and motives of the Christian. It makes us want to love our neighbors in worship and gratitude to God.
Since by faith the soul is cleansed and made to love God, it desires that all things, and especially its own body, shall be purified so that all things may join with it in loving and praising God.
So also our works should be done, not that we may be justified by them, since being justified beforehand by faith, we ought to do all things freely and joyfully for the sake of others.
No Faith, No Love
In fact, he would claim that there is no such thing as good works without faith. True love—unselfish, disinterested, sacrificial love for my neighbors—can’t exist without faith. Any work that appears good but that doesn’t have faith behind it is an attempt to steal God’s glory, and is thus inherently sinful. Rather, "Love is true and genuine where there is true and genuine faith.”
So let him who wishes to do good works begin not with the doing of works, but with believing, which makes the person good, for nothing makes a man good except faith, or evil except unbelief.
Faith sets us free to live NOT for ourselves, but for God and neighbor. The Christian is called to “live only for others.”
[A] Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love.
All You Need Is (Faith That Produces) Love
If I have faith, my soul’s life is in Christ. And if my soul’s life is in Christ, my bodily life in this world will be conformed to Him. If Christ’s life on this earth was lived, “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45), then my life on this earth, in the body, will be lived always and only for others.
Faith is a state of the soul; love is the corresponding state of the body. A failure to love in my temporal existence can be traced back to a failure of faith in the deepest part of my being. It may be true that all you need is love. But if I want love, I need a faith that produces it in my life. The first step to a life of love is a wholehearted faith.