Luther on the Necessity of Good Works

I’m involved in a discussion where the claim was made that the Protestant church has distorted the gospel by removing the necessity of good works for salvation—something the early Christians unanimously affirmed. Luther was singled out as one who cared nothing about good works—at least not in the context of salvation. I pointed out this section from Luther, in which he indicates that “works are necessary to salvation.”

I reply to the argument, then, that our obedience is necessary for salvation. It is, therefore, a partial cause of our justification. Many things are necessary which are not a cause and do not justify, as for instance the earth is necessary, and yet it does not justify. If man the sinner wants to be saved, he must necessarily be present, just as he asserts that I must also be present. What Augustine says is true, “He who has created you without you will not save you without you.”1 Works are necessary to salvation, but they do not cause salvation, because faith alone gives life. On account of the hypocrites we must say that good works are necessary to salvation. It is necessary to work. Nevertheless, it does not follow that works save on that account, unless we understand necessity very clearly as the necessity that there must be an inward and outward salvation or righteousness. Works save outwardly, that is, they show evidence that we are righteous and that there is faith in a man which saves inwardly, as Paul says, “Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” [Rom. 10:10]. Outward salvation shows faith to be present, just as fruit shows a tree to be good. (“The Disputation Concerning Justification,” LW, 165)


  1. N21: Sermo 170. Migne 38, 923.

, , , , , ,

Comments are closed.