Faith is passive, not active. It is not works that help us attain salvation. We must remain still, and have faith that God will come through, topping off our bail money to free us from the bondage of sin and death.
Here's the quote where I found my epiphany. It's an autobiographical quote from Luther in a preface to a collection of his Latin works.
I had certainly wanted to understand Paul in his letter to the Romans. But what prevented me from doing so was not so much the cold blood in my heart as that one phrase in the first chapter: "the righteousness of God is revealed in it" (Romans 1:17). For I hated that phrase, "the righteousness of God," which I had been taught to understand as the righteousness by which God is righteous, and punishes un-righteous sinners. Although I lived a blameless life as a monk, I felt that I was a sinner with an uneasy conscience before God. I also could not believe that I had pleased him with my works. Far from loving that righteous God who punished sinners, I actually hated him. [...] I was in desperation to know what Paul meant in this passage. At last, as I meditated day and night on the relation of the words "the righteousness of God is revealed in it, as it is written, the righteous person shall live by faith," I began to understand that "righteousness of God" as that by which the person lives by the gift of God (faith); and this sentence, "the righteousness of God is revealed," to refer to a passive righteousness, by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "the righteous person lives by faith ." This immediately made me feel as though I had been born again, and as though I had entered through open gates into paradise itself. From that moment, I saw the whole face of Scripture in a new light. [...] And now, where I had once hated the phrase, "the righteousness of God," I began to love and extol it as the sweetest of phrases, so that this passage in Paul became the very gate of paradise to me.(Preface to the Latin Works (1545); in D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. 54 (Weimar: Böhlau, 1938), pp. 185-6.)
Now, I always knew Luther was really hard on himself, but it's something else to see it in his own words. I understand where he's coming from. I don't live anything near the "blameless life of a monk", but the feeling is the same - I haven't done anything worthy of God. Sure I've done some good stuff. Heck, I'm planning on doing lots more... but I don't think any of it measures up to the standard of God.
For one moment I've finally been able to see with crystal clarity what faith is, where salvation comes from - how Christ's resurrection bridges the gap between God and humanity. For the first time in a long time, my beliefs feel concrete again. I know my place in things again thanks to a self-critical monk who couldn't deal with the way the Church was doing business. Thank God.