“And without faith it is impossible to please God…”
Luther feared the action that arises from spiritual insecurity. This he came to regard as “legalism,” drawing a line from Pharisees to Papacy and equating their religious regulations, as similarly arising from a desperation to grasp for self-righteousness. In the heart of a priest, such grasping would finally condense into self-idolatrous pride (from which point I dissent); while it would remain restless existential anxiety in the heart of the common layman. The layman, in awe of the priest, grasps and gropes until he too petrifies in pride (likely in a monastery) or dies wringing his hands and secretly hating God. The way out is the inaction of faith–Luther’s spin on the “resting” at the beginning of Augustine’s Confessions.
But I see that spiritual insecurity may also breed inaction. I am discontented with my work when I fear that I am a weak husband, that I am not ambitious enough, that I am foolish or impious or inept, that I have chosen the wrong career path. When I am insecure, I neglect the work required of me and scatter my attentions to a thousand trifles by which I hope to vault to the status I have missed so far. I wander looking for salvations. When I am confident (usually under the influence of strong caffeine, I admit), then I am content to do what I should.
The Christian ethic is perplexing simple, and the grasping of the human heart neglects rather than accepting it. Insecurity hates the banality of God’s law and holds back from doing it. Faith, on the other hand, does not hesitate. Faith is the swagger of righteousness–a righteousness as easy and unearned as good looks. Yet it does the works, just as I sit still and grade papers when I am confident. When I lose faith, doubting the worth of my occupation, then I fritter the time with nothing-tasks and wasteful speculation. Truly good works, then, are not only worthless or sinful without faith–they are impracticable.