I love Martin Luther–in spite of his many failings–because he grasped that a passionate, unwearying insistence on faith alone apart from works is the best way to actually produce good works in the lives of God’s people.  Like Paul, Luther’s aim in all things was to bring about “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5, 16:26, I Thessalonians 1:3, etc.):

“Faith is not that human notion and dream that some hold for faith.  Because they see that no betterment of life and no good works follow it, and yet they can hear and say much about faith, they fall into error, and say, ‘Faith is not enough; one must also do works in order to be righteous and saved.’  This is the reason that, when they hear the Gospel, they fall-to and make for themselves, by their own powers, an idea in their hearts, which says, ‘I believe.’  This they hold for true faith.  But it is a human imagination and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, and so nothing comes of it and no betterment follows it.  Faith, however, is a divine work in us.  It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God; it kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.  Oh, it is a living, busy, might thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly.  It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises; it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.  He who does not these works is a faith-less man.  He gropes and looks about after faith and good works, and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.  Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times.  This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith.  Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace; and thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.  Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools.  Pray God to work faith in you; else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.  Righteousness, then, is such a faith and is called ‘God’s righteousness,’ or ‘the righteousness that avails before God,’ because God gives it and counts it as righteousness for the sake of Christ, our Mediator, and makes a man give to every man what he owes him.  For through faith a man becomes sinless and comes to take pleasure in God’s commandments; thus he gives to God the honor that is His and pays Him what he owes Him; but he also serves man willingly, by whatever means he can, and thus pays his debt to everyone.  Such righteousness, nature and free will our powers cannot bring into existence.  No one can give himself faith, and no more can he take away his own unbelief; how, then, will he take away a single sin, even the very smallest?  Therefore, all that is done apart from faith or in unbelief, is false; it is hypocrisy and sin, no matter how good a show it makes (Romans 14).” (Preface” to Romans)

Because he loved God’s Word and consistently submitted all of his mental, rational activity to its truth:

“See to it that you fasten your attention on God’s Word and stay in it, like an infant in a cradle. If you let go for one moment, you have fallen away from the truth. The one intention of the devil is to get people away from the Word and to induce them to measure God’s will and works with their reason.” 

Because the Spirit filled his heart with courage and boldness, even though his confession of faith nearly cost him his life countless times:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the solider is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” (Quoted in Parker T. Williamson, Standing Firm: Reclaiming Christian Faith in Times of Controversy (Springfield, PA: PLC Publications, 1996), p. 5)

Because while it is basically intuitive (even common sense) that a deep awareness of sin is a prerequisite for a profound appreciation for grace, Luther is one of the few who saw the reverse relationship–that to be truly honest and ruthlessly genuine about the utter heinousness of our sin, we must trust and revel in grace with all our hearts:

 “If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly—for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (Letter to Philipp Melancthon on August 1st, 1521)

Because for all of his criticisms of the Catholic church, he knew where the root disease in God’s fallen creation lay and where the battle must ultimately be fought:

“I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals.  I have within me the great pope, Self.”

Because–let’s be honest–the guy was absolutely hilarious:

“You will not only despise the books written by adversaries, but the longer you write and teach the less you will be pleased with yourself. When you have reached this point, then do not be afraid to hope that you have begun to become a real theologian, who can teach not only the young and imperfect Christians, but also the maturing and perfect ones. For indeed, Christ’s church has all kinds of Christians in it who are young, old, weak, healthy, strong, energetic, lazy, simple, wise, etc.  If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it– if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears.  Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, ‘See, see! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.’ That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels. To sum up: Let us be proud and seek honor in the places where we can. But in this Book the honor is God’s alone, as it is said, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Pet. 5:5); to whom be glory, world without end, Amen.” (“Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of Luther’s German Writings,” Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, Ed. Timothy Lull. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), pp. 67-68)

“I’m like a ripe stool and the world’s like a gigantic anus, and we’re about to let go of each other.” (Table Talk, in LW 54:448, to his wife Katy in 1543 when he thought he was about to die)