What is it about Luther’s understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ that captures my heart and imagination? Perhaps it has to do with Luther’s clarion call that we are saved by the mercies of the cross of Christ and nothing else. When it’s all said and done, after all our sins, failures, short-comings in this life, the gaze of faith upon Christ will prove enough for our salvation. We enter into union with Christ by faith (through baptism) and are called to a life of faith and repentance, but this repentance is always founded on faith in the crucified and risen Christ. Christ has saved us and calls us to life with him and our struggles in this life add nothing to the salvation already won, secured, and sealed on Calvary. We live by faith and receive the benefits of salvation by faith, not by works of the law: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin…For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:21,28).
Yes, make no mistake that we “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) but this working out, this living our faith, this fighting the passions and replacing them with virtue and love, always stems because “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). To lose sight of this or to fail to mention our foundational life of faith in Christ (“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” I Cor 3:11) can lead to a subtle forgetfulness where we end up drifting away (Heb 2:1) from the True Source of our faith, and end up trusting something (whatever it might be—our good works, our efforts of prayers, our going to church, our not swearing or having premarital sex, etc.) other than Christ for our salvation. Such misplaced trust is always a danger and perversion of the gospel, and Luther helps remind me that in the end, mercy and grace are found only in and because of Christ.
In short, Luther helps me to keep my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith.