This makes all the difference in the world, and it is one of the most unfortunate happenings that Protestantism always is in the temptation to turn around the thing into its opposite, namely, to make the religious dimension dependent on morality. Wherever this is done, we are outside the realm of true Protestantism. You should never forget this in your congregations and everywhere: if somebody says, “Oh, God must love me, and I love Him because I do almost everything He demands.” – namely, what the suburban neighbor demands! – then the religious and ethical situation is completely turned into its opposite. But if somebody says: “I know that I don’t do anything good, or so little seemingly good, so ambiguous that the only thing which is good in me is that God declares that I am good and that I am able to accept this Divine declaration, and if I accept it, then it may happen that there may be a transformed reality; but the other side is the first.” And that is one of the centers of the whole Reformation. Therefore the famous phrase, “by faith alone,” (sola fide.) This phrase is the most misunderstood and distorted, phrase of the Reformation.
People have taught it means that if you do the good work of believing, having faith in something – something unbelievable, especially – then you do that good work which makes you good before God. The phrase should be not “by faith alone” but “by grace alone, which is received through faith.” So if you want to be correct, don’t translate sola fide by the English phrase “by faith alone,” but “by grace alone, through faith,” whereby “faith” means nothing than the acceptance of grace. That is what Luther was concerned about, because he had experienced that if you do it the other way around, then you are always lost, and if you take it seriously you are in absolute despair, because if you know yourselves, you know that you are not good; you know it as well as Paul did; and that means that ethics are the consequence and not the cause of goodness.
Now I come to that e1ement in the Roman Catholic Church which gave it its tremendous power; the sacramental element/ The Roman church Is essentially a sacramental church. This means that God is essentially seen as present, and not as somebody who is distant and only has to demand. A sacramental world-view is a world-view in which the Divine is seen as visible and real. Therefore a church of the sacrament is a church of the present God. But on the other hand the Roman church was a church in which this sacrament was administered as a magic means by the hierarchy, and only by the hierarchy, so that everybody who does not participate in it is lost, and he who participates in it, even if he is unworthy, gets the sacrament.
And as you know, there were 7 sacraments. I discussed this fully before.