“How do I find a merciful God?” was one of the most important questions for Martin Luther. If God alone could show mercy, salvation could not depend on the deeds of the individual. This realisation came to Luther from his reading of St. Paul. He summarised the understanding he reached by saying that ‘faith alone, without works, justifies, frees, and saves’. This meant that people could not achieve salvation by earning it in the eyes of God. Instead, people had to accept, in faith, what was given by God. According to Luther, nobody is capable of doing what they should wholeheartedly – there will always be veiled self-interest. People can only be freed from egoism and self-interest by accepting God’s grace, his ‘pardon’. People are therefore not the architects of their own fortune: they have to accept what God gives.
Luther was accused of ignoring the importance of good deeds. But he claimed that, on the contrary, he freed people to do good deeds for others instead of for their own salvation.
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Luther and Reformatory Ideas: Faith and Deeds