The belief that human beings should try their best to make themselves lovable to God frustrated Martin Luther and other 16th century reformers.
After reading Paul's letter to the Romans, Luther realized that striving for spiritual perfection or well-being was futile if he relied on his abilities. His life, and the church with him, was changed by his insight that we have nothing to offer God because of our sinfulness. If God doesn't make us "right" with God, we have no chance.
Justification by faith is about being made right with God. In justification, God embraces and empowers us. Our failings are forgiven and we are given hope beyond hope and life of continuous renewal sustained by the very Spirit that works through and in us for our good.
Justification as an act of God counteracts the devastating effects of sin in human life: suffering, loss of eternal life, the inability to even "will" ourselves to do right. Reconciliation with God is about the gift of a renewed relation with God, a continuous act resting on God's promise and work. In other words, grace.
The gospel says God promised this free gift of grace because Jesus became human, took human sins, died and rose again. To have faith in this gift brings about rightness with God, eternal life and forgiveness, and sustenance for a new, godly life. Since God is the primary actor in this redemption and renewal, even our faith in this act needs to come from God.
Luther teaches that faith comes to us from Christ, who comes to us through hearing the word and receiving the sacraments, through the Spirit's work. In justification we are declared right with God, released from the guilt of our sins, made truly holy and filled with the Spirit. Even as we live our lives as feeble sinners, striving to be Christlike to one another, God looks at us through Christ's holiness and loves us tenderly.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers