Truth Matters Newsletters – November 2011 – Vol. 16 Issue11 – For Whom Do We Do Good Works? – By Rev. Robert Liichow
Discernment Ministries International
For Whom Do We Do Good Works?
Rev. Bob Liichow
The writing of this article coincides with the celebration of the Reformation led by Dr. Martin Luther. The one aspect of the “Lutheran” Reformation that separates it from all other reformation is the focus of Luther on the eternal question “how can a sinful man become righteous in the eyes of a holy God?”
By the time of Luther the Gospel message of salvation based only on the sovereign grace of God as testified by and in the life, death, and bodily resurrection of His Son, one Lord Jesus Christ was all but totally obscured by the teachings and practice of the Church of that day, i.e. The Roman Catholic Church.
Rome had over time denigrated the doctrine of salvation from God’s completely free work of redemption by grace through faith in Jesus Christ to a complex system of human effort working in cooperation with some sort of infused grace. In Luther’s time the message being taught was that of salvation by human works and effort which did nothing but torment Luther and bring him to the verge of despair. The best Luther and virtually all other Christians could hope for was a short stay in purgatory. At this point in Church history the purpose of good works was to merit salvation.
In his despair Luther began to study the scriptures with I believe a desperate spiritual hunger. Luther had been as faithful as he could be to the practices (works) of his church and found no spiritual peace in them (I dare say because spiritual peace was not there to be “found”). All Luther had left was the Word of God and as history tells us he came to know the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and as His Lord promised, that truth of the Gospel see Luther free from the deadly treadmill of trying to obtain a righteousness based on his works.
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of god without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (1)
Luther clearly saw the Gospel in its purity. He saw that Jesus Christ did all the work on our behalf. He came to rightly understand that when Jesus said “it is finished” He meant just that, the work of salvation is now complete in His sacrifice on the cross. Naturally, Luther did not arrive at all of his conclusions in an evening, but as he studied God’s Word and compare it to his Church’s practices and dogma he realized that reform was necessary and he sought about to bring reform to the Church. We all know basically what happened, Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic confession and he went on to form gatherings of what were called “evangelicals.” After his death these “Evangelicals” began to be called “Lutherans” congregations. (2) We can all give thanks to God for raising up a man like Martin Luther through whom (and others) God brought back the correct understanding that justification comes solely by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and in Him alone.
This brings us to the topic, since we know (or should know) that salvation/redemption/justification (fairly synonymous terms) is effected by God’s grace and not our works, then where is the place of works in the life of the disciple of Jesus?
What Luther and those who followed him saw was the distinct demarcation between God’s grace and human works. Salvation was either: (1) by grace alone without any human merit or works. (2) by works that merited the favor and mercy of God or (3) a combination of divine grace and human merit working in cooperation. The biblical position is obviously number “1.” The Lutheran Reformation was the vehicle God used to spread the good news of salvation as a gift not as a reward for our efforts.
This aspect of Luther’s teachings was more or less accepted by what has become known as the Protestant Church i.e. the various Reformed denominations that also rebelled against The Church of Rome. However, I know from experience with several “baptistic” congregations, including some mainline Pentecostal denominations, that the biblical teaching of salvation by the grace of God through and in Christ alone has been twisted. How so? Many groups teach that we are saved by the grace of God as shown to us in Christ, so far so good. BUT (and it is a big “but”) we are kept in the state of salvation by our works. These people readily admit that works do not save, however our works post regeneration keep us saved.
Today hundreds of years after the Lutheran Reformation the Church is still filled with millions of people who do not understand the biblical place of good works in the life of the disciple. Multitudes within Roman Catholicism are still taught that their works are meritorious not only in reducing the time they will spend in purgatory but that their works are also efficacious in the ultimate obtaining of eternal life. Untold numbers of so-called evangelicals are running around doing various “good” works in order to gain higher rewards and status in heaven. In this “evangelical” system believers’ works do not save but are meritorious for future eternal status.
Jesse Duplantis, a televised Word of Faith heretic and false teacher revealed in his best-selling novel (that masquerades as “truth” in Christian bookstores) “Heaven Close Encounters of the God Kind” that in heaven the saints either wear “gowns” or “robes” depending on their works. Better and more numerous good works obviously equal better vestments in heaven according to Duplantis. Pentecostalism teaches that there is a unique soul-winners crown laid up for those in heaven who have faithfully witnessed to others about Jesus led people in repeating the sinner’s prayer, or maybe just stood on a corner passing out religious tracts to passer byes. These type of believers carry with them the American view that working harder equals more reward, which is usually true in this fallen world, but not so in the Kingdom of God:
So, when ever was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the Goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and iheat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do these no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen (3) Matthew 20:8-16
We are familiar with the above parable. On one level we read of some people working harder and longer than others and yet all received equal pay. Strange? Only to the minds of those bound by this world. The Kingdom of god does not operate by our principles.
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. (4) Romans 4: 5-6
The righteousness of God is given by God without the aid or assistance of human works. Resting in this reality is indeed a state of blessedness which is how Paul describes the man who accepts God’s mind-blowing humanly incomprehensible GIFT of righteousness based on what HE did in Christ—the forgiveness of our sins.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (5) Ephesians 2:8-9
Paul well understood that righteousness was the gracious gift of God and thus an alien righteousness (righteousness distinct from humanity in and of itself) imputed (not imparted) to the disciple by faith in Jesus Christ. Knowing this Paul could well say that there was a “crown of righteousness” waiting for him in heaven (2 Timothy 4:8) Why, because of his good works on behalf of the Church? NO! Given bestowed by God and based on the alien righteousness of Christ that Paul trusted in.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ reveals a marvelous truth regarding our “crowns” or rewards if you will:
The twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (6) Revelation 4:10-11
In heaven before the throne of the Lamb of God these elders representing the completed Church cast their crowns on the ground before their Christ. Why? I believe it is because they fully realize in heaven that anything they did for Christ on earth was due to His power working with and through them. Seeing that their deeds were wrought in and by God (John 3:21) cast their crowns down rightly at His feet thus acknowledging that the glory was all Jesus’ from start to finish. This seems to be the response of the servant to His master in the following text:
Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. (7)
Since we are not saved by our works, nor are we kept saved by our works (1 Peter 1:5) and no, our works do not earn us a better mansion in heaven (John 14:3) what place do they have in our spiritual life as followers of the Lamb?
The best way to approach this issue I believe is to exchange the word “work” for the term “fruit.” Our Lord speaks often about fruitfulness in the life of His disciples:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (8) John 15:4-5
Fruitfulness is the natural outcome of being engrafted (see Romans 11:15-25) into Christ at conversion. As we abide in Christ Jesus [how that is done is the topic for another article] we will bring forth much fruit. Note: however the caveat given by Christ “without Me you can do nothing.” The fruit of eternal value and significance is that which is borne by Christ through us to others.
“Others” is exactly whom we are producing good fruit for as an extension of God’s love and care for all creation. Jesus summed it up for all eternity when He responds:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (9) Matthew 22:37-40
God does not need your love, compassion, help or anything else because He lacks nothing. He does desire to use us to bless others. He calls us to be a city set on a hill, a bright beacon of hope to a world wandering in abject darkness (Matthew 5:14). We are called to shine as light amidst a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15).
As we mature in Christ our spiritual fruit (see Galatians 5:22-23) blossoms and our good deeds are cast abroad as we live out our daily lives surrounded by people with various needs. God does not need our peace, patience, longsuffering, etc. Our neighbor does, the brother or sister next to us in the pew does, the orphan and widow does (James 1:27) The fruit produced may not even seem that earthshaking to us; “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:24).
In closing this meditation, consider the response of the following disciples:
Then they also will answer saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. (11) Matthew 25:44-45
In this scene we see the judgment of the sheep and the goats. Note that the sheep were unconscious of their good deeds done towards others, but ultimately accepted by Christ as done unto Him! “Unconscious” in that they simply lived Christ-centered Word-focused lives walking in the good works the Father had prepared for them to walk in (Ephesians 2:10)
What is the “work” that we must do, from which all other acceptable works flow? Jesus Himself tells us in John 6:29 “Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ ” Our “job” is to believe in Jesus Christ, whom the Father has sent. . .yet in demonstration of His great mercy the Father Himself gives us the faith to believe in His Son (Ephesians 2:8). Christ’s sacrifice for us was totally sufficient for our salvation. His work cannot be added to nor detracted from by our actions or inactions. All that we can do is to humbly bow at His pierced feet and receive His completed work and then in great joy go out and serve others for His glory.
“Anything that God could ever want form you now or forever is there in the sufficiency of the work that Christ has already done for you. God will never demand anything more from you and for that matter you don’t have anything He needs. But Christ has been privileged to give you the opportunity to do something that is significant in life and that is to be instrument’s through which God distributes His blessings to others here in this world.” Dr. Hine, LCMS pastor on Issues Etc. speaking about The Reformation and Vocation, October 2011
Copyright © 2011 Robert S. Liichow
1. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version (Bellingham, WA Logos Research Systems Inc, 2009) Romans 3:19
2. It grates me now when I hear other non-evangelical groups being called “evangelical” Christians, but then I hate the fact that “charismatic” has come to refer to a specific type of Christian, whereas biblically ALL Christians have been gifted by the Holy Spirit and thus we ALL are “charismatic” Christians, geesh! Lastly, Luther DID NOT want anything named after him. So naturally, when he died folks disobeyed their leader and put his name on it, something he would not approve of. The best name for we who are as Lutherans would have been and really is “Evangelical Catholics.”
3. The Holy Bible King James Version Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version (Bellingham, WA Logos Research Systems Inc, 2009 Mt. 20:8-16
4. The Holy Bible King James Version Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version (Bellingham, WA Logos Research Systems Inc, 2009 Ro. 4:5-6 Bold type added for emphasis.
5. The Holy Bible King James Version Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version (Bellingham, WA Logos Research Systems Inc, 2009 Eph 2:7-10
6. The Holy Bible English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard bible Society, 2001) Re 4:1–11
7. The Holy Bible King James Version Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version (Bellingham, WA Logos Research Systems Inc, 2009 Lk 17:9-10
8. The Holy Bible King James Version Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version (Bellingham, WA Logos Research Systems Inc, 2009 Jn 15:4-5
9. The Holy Bible King James Version Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version (Bellingham, WA Logos Research Systems Inc, 2009 Mt. 22:37-40