Of course we all know that sound bytes tend to be terrible things. They divorce the information that you are receiving from the context in which is was first pronounced, and possibly, thus, from the information's meaning.
This summer I had a thorough discussion on the epistle of James with a seminary student from DTS who was interning at the time with a campus ministry at LSU. He had the unlucky task of preaching at a Sunday night meeting on James 2. His explanation of the faith/works passage that night was much like those I've heard for years in the Baptist church: 'works don't save you, but they're something you do because you are saved'. (It's very similar to the equally useless Baptist explanation of baptism.) Well, our discussion was driven by my noting the fact that James seems to disagree with this statement. James says "faith without works is dead." He clearly implies that such a faith won't save a man (:14). Regardless, the Baptist church, in my experience, has always said: "No, no; there's faith, and that saves. Then there works, and the person with faith is going to work. . . they're just going to."
This is a sound byte gone afoul. Martin Luther may have said "sola fides", but, whether we read him to find this or not, he absolutely qualifies "fides".
When the blessed James and the apostle [Paul, referring to Gal. 5:6 and Rom. 2:13] say that man is justified by works, they are disputing the false conception of those who contended that a faith without works would be sufficient. However, the apostle does not say that faith is without its characteristic works-for then there would be no faith at all since 'activity reveals the nature of a thing' according to philosophers-but that it justifies without the works of the Law. Therefore justification does not require the works of the Law; but it does require a living faith, which performs its works.
It's from a sermon of his.
A living faith. Is it just me, or isn't that exactly what James is talking about?
Yet we try to water down James's statement, to "read it through Paul", all the while missing what Paul means because we've already missed what Luther meant, and we're "reading" Paul through Luther.
As it turns out, Luther is in perfect agreement with me on James 2: James is contrasting two different concepts of faith; one is a dead pistis that won't save, and the other is a saving pistis-works combination. This combination is 'living faith'--James is forcing us to redefine "faith" here, or at least "faith" in our popular usage ("it's by grace you have been saved through faith..").
BUT, even if Luther and I disagreed, we still have a bigger, fundamental problem here: people are reading the scriptures through Luther. You could insert "Calvin", "Wright", or whomever you want right there.
We're reading through Luther (although in this case it's a bad conception of Luther), and then we're disregarding what the text actually says to fit the interpretation.
Please tell me you see the problem here.