As I understand, the Lutheran view is Faith=Salvation and Salvation brings about Good Works. The Roman Catholic view is that Faith + Good Works = Salvation. In both cases, you have Faith, Works, and Salvation. Why is the difference so important? I know Luther was concerned that he could not do enough good works, but that is not everyone's concern. I realize that this is a huge Lutheran/Catholic division, but it seems like a very small point. Why is the distinction so important, since we end up at the same point (with Salvation, Faith, and Works) in both cases? Thank you.
What an important question! You are correct in understanding that works enter into the teachings of both churches, but the motivation for doing those works is entirely different.
The teaching of the Bible is that we are saved only by God’s grace through God-given faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Scripture makes it clear that we are saved by God’s works, not ours (Titus 3:4-6). More than that, the Bible emphasizes that we can lose out on salvation by trying to add anything to Jesus’ saving work.
The book of Galatians addresses that very situation. A group called the Judaizers was telling the Galatians that faith alone was not enough for salvation, and that their obedience of certain parts of God’s law was also necessary for their salvation. The apostle Paul addressed that situation by condemning the teaching of the Judaizers and warning the Galatians that they were jeopardizing their salvation by thinking they could contribute to their salvation by their obedience of the law. Rather than pointing out specific passages from Galatians, I would encourage you to read the epistle’s six chapters to see how strongly Paul condemned the teaching of the Judaizers and pointed the Galatians to look to Christ alone for salvation.
Motivation for keeping God’s law, again, is the key to understanding the differences between official Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran Church teachings on the subject of salvation. The difference in motivation can be illustrated by asking: am I trying to keep the Ten Commandments to try to get something from God (forgiveness of sins, salvation) or give something to God (praise, gratitude)? If I’m trying to get something from God (as in contributing to my salvation), I will realize like Luther that I can never do enough. The law of God demands perfection, and all of us fall woefully short of that standard. If I’m trying to give something to God through my obedience to his law (giving him my praise and gratitude for his gift of salvation), then I understand the role of good works. Those works flow from saving faith and comprise a big “thank you” to God (Colossians 3:17). Thank you for your question.