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.
What does Luther do? He said: “No sacrament is effective by itself without full participation of the personal center, I. e., without the listening to the word connected with the sacrament, and the faith which accepts it. The sacrament qua sacrament cannot help at all. The magic side of sacramental thinking is destroyed.