This quote from Wednesday's writing in the Treasury of Daily Prayer says clearly what is not so clear in so many minds. I wish I had written it, but I'm glad Walther did. Now I can pass along his insights so that many more may benefit.
In speaking about the relationship between faith and works, C.F.W. Walther had this to say:
"[Luther] taught that good works to not save a person, but only faith, without good works....He did say that, to be saved, a person must have have and, in addition to that, good works, or love; but he did teach that those who would be saved must have a faith that produces love spontaneously and is fruitful in good works. That does not mean that faith saves on account of love which springs from it, but that the faith which the Holy Spirit creates and which cannot but do good works justifies because it clings to the gracious promise of Christ and because it lays hold of Christ. It is active in good works because it is genuine faith. The believer need not at all be exhorted to do good works; his faith does them automatically. The believer engages in good works, not from a sense of duty, in return for the forgiveness of his sins, but chiefly because he cannot help doing them. It is altogether impossible that genuine faith should not break forth from the believer's heart in works of love."
This has been on my mind since I read it, and has helped me to clarify a few of my thoughts on preaching. If the preacher treats faith and its fruit as a proposition, saying "this is possible if...", or "you can have this if...", or even "your sins can be forgiven," than we have turned faith into man's work of obedience, and it becomes a burden. This is NOT the preaching of the Gospel.
The Gospel asserts. It declares a reality. Preaching the Gospel simply proclaims what is true about the hearer--"Jesus died on the cross; there your sins are forgiven." "You have been baptized into Christ; you are God's child." "Take and drink, the blood of Christ; your sins are forgiven."
God doesn't leave it to chance. The Gospel isn't a possibility--it's a fact. And faith grasps hold of it for the sweet comfort that it brings. Faith says, "I want that!" Faith that clings to the Gospel, as Walther says so clearly, will never be without the fruit of that faith--good works.