A dear friend, Brett Meyer has been sharing with me for sometime now Luther's Sermon on Galatians 4:1-7, found here. It is about time to feature some snippets of this sermon but note that the highlights are mine, for my own thinking and perhaps that of the reader's too.
8. Do you ask: "What then am I to do? How shall I make myself good and acceptable in person to begin with? how secure that justification? The Gospel replies: "Hear Christ and believe in him, utterly despairing of yourself and resting assured you will be changed from a Cain to an Abel and then present your offerings." just as faith is proclaimed without merit or work on your part, it is also bestowed regardless of your works, without any of your merits. It is given of pure grace. Note, faith justifies the individual; faith is justification. Because of faith God remits all sins, and forgives the old Adam and the Cain in our nature, for the sake of Christ his beloved Son, whose name faith represents. More, he bestows his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit changes the individual into a new creature, one with different reason and different will, and inclined to the good. Such a one, wherever he is, performs wholly good works, and all his works are good; as taught in the preceding epistle lesson.
9. Then nothing else is necessary to justification but to hear and believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour. But that is not a work of the natural man; it is a work of grace. He who presumes to attain justification by works, only obstructs the way of the Gospel, of faith, grace, Christ, God and all good. On the other hand, nothing but justification is necessary to render works good. The justified man and none other does good; all he does, being justified, is good, without distinction of works. Therefore, the order of man's salvation, the beginning and the sequel, is first to hear and then believe God's Word as supreme, and then to act. Thus shall man be saved. He who perverts this order and acts accordingly is certainly not of God.
10. Paul prescribes this order where he says (Rom 10, 13-15): "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent?" Christ teaches us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest; that is, faithful preachers. When they come they preach the true Word of God. Hearing it, we are enabled to believe, and such faith justifies us and renders us godly; then we call upon God and do only good. Thus are we saved. So then, the believer shall be saved, but he who works without faith shall be damned. Christ says (Mk 16, 16), "He that disbelieveth shall be condemned;" here works avail nothing.
11. Now, observe what people commonly do and say. "Yes,"' they tell you, "I expect to become godly. Yes, we must be godly." But if they are asked what we are to do to accomplish it, they go on to say, "Indeed, we must pray, fast, attend Church, abstain from sin, and so on." One will enter a monastery, another some order. One will become a priest, another will don a hair-garment. One will punish himself in a certain way, and another in another way. They are like Cain and do the works of Cain. Personally they are as at first--without justification. They but assume an external change, an alteration of works, clothing, condition and habits. They are really apes, assuming the habits of saints but remaining unholy. Unmindful of faith, they rush along with their good works toward heaven--as they imagine--torturing themselves.
Relative to them, Christ in the Gospel (Lk 13, 24) says: "Strive to enter in by the narrow door: for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able." And why not? Because they do not recognize the narrow door. It is faith. Faith humbles one, reduces him to nothing, until he must despair of all his good works and cleave only to God's grace; for that he must forsake all else. But the Cain-like saints imagine good works to be the narrow door. Hence they do not humble themselves. Nor do they despair of their good works; no, lading themselves with the cumbersome bundles of their collected deeds, they strive to pass through the door. They will pass as the camel with his great hump passes through the eye of the needle.
12. Mention faith to them and they scoff and laugh, saying: "Are we Turks or heathen that we must first learn what faith is? Is it possible that our multitude of monks, nuns and priests do not know? Who can be ignorant of what believing is when even they who openly sin know its meaning?" As if having finished with faith, they imagine they must henceforth devote themselves to works. As before said, they regard faith of slight importance; for they do not understand that it is our sole justifier. To accept as true the record of Christ--this they call faith. The devils have the same sort of faith, but it does not make them godly. Such belief is not Christian faith; no, it is rather deception.
13. In the preceding epistles we have heard that to be a Christian it is not enough simply to believe the story of Christ true--the Cain-like saints possess such faith--but the Christian must without any hesitancy believe himself one to whom grace and mercy are given, and that he has really secured them through baptism or through the Holy Supper. When he so believes, he is free to say of himself: "I am holy, godly and just. I am a child of God, perfectly assured of salvation. Not because of anything in me, not because of my merits or works, am I saved; it is of the pure mercy of God in Christ, poured out upon me." To such extent will he appreciate God's precious mercy, he cannot doubt that it renders him holy and constitutes him a child of God. But he who doubts, disparages to the utmost his baptism and the Holy Supper, and censures as false God's Word and his grace in the sacraments.
14. The Christian should entertain no fear--he should not doubt--that he is righteous and a child of God through grace. Rather he needs to entertain anxiety as to how he shall endure steadfast to the end. There is where all fear and anxiety are due. For while he assuredly is given to possess full salvation, it may be somewhat doubtful whether or no he will steadfastly retain it. Here we must walk in fear. True faith does not hang upon works nor rely upon itself; it relies only upon God and his grace. Grace cannot forsake the individual so long as reliance continues. But he knows not how long it will continue. Should temptation force him to lose his confidence, grace also will fail. Solomon (Ecc 9, 1) says: "The righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God; whether it be love or hatred, man knoweth it not; all is before them." He does not say it is uncertain at present, but in the future,because man knows not whether he will withstand the attacks or temptation.
15. When the Cain-like saints hear the doctrine of faith, they cross themselves, both with hands and feet, and exclaim: "God forbid! How could I call myself holy and righteous? How could I be so egotistical and presumptuous? No, no; I am a poor sinner." You see how they make faith of no value to themselves, and so must regard as heresy all doctrine based upon it. Thus they do away with the whole Gospel. These are they who deny the Christian faith and exterminate it from the world. Paul prophesied concerning them when he said (1 Tim 4, 1): "In later times some shall fall away from the faith." The voice of faith is now silenced all over the world. Indeed, faith is condemned and banished as the worst heresy, and all who teach and endorse it are condemned with it. The Pope, the bishops, charitable institutions, cloisters, high schools, unanimously opposed it for nearly four hundred years, and simply drove the world violently into hell. Their conduct is the real persecution by Antichrist, in the last times.16. Tell them what the prophet says in Psalm 86, 2: "Preserve my soul; for I am godly"; and Paul's words in Romans 8, 16: "The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God;" and they reply: "Yes, but the prophet and the apostle did not mean by these statements to establish a doctrine or leave an example of what others may claim. They were enlightened and their holiness was revealed to them." Similarly, they construe every passage relating to the subject as not doctrinal in design, but exhibiting a remarkable miracle, a special prerogative of certain individuals not to be possessed by every believer. This explanation is a mere invention of their own minds. Themselves unbelievers, tasting not the Spirit, they think no one else should so believe or taste. By such conduct--their own fruits--they may be clearly identified as thorns and thistles; not as Christians, but as enemies and destroyers of Christians, and persecutors of the Christian faith.