The Rev. Glenn Obenberger
2012 Synod Convention Essay
Lutherans are generally conflicted about the topic of good works, especially when it comes to discussing their benefits and rewards. This is the territory we are going to dare to explore together.1 We will consider Christian good works especially as the Lord uses them to engage our neighbors through us. Lutherans, with their emphasis on justification by grace for Christ’s sake through faith alone, have been accused of being opposed to good works. As we shall see, this is far from the truth. Since the Holy Scriptures and, consequently, the Lutheran Confessions speak clearly on this subject, Lutheran piety upholds the proper understanding of good works both in its teaching and practice. We will apply this to the evangelism work of the Church, especially as it is expressed in the daily vocations of Christians, called to lose life now in sacrificial service for the Lord.2
I. That I May Be His Own, Live under Him in His Kingdom and Serve Him in Everlasting Righteousness, Innocence and Blessedness.
All false religions require their adherents to produce a level of “good works” that will allow them to be saved, while at the same time tacitly accepting the imperfection of the one who produces them. This is in accord with the corrupted reason of the entire human race. Based on this universal perversity false religions and false doctrines within outward Christendom are more popular than the truth. Christ’s religion teaches that while God demands absolute perfection but which sinful man can never produce, God has secured it freely for all sinners through the person and work of His Son.
The Holy Scriptures clearly teach that God has provided in His Son all that we need to live before Him in righteousness and purity forever, apart from our works. Ephesians 2:8–9 clearly states: “[B]y grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”3 But St. Paul goes on to write: “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v. 10). While sinners cannot produce the righteousness that will save them, God intends that His people serve Him in righteousness here in time and hereafter in eternity. This has been His will for us since before the creation of the world.
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer, acknowledged this divine intent in his song (cf. Lk. 1:74–75). Paul testifies as well, writing to Pastor Titus: “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works” (Ti. 2:11–14). Being saved and thus made children of God, it is His will that our lives be filled with works of righteousness and in His grace everything God requires of us He gives to us, even the holiness He demands.
One of the objections raised by some who do not believe the Gospel is that it sounds as though Christians have been given a license to sin. They might reason: since Christians live unburdened by their sin, shame and guilt, they will sin with impunity. But Christians know that “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Th. 4:7).
After the Diet of Worms in 1521 Martin Luther was charged by Emperor Charles V with teaching against good works: “[Luther] institutes a way of life by which people do whatever they please, like beasts. They behave like men living without any law.”4 Later when the Emperor asked the Lutherans for a catalogue of their disagreements with Rome, they stated in the Augsburg Confession:
Our teachers are falsely accused of forbidding Good Works. For their published writings on the Ten Commandments, and others of like import, bear witness that they have taught to good purpose concerning all estates and duties of life, as to what estates of life and what works in every calling be pleasing to God.… Furthermore, it is taught on our part that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them, but because it is the will of God. It is only by faith that forgiveness of sins is apprehended, and that, for nothing. And because through faith the Holy Ghost is received, hearts are renewed and endowed with new affections, so as to be able to bring forth good works.5
Luther once again responded to the Emperor’s edict coming out of the Diet of Augsburg, which reflected the position of Rome’s Confutation to the Augsburg Confession, by observing:
Here is what they spit out in the edict, “And according to the fact that it is evident from Holy Scriptures, that mere faith alone, without love and good works, does not save, and also because God demands good works at many places in the Scriptures, the article that faith alone saves and that good works are rejected shall not be preached or taught,” etc. What they say here about not rejecting good works is said, as usual, with blind words, maliciously, to disparage us as those who reject good works, although they indeed know better. We lay more emphasis on good works than the whole papacy has ever done, for it has never understood any good work. They simply cannot give up their venomous lying and slandering.”6
Philip Melancthon reiterated the same Lutheran position in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:
[W]e hold that good works ought necessarily to follow faith. For we do not make void the Law, says Paul, Rom. 3:31; yea, we establish the Law, because when by faith we have received the Holy Ghost, the fulfilling of the Law necessarily follows, by which love, patience, chastity, and other fruits of the Spirit gradually grow.7
The Church Council, which Luther and the Reformers had long requested to settle the matters raised in the Reformation, concluded its work after Luther’s death. In January 1547 the Council of Trent condemned the Lutheran teaching of good works in its Decree on Justification, Canon XXIV: “If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema [i.e. damned].”8
During the thirty years after Luther’s death the Lutherans not only had to contend with Rome in this matter, they had theologians of their own9 who struggled with the topic of the role of Christian good works and used expressions that denied the truth:
Concerning the doctrine of good works two divisions have arisen in some churches:
1. First, some theologians have become divided because of the following expressions, where the one side wrote: Good works are necessary for salvation. It is impossible to be saved without good works. Also: No one has ever been saved without good works. But the other side, on the contrary, wrote: Good works are injurious to salvation.
2. Afterwards a schism arose also between some theologians with respect to the two words necessary and free, since the one side contended that the word necessary should not be employed concerning the new obedience, which, they say, does not flow from necessity and coercion, but from a voluntary spirit. The other side insisted on the word necessary, because, they say, this obedience is not at our option, but regenerate men are obliged to render this obedience.10
From this disputation concerning the terms a controversy afterwards occurred concerning the subject itself; for the one side contended that among Christians the Law should not be urged at all, but men should be exhorted to good works from the Holy Gospel alone; the other side contradicted this.…
1. Accordingly, we reject and condemn the following modes of speaking: when it is taught and written that good works are necessary to salvation; also, that no one ever has been saved without good works; also, that it is impossible to be saved without good works.
2. We reject and condemn as offensive and detrimental to Christian discipline the bare expression, when it is said: Good works are injurious to salvation.
For especially in these last times it is no less needful to admonish men to Christian discipline [to the way of living aright and godly] and good works, and remind them how necessary it is that they exercise themselves in good works as a declaration of their faith and gratitude to God, than that the works be not mingled in the article of justification; because men may be damned by an Epicurean delusion concerning faith, as well as by papistic and Pharisaic confidence in their own works and merits.11
Little has changed in the four and a half centuries since the Council of Trent and the Formula of Concord. At the close of the 20th century, on Reformation Day, 1999 the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” was issued. This highly acclaimed statement was developed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church. In it Rome remained steadfast in its false teaching on the role of Christian good works while those Lutherans who participated compromised the truth once clearly confessed before the world by the Lutheran Church in the Formula of Concord.
According to Catholic understanding, good works, made possible by grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, contribute to growth in grace, so that the righteousness that comes from God is preserved and communion with Christ is deepened. When Catholics affirm the “meritorious” character of good works, they wish to say that, according to the biblical witness, a reward in heaven is promised to these works. Their intention is to emphasize the responsibility of persons for their actions, not to contest the character of those works as gifts, or far less to deny that justification always remains the unmerited gift of grace.12
Although faithful Lutherans do not find themselves in the company of those who issued the Joint Declaration, they remain in the company of Stephen and the Apostle Paul who also were accused of teaching contrary to the Law (cf. Acts 6:11ff & 21:21). More significantly, our Lord Himself was accused of the same (cf. Mt. 11:18–19; 12:1ff; 17:24ff; Mk. 7:5ff) but made His position clear by saying: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.… For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:17–18, 20).
Jesus made it clear that it was the scribes and the Pharisees who nullified the Law of God with their rules and regulations: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.… You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mk. 7:6–13).
Today in our culture so heavily saturated with the subjectivity of American Evangelicalism, it is common for the confessional Lutheran pastor to hear from his own members that he does not preach enough law. Certainly every pastor needs constantly to sharpen his homiletical skills. He needs to preach pointed Law and Gospel (cf. footnote #17). It may be that the criticism is justified. However if the complaint concerns a perceived lack of emphasis on good works and the Christian life in traditional Lutheran worship, the criticism of the pastor’s sermonizing is very likely unjustified. Lutheran worship abounds with prayers and exhortations desiring to see godliness increase in our daily lives. This pious emphasis can be observed in both the ordinaries and the propers in Lutheran liturgies.13 For example: in a prayer of confession in Rite 1 we pray—“We earnestly desire to grow in true godliness. Help us, O God, for the sake of Jesus our Savior.”14 and in the Collect for Christmas 1 we pray—“direct our actions according to Your gracious will, that in the name of Your beloved Son we may be made to abound in good works.”15 (For further examples see Appendices A & B, pp. 70 & 71.)
There are similar expressions to be found, one after the other, in Luther’s Small Catechism, which are often committed to memory in order to instill in all a wholesome god-pleasing desire to increase godliness among us. The Table of Duties certainly reflects this emphasis, but consider how frequent these expressions are found elsewhere in Luther’s treasured gift to the Church:
We should fear, love and trust in God above all things, so that we call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, give thanks, hold preaching and His Word, sacred and gladly hear and learn it. We consider our own situation according to the Ten Commandments, whether we are father, mother, son, daughter, employer, employee: so that we honor, serve, obey, love and esteem our parents and superiors; help and befriend our neighbor in every need; lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and husband and wife each love and honor the other; help our neighbor to improve and protect his goods and means of making a living; excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything; help and serve him in keeping his inheritance or home; urge his wife and workers to stay and do their duty. We are in duty bound to thank and praise, to serve and obey God, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. We pray that as the children of God we live holy lives according to the Word of God, so that by His grace we live godly lives here in time and heartily forgive and readily do good to those who sin against us. Our baptism means that our new man daily comes forth and arises, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever. We wish to go to the Sacrament of the Altar that we may learn of Christ to love neighbor. Meanwhile we also pray daily that all our doings and life may please Him.16
Clearly Lutheran theology both in its teaching and practice upholds the Law of God in each of its three proper functions. Christians are enjoined to produce good works, because by God’s grace they stand righteous before God for Jesus’ sake alone, they delight in the Law of God. However, so that the Law and Gospel are not mingled, the Law should not be preached in a moralistic fashion, i.e., in such a way as to make the hearers think they can achieve a righteous status before God by their own proper behavior. While “Let us…” exhortations can be appropriate in a sermon, we should find its conclusion dripping with Gospel declaration. So having heard the Law properly applied, we then hear the Gospel and are thus given the opportunity to appropriate by faith both the forgiveness for our sins against God’s holy Law and the perfect righteousness of Jesus. Jesus sacrificed His holy life for the payment of all our sins, and lived that holy life that it might be credited to us through faith. It is the power of the Gospel, which is to predominate in every sermon that moves the heart of the believer to do that which God commands. We must continually hear the Law of God in all of its severity, but it is the Gospel alone that gives us the strength to fulfill His will.17
May God bestow on us His grace and favor
To please Him with our behavior
And live as brethren here in love and union
Nor repent this blest Communion!
O Lord, have mercy!
Let not Thy good Spirit forsake us;
Grant that heav’nly minded He make us;
Give Thy Church, Lord, to see Days of peace and unity,
O Lord, have mercy!18
II. Be Who You Already Are in Christ.
Sadly most denominations of Christendom believe, teach and confess only half the Gospel, therefore they often misunderstand the role of good works in the Christian’s life. The half generally confessed is that which concerns the passive obedience of Christ, i.e., that Jesus received the punishment for all our sins through His suffering and death. The Son obeyed His Father by allowing His eternal wrath toward our sin to be poured out upon Him and thereby satisfied divine justice in our behalf.19
But the part of the Gospel not so easily comprehended concerns Jesus’ active obedience. Jesus, the Second Adam, lived a perfect life of righteousness in our place as well (cf. Rom. 5:12–19). He obeyed the Law perfectly His entire life for all sinners, not only in His actions, but also in His words and thoughts. Therefore through Jesus’ passive obedience our sins are all forgiven (cf. Gal. 3:13 & Eph. 1:7), and through His active obedience we are credited with the holy life God requires of us in order to enter the everlasting courts of heaven (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21 & Rom. 10:4).
It was this very truth that finally released Roman theology’s tortuous grip on Luther, one that held captive his conscience for so long. Before this, Luther read “the righteousness of God” with the understanding that this was what God demanded of us. When the light of the Gospel shone brightly for him, he understood at last that this expression was referring to the righteousness given to us freely in Christ.
When only half of the Gospel is understood, the believer is left with the mistaken notion that something is lacking, i.e., a life of righteousness. Rome seeks to find it in part in doing the “work” of the Sacraments and in that fictional place called purgatory. The Reformed seek to find it in their righteous living—recent examples of which are: WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) and The Purpose Driven Life. But none of these law-based solutions calm the conscience and the monster of uncertainty raises its ugly head, robbing Christians of the surety of salvation. True righteousness can be found only in Christ (cf. Rom. 3:20–28) not in a combination of the works of Christ and of the believer.
By God’s grace the light of the Gospel of the Lutheran Reformation still shines brightly among us, so that the role of good works in the life of the Christian is not burdensome. As we continue to hear the Word of Christ the Spirit gives us forgiveness, life and salvation. In His ongoing work of sanctifying us we find rest, an eternal rest, which begins now. His yoke is easy and His burden is light indeed (cf. Mt. 11:28–30). We now get to be who we already are in Christ; we who are righteous for Christ’s sake alone through faith get to do good works in the joy of salvation. It is only when our spiritual enemies—the devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful flesh—lead us into misbelief and despair that we are misled once again into thinking that good works merit the goodness of God. Then doubts and uncertainty hinder our walk of faith.
“The best way to tell you what to do as a Christian is to tell you who you are in Christ.… The center of the Christian life is Jesus Christ Himself. What is necessary for Christian living is to know who He is and who we are in Him.”20 Christians are repeatedly referred to in the Holy Scriptures as saints, the righteous, holy ones. This status is never earned by us through our works, but rather given to us freely as a gift through the work of our Savior alone. This is the frame of reference we must have whenever we consider the topic of our good works in this life.
[Y]ou and I are “called to be saints.” We are not holy in ourselves, but in Christ we are. Christ’s blood and righteousness have removed our sin and shame and clothed us with His own holiness. In Jesus Christ our Lord we are truly holy people. Now holy people, you’ll remember, do holy things. Therefore the most earthly work becomes a heavenly vocation, transformed by the presence of God. Thanks to Jesus Christ, whatever work we do in the shadow lands of this world is tinted with the bright colors of heaven.… We don’t have to wonder if our work in this world is “spiritual” enough. Christ’s blood provides full payment for our sin; our relationship with God is already secured. That’s a given. Now we can tend to the neighbor’s need in perfect freedom.21
As holy children of God, we now get to be who we already are in Christ; the burden is lifted. The exhortation to live holy lives is heard and followed by us as a privilege and honor (cf. Ps. 1:2). If we ever go back to thinking we must earn God’s favor by our good works, the heavy burden will weigh us down and drive us away from Christ. Thus this unburdening is an ongoing process through proclamation. God’s “strong Word bespeaks us righteous.”22 He declares us righteous in His Son and we live freely in self sacrificing service.
All righteousness by works is vain;
The Law brings condemnation.
True righteousness by faith I gain;
Christ’s work is my salvation.
His death, that perfect sacrifice,
Has paid the all sufficient price;
In Him my hope is anchored.
My guilt, O Father, Thou hast laid
On Christ, Thy Son, my Savior.
Lord Jesus, Thou my debt has paid
And gained for me God’s favor.
O Holy Ghost, Thou Fount of grace,
The good in me to Thee I trace;
In faith do Thou preserve me.23
III. Apart from Christ We Can Do Nothing.
Our sinful flesh, which is in league with Satan, tries desperately to convince us that we must first cleanse ourselves before Jesus will enter us with His grace. Jesus, on the night He was betrayed gave us the very clear picture of how it really works: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:1–5). The Spirit connects us to Christ, the Vine, through faith.
In his letter James makes this natural connection between faith and good works. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Ja. 2:17–18). Contrary to the claim that James’ words are rejected by Lutherans as though they contradict Paul, we confess in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession the proper understanding of them as the inspired words of our Lord:
For good works do not precede faith, neither does sanctification precede justification. But first faith is kindled in us in conversion by the Holy Ghost from the hearing of the Gospel. This lays hold of God’s grace in Christ, by which the person is justified. Then, when the person is justified, he is also renewed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, from which renewal and sanctification the fruits of good works then follow.… This should not be understood as though justification and renewal were sundered from one another in such a manner that a genuine faith sometimes could exist and continue for a time together with a wicked intention, but hereby only the order… is indicated, how one precedes or succeeds the other. For what Luther has correctly said remains true nevertheless: Faith and good works well agree and fit together [are inseparably connected]; but it is faith alone, without works, which lays hold of the blessing; and yet it is never and at no time alone.24
In answer to the question, “What are good works in the sight of God?” our ELS Catechism gives this definition: “In the sight of God good works are the works of faith which the Holy Spirit leads the Christian to do out of love, according to the Ten Commandments, for the glory of God, and for the welfare of his neighbor.”25
In the sight of God our acts of righteousness are unacceptable to Him apart from Christ; they are nothing but a polluted garment (cf. Is. 64:6). The sinner has no inherent power to turn over a new leaf and produce good works devoid of sinful motives. As pure as an act of charity by an unbeliever may appear it is always tainted by sin and remains an abomination to the holy and just God. Therefore “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6) and “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). But with faith, created anew in Christ by the gracious work of the Spirit, we produce truly good works, which please God, our Savior (cf. 1 Jn. 3:21–22).
The fruits of the Spirit in the lives of Christians are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). When Jesus was asked by the expert in the Law to name the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus answered him: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37–38). This “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
Spirit wrought good works are not done to receive glory or reward by the doer, rather the Apostle writes: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pt. 2:12, cf. also Jn. 3: 21). They are also done to benefit our neighbor. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:13–14).
It might seem unnecessary for us to be instructed as Christians in regard to what constitutes a truly good work in God’s sight. If good works are naturally produced in us by the Spirit, why would we continue to need guidance? Because our old sinful nature still clings to us and causes us to do that which is contrary to God’s law, we need constant instruction throughout our lives.
The new man needs no law, but the old Adam does. The new man is always alive in Christ, and therefore lives to love others. The old Adam always lives for himself, and therefore is a self-love expert. Jesus turns our inborn selfishness inside out: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).26
We even need to be warned about bad good works. Bad good works are those works only that have the appearance of being good. Consider, as examples, the Pharisee in the temple who boasted before God of fasting and tithing (cf. Lk. 18: 12); the rich who gave large amounts in the temple treasury from their leftovers (cf. Lk. 21:4); Judas who rebuked Mary for her wasting money on the costly ointment poured on Jesus’ feet (cf. Jn. 12:4). All these actions have the appearance of great deeds and words of piety, as though God would be pleased by them all, but only man is impressed with such things. God sees the heart and alone knows those who are His (cf. 2 Tim. 2:19). Keep in mind how deceptive this false piety is among us as believers in that Judas convinced the other disciples to express their agreement with his pious sounding sentiments against Mary.
If we consider the above examples and apply the definition of what is a good work in the sight of God, we see why they are to be judged as bad good works. They were not the works of faith, which the Holy Spirit led these individuals to have done out of love, according to the Ten Commandments, for the glory of God, and for the welfare of their neighbor, but they were done for their own glory and welfare. Regardless of how sincerely they were done, they were an abomination to the Lord (cf. Luke 16:14–15).
Remember that many will say in the judgment—“‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ And then will [Jesus] declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness’”(Mt. 7:22–23).
All such works are monstrous in the eyes of God! They rob Christ of his glory as the only and all-sufficient Savior. They are works that are either condemned in the Scriptures or that in any case God never asked for. They give fallen human beings credit for work that only Christ can do. Yes, and they either make people self-righteous and proud when they do such works or drive people to despair of God’s mercy when they fail. That should certainly be sufficient reason to condemn such works as bad good works—no matter how sincerely done, no matter how glistening and holy they appear on the outside.27
The Apostle Paul reviewed the bad good works of his pre-conversion life lived as a model Pharisee: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:7–9).
[F]or those who believe in [Jesus], all sins, regardless how great and grievous they may be, are covered up and forgiven; yes, everything the believers do, whether they eat or drink, wake or sleep, and so on, all good works are acceptable and pleasing works before God. But as far as the godless and unbelievers are concerned, their works, regardless of how good and holy they appear, are all sins, so that even when they take a bite of bread they incur displeasure and commit sin, and on Judgment Day they will have to give account of each vain word they have spoken.28
To be sure, there is a righteousness produced by the unbeliever that is recognized by our Lord. But it has value only here in time, not in eternity. This has been called civic righteousness among us. Hiking trails created and maintained by the Boy Scouts are indeed good things, just as their training in the respect of others, manners, and patriotism are all good things to learn and benefit society. Hospitals built and supplied by the Shriners are fine acts of kindness and mercy, but in the end they do not in themselves please God in the judgment. “Righteousness exalts a nation” (Prov. 14:34), but only temporally.
Good good works done by Christians are truly pleasing to the Lord. As Jesus said to Judas and the others who condemned Mary for anointing His feet: “She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mk. 14:8–9)—just as we are doing now. But when we learn in Scripture that our good deeds please the Lord, this does not deny the true source of such work, nor does it steal the glory from our Lord. “[W]e teach not only how the Law can be observed, but also how God is pleased if anything be done, namely, not because we render satisfaction to the Law, but because we are in Christ.”
A mother … takes the mindless scribblings of her little child and puts them up on the refrigerator door. She treats them as though they were more precious than the Mona Lisa. It doesn’t occur to her to say, “Well, it’s really just silly scribbles, all accomplished with my paper, my paints and chalk, and my cleaning up the mess afterward!” No, … the work is viewed with delight because it came from a heart eager to please the watchful eye of a loving parent.
And that’s to a large extent the way God is with our good works. He knows, and so do we, that he gave us whatever ability we have to do good works. He knows, and so do we, that the desire to do them comes from him, from the desire implanted in us to respond to the gospel with a life of thankful obedience. He knows, and so do we, that he has in his providence provided us with just such opportunities to serve him as match the abilities that he has given us. But knowing all of that, he beams with pleasure and satisfaction when in our own faltering ways we love and serve him.30
Without Christ we can do nothing, with Christ we can do all things (cf. 2 Cor. 9:8 & Phil. 4:13). Faith without works is dead; works without faith in Christ are equally as dead. So we recognize this about our good works as Christians: “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
The Asia Minor church at Sardis had a reputation in the world for doing good things, but before God they were dead works (cf. Rev. 3:1–6). It is easy for us to get things turned around in our minds as well. We can help the poor and feel proud about our accomplishments, but then ignore those in need who are the closest to us. We can support a Christian school with the sole purpose of generating money to help pay our congregational bills, having really no interest that these young children and families hear the Good News of salvation in Christ. We can support mission work in distant lands feeling pity for those Christians who may be making great personal sacrifices in their confession of Christ while we give only of our leftovers, lest we make any real sacrifice ourselves; or when given the opportunity to bear witness ourselves to the truth of God, we keep our mouths shut lest we suffer mockery and ridicule.
Now, as a congregation, the Sardis Church had not hopelessly descended into unbelief. There were still some of God’s elect among them. How could this first Century congregation turn things around?—not by their own efforts. There is nothing we can do to make our dead works come alive before God. It is by receiving those things promising life which our Lord freely offers to us that our works become living testimonies of His love at work in us.
Our Lord tells the Sardis congregation: “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent” (Rev. 3:3). They received God’s gracious work in Christ through Word and Sacrament. Through these means our Lord takes what Jesus won on the cross for all people and gives it to us to be received by faith. We receive forgiveness of our sins, life and salvation as sinners, who know we do not deserve such gifts, but who trust that out of God’s great love for us He abundantly bestows these things upon us.
Dead works, works done for self-righteous purposes, are not so foreign to us. We know that our motives for doing good things are not always that pure; we so easily calculate how we might personally benefit from them. But because God still works among us with His grace leading us to repent of our hypocrisy, crying out for His mercy, and believing we have it in Christ, we receive forgiveness, life and salvation. Our works are pleasing in His sight and will be mentioned in the judgment much to our amazement.
Since we confess Jesus to be our Savior and look to no one or anything else, not even ourselves for the righteousness we need to enter heaven, Jesus will confess us to be His own before the Father. Yes, we too constantly need to be awakened to repentance for dead works of unbelief that come from our sinful natures. By God’s gracious working in us, though, we are alive in Christ. We produce fruit, which gives glory to Him who does all these great things for us and in us so that we may still in the end overcome and retain the victory.
In Jesus’ name Our work must all be done
If it shall compass our true good and aim,
And not end in shame alone;
For every deed Which in it doth proceed,
Success and blessing gains Till it the goal attains,
Thus we honor God on high
And ourselves are blessed thereby;
Wherein our true good remains.31
IV. When Did We See You Hungry and Feed You?
Our Lord Jesus described what we will experience in the judgment: “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me’” (Mt. 25:37–40).
Notice our response will not be to answer a question like: “Why should I let you into My heaven?” Rather we will say, “Lord, when did we see You…?” in surprise at Jesus’ recounting of our works of righteousness. Notice also how our Lord refers to us: “the righteous.” We are and will be those declared by His grace to be holy in His sight through faith.
Perhaps part of the surprise in the Judgment will be that not one of our sins will be mentioned. As Christians we spend every day in this life repenting of our sins,32 and we know “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). However, as believers our sins will not be brought up on the Last Day since they are all forgiven in the blood of the Lamb and removed from us as far as the east is from the west. (Cf. Jn. 5:28–29 & Rev. 7:13–14)
In contrast when Jesus will turn to the unbelievers (the goats) on His left, He will not mention one act of righteousness. They will be required to answer for all their sins, even those which can appear to be minor in human terms. They will stand apart from Christ and be addressed by our Lord as “you cursed”—those condemned by their sin, separated from the eternal loving presence of God (cf. Mt. 25:41).
When we confess our sins we are to examine ourselves in accord with our vocations: “Here consider your own situation according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, employer, employee; whether you have been disobedient, dishonest, lazy; whether you have injured anyone by word or deed; whether you have stolen, neglected, wasted anything, or done any harm.”33 In like manner our acts of righteousness are also found in our vocations. So, for example, when Christian parents prepared and served their children meals, got up in the night to give a child a glass of water, clothed and diapered them, sat up with them until their fevers broke, yes, even bailed them out of jail, they were doing these things to Jesus.
One may object and observe that unbelieving parents do the same acts of service for their children. However, unlike believing parents, whose sins committed in vocation (like slamming the serving dishes down in disgust for the ingrates gathered at the table, reluctantly getting out of bed to attend to the needs of the whining child, etc.) are all forgiven, unbelieving parents have no forgiveness for their sins.
Good works, for the most part, are done in vocation. Sin, too, takes place in vocation, in the myriad ways we violate our callings. … Every vocation has its unique temptations and capacity for sin. Police officers are called to protect their fellow citizens, not to beat them up. Businesses are not given their callings to cheat their customers. Craftsmen doing shoddy work, journalists who write lies, artists who squander their talent by making pornography—such uses of God-given abilities to hurt one’s neighbors, rather than to love and serve them, are sins against vocation. Parents are called to take care of their children, not abuse them. Husbands are called to love and care for their wives, not to mistreat them. Anything that violates the purpose of one’s vocation—teachers are to teach, doctors to heal, parents to nurture—is not of God.34
The Lord validates such vocations as that of the soldier and tax collector (cf. Lk. 3:12ff, Jn. 18:36), farmer and miller (cf. Mt. 24:40–41), fisherman (cf. Lk. 5:4ff), homemaker (cf. Mk. 1:30–31 & Lk. 10:38ff.) and governing politician (Jn. 19:11). While they all have their unique temptations to sin, they are all valid stations in life, which God uses to serve the human race. “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor. 7:17). “[W]e urge you, brothers… to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Th. 4:10–12).
As we turn to those around us in our horizontal relationships, this agape is “not motivated by pragmatic interests, by the usability or social productivity of the neighbor. It is motivated by his alien dignity, by what he means for God.” We see in our neighbors the needs of Jesus, and we respond as Jesus’ lips, eyes, hands, and feet. For the Holy Spirit who makes us the temple of God must rely on our bodies to do His Work. … Because we love even our enemies, because we love people in ways in which they do not want to be loved, because we love people by joining them under the burdens of the evils which they suffer through great fault or through no fault of their own, we also suffer. Only God Himself could suffer in our place and atone for our sins with His own suffering. But God sends us forth to bear the crosses of others with them (Mark 8:34–35 and parallels), even as He joined us to suffer with us as well as for us.35
In his classic study on Luther’s teaching on vocation, Gustaf Wingren puts it this way: “In his vocation one is not reaching up to God, but rather bends oneself down toward the world,” and again “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.” Our good works are often hidden in our vocations, often even despised by those who benefit from them.
Thus a Christian finds himself called to drab and lowly tasks, which seem less remarkable than monastic life, mortifications, and other distractions from our vocations. For him who heeds his vocation, sanctification is hidden in offensively ordinary tasks, with the result that it is hardly noticed at all that he is a Christian. But faith looks on simple duties as tasks to which vocation summons the man; and by the Spirit he becomes aware that all those “poor, dull, and despised works” are adorned with the favor of God “as with costliest gold and precious stones.” The monk is always uncertain about his works; but in work which really contributes to the neighbor’s well-being and is commanded by God, peace and certainty are found. The works of one’s vocation are liberating, as are also the works of the gospel. The insight the gospel gives, that no work is to be done before God for the purpose of conciliating him, can also be mediated to us through the command to work for the sake of our neighbor, that is, through the command of our vocation.37
All across the world Christians pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” As we learn so well, our Lord supplies what we need for this body and life through countless vocations by the products and services they provide: “food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, fields, cattle, money, goods, God-fearing spouse and children, faithful servants and rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, order, honor, true friends, good neighbors, and the like.”38 So through the farmer, rancher, grocer, tailor, shoemaker, carpenter, plumber, banker, trucker, governor, mayor, soldier, police officer, firefighter, doctor, nurse, therapist, lawyer, teacher, mother, father and children, God is hidden as He does His work among us.
But these are masks of God. Behind this human interplay, behind these ordinary structures of society, lies the extraordinary work of God. He uses ordinary people, motivated as they often are by selfish interests, to provide for the needs and wants of His whole creation… Every worldly vocation becomes an avenue for God the Father to provide for His creation. And that includes your vocation and mine. We are masks of God, behind which He Himself provides… You have a holy calling. Your work serves as a mask for the heavenly Father. The effort Christians put into daily work is effort well spent; it is faith in action. That’s the way faith works: faith in Christ is always active in love for the neighbor. He carries on His work through us.39
God uses all people in their vocations, believers and unbelievers, to serve the human race, His crown of creation, throughout the world. “God continues his creative work on earth where man’s vocation lies.”40 But again there is a difference between the acts performed in vocation by the believer and unbeliever. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17, cf. also 23–24). We cannot be separated from who we are in Christ. We need to confess with the Apostle: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
We are new creations in Christ Jesus, after all. Therefore the work we do in the name of Jesus is not our own. Jesus Christ Himself is the active agent in all our works of Christian service.… Thus the bodily activity of Christians is an expression of the presence of Christ in this world.… You and I as sons and daughters of God our Father are created, redeemed, and sanctified to be partners with Him in this world. We are His tools and instruments in the lives of others. That goes for both sacred and secular activities. Every word and every action of every Christian is carried out by the Holy Trinity for the Holy Trinity.41
Therefore while our sinful natures continue to taint our good works as they seek self-glory and reward by their performance, nevertheless, God receives the glory—through His saints. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16, and cf. 1 Pt. 2:12).
Service to the Lord in His Kingdom is often misunderstood by Christians. It is often seen as being limited in scope, taking place in only two ways: 1. The “greater” service of one called to full-time service in the church, e.g., a pastor or teacher in a Christian school; or 2. The “lesser” service of voluntary things done at or for the church. In both cases Christians may neglect their vocations as spouse and parent to pursue what they think are more noble tasks.
When this happens “church work” is transformed into a new monasticism,42 one that, like its pre-Reformation counterpart, allows the individual to flee his vocation—his God-given calling!—and pursue activities that have the radiance of kingdom work, as though God were more impressed with such activities. “[L]et each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor. 7:17). Certainly functioning as a member of a congregation is one of our many vocations we have in this life and “church work” is among the many of our God-given duties as a Christian. However, when it is elevated to the point of neglecting our other legitimate God-given vocations, it can feed the self-righteous monster within and lead us to sin against those who are to be served by us, like employer, spouse and child. Prof. Veith made these observations in his vocation as teacher:
We indeed have a calling to serve in our local churches, but it must be emphasized that our so-called “secular” vocations are actually “holy offices” where we are to serve our neighbors and live out our faith.… Churches should not demand so much “church work” from their members that it takes away too much time from their primary vocations. There was a time when I would spend nearly every evening at church—at Bible studies, committee meetings, evangelism calls, and other worthy activities. I was doing so much church work that I was neglecting my work (all of those papers to grade) and, especially, my family. (Pastors of churches, too, need to remember that they have a vocation not just in the office of the ministry but also as husbands and fathers. Congregations must take care not to overload their pastors to the point that they have to neglect their other vocations.) It may be that churches often try to do too much. We may assume that what happens on Sunday mornings is not enough, as if coming into Christ’s presence through the proclamation of His Word is a small thing, and as if the daily lives of ordinary Christians are not themselves arenas for divine service.43
Our godly lives as Christians show forth the love of Christ in the world. “The LORD has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations” (Ps. 98:2 Introit for Easter 5). Therefore the glory for such living is not credited to us, but to the Lord we serve. Our attitude should be that of John the Baptizer: “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). We are His ambassadors of mercy in the world where we live. “The Lord’s mercy received is mercy lived. The believer lives a merciful life toward others in the home, workplace, congregation, and community.”44
For this reason Jesus on the night He was betrayed prayed to the heavenly Father for His Church here on earth: “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:15–18).45
In the Judgment, as noted earlier, we will be surprised that while we interacted with the world around us we fed, clothed, and visited, our Lord Jesus. As the full impact of these acts were hidden from us, so our good works are often hidden from the world. The Christian short order cook who fries up your hamburger may be hidden in the back and even despised by those who eat what he prepares, but in vocation he is to select a good product and cook it thoroughly for the health and wellbeing of the diner. The Christian contractor is not to cut corners in material or workmanship and thus jeopardize the safety of the construction even though there is a desire by the customer to save on costs or the business desires to make a profit.
So when good works in vocation are observed in the Christian, it is our Lord who is at work and glorified through our service of self-sacrifice. We lose our life for Jesus’ sake as we pick up our crosses and follow Him. “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14–15, cf. Mk. 8:34–35). It is through these Spirit-wrought activities we in part engage others with Jesus.
These common ordinary works done in Jesus’ name, and thus by our Lord Himself, will be revealed in the final judgment as evidence of faith in Him. Our Lord urges us to live such lives that reflect His love for all: “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, …so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (1 Th. 3:12–13, cf. Heb. 6:10–12). The reward of God’s grace working in our lives now truly has eternal benefits: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”(Rev. 14:13)
With the favored sheep then place me,
Nor among the goats abase me,
But to Thy right hand upraise me.
While the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me, with Thy saints surrounded.
To the rest Thou didst prepare me
On Thy cross; O Christ, upbear me!
Spare, O God, in mercy spare me.46
V. Proclaim the Excellencies of Him Who Called You
In part God has created us anew in Christ for good works, good works that are to be accompanied by good words. “[Y]ou are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pt. 2:9). Among our brothers and sisters in Christ we do this in our corporate worship “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness” (Col. 3:16). But beyond the formal setting of worship this goes on among us in our daily interactions with each other, as Luther took note in the Smalcald Articles:
We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc.47
Christ dwells in us richly through the Gospel in all these ways—in word, water, bread, wine and one another. On behalf of us all, the called servants in the pastoral ministry preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. However, all Christians are the bearers of this Word of grace through their conversations and consolations. These conversations and consolations take place as we interact with each other through deeds and actions. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:12–14).
It may seem strange that our Lord would find it necessary to encourage Christians especially to show brotherly love among themselves. You might think it to be natural to show those closest to you such love, at least more naturally than to strangers. But when we consider our relationship with our siblings in the flesh for example, many of us can observe that with them we have had some of the bitterest exchanges in words and deeds. Often it is a vying for the favorable attention of our parents. So our desire to compete with our closest rivals in the Church is often motivated by an attempt to gain that favorable position with our Father in heaven. Consider the request of James and John to sit one on Jesus’ right and the other on His left in the kingdom of heaven. “[A]s we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:9–10, see also 1 Jn. 3:17–18).
Jesus took us beyond His example: “When He had washed [the disciples’] feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them’” (Jn. 13:12–17). As they left that upper room and made their way to the garden, Jesus expanded on what they had just witnessed by saying: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34–35, cf. also 1 Thess. 4:9–12).
We indeed engage one another as brothers and sisters in the faith in our words and deeds of love, but we engage others with Jesus as well. We engage those outside the Church by our acts of kindness and mercy. Before we consider some practical ways in which we naturally engage others, let us consider how we are called upon also to speak in our conversation and consolation the praises of the One who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
All Christians are “partners in the Gospel” with those who are called publicly to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the world (cf. Phil. 1:5). The mission of the Church is clear throughout the New Testament. Every Christian is part of the mission of the Church. He is not only to know what that mission is and how it is accomplished, but also what his role is in forwarding that mission. God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Ti. 2:4), so He sends out His Church throughout the world to engage all people with Jesus through the proclamation of the Gospel. As the Gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is at work bringing Christ and all His blessings to those who hear it and creating faith in their hearts. The Church is the mouthpiece of God throughout the world, wherever She is found.48
It is important to note that the intentional proclamation of the Word has an explicit divine command for those called to proclaim it publicly, e.g., the Apostles (cf. Mt. 4:19; 10:7, 18, 27; 28:19; Mk. 16:15; Acts 5:10; 10:39–42; 20:24; 2 Cor. 2:12–17; 5:18–20), prophets, evangelists, and pastors (cf. Jn. 1:7; Lk. 10:9; Acts 16:10; 2Tim. 4:2). The command to speak the word of our Lord is there in the vocation of a brother or sister in the faith (cf. Mt. 18:15–20 and Gal. 6:1) and in the parental vocation (Eph. 6:4).
However upon close examination one cannot find in the New Testament an explicit command to individual Christians to make this oral proclamation. This does not mean that individual Christians are in any way exempted from the mission that Christ has given to His Church as reflected in Matthew 28 (See Appendix C, p. 74, especially the fifth column).49 In those words of Christ given to His Church, there is, of course, an implied general command for all Christians to speak the Gospel message when and where opportunities arise. Such authority is necessary for the Church, whether viewing its purpose as a whole or its purpose carried out as individual believers. But the more natural proclamation of the Gospel by the laity will occur in their daily lives and conversations, spontaneously as opportunities present themselves.
Simply put, each Christian should support the Church’s missionary orientation. The role that befalls every Christian equally is that of inviting and welcoming outsiders into their community. Here, the missiologist David Bosch makes an important exegetical observation from the apostle Paul’s ministry and how the apostle viewed the missionary role of ordinary Christians. It bears little of that overt activism that seems to prevail in so many church bodies today. Speaking of Christians, Bosch observes: “The primary responsibility of ‘ordinary’ Christians is not to go out and preach, but to support the mission project through their appealing conduct and making ‘outsiders’ feel welcome in their midst.”50
The Bethlehem shepherds and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well are examples of this natural spontaneous proclamation (cf. Lk. 2:17–18; Jn. 4:29). All Christians not only have the right as part of the universal priesthood to declare the Gospel (cf. 1 Pt. 2:9), but also have the responsibility to speak up in defense of the Gospel when those opportunities present themselves: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). “[I]n your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15, cf. also Rev. 12:11). Christians are well prepared to do this through proper and regular catechesis.
It would appear, though, that we have somewhat distorted the role of the laity in the mission of the church in confessional Lutheranism in America. Have we perhaps picked up an unhealthy legal as opposed to an evangelical emphasis upon missions from such places as the Baptist Church in America since the mid 20th Century? With good intentions we may have inadvertently been oppressing our people with laws, which neither our Lord nor His Apostles ever did. Pastor Woodford in his newly published book would have us at least consider this possibility.51
Pastor Peters makes these observations concerning the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod starting in the 1970s:
Lutherans… went shopping in the religious marketplace. We looked at the denominations that were growing (Southern Baptist) and began shaping our approach in their terminology and from their perspective. But it was a little like those who speak another language from a phrase book. It was not our native tongue. Then came Evangelism Explosion and D. James Kennedy. We Lutheranized it … and suddenly there were people showing up on the front porches of America asking “What would happen to you if you died tonight?” Again, with all our tweaking, it was a foreign language to us and the decision theology part of it all left a taste in our mouth that diluted our enthusiasm. In the end what this did is transfer the responsibility to an Evangelism Committee. Remember that before this Lutheran congregational structures did not even have an evangelism group or committee or deacon. Don Abdon came along to help us with this restructuring need and with a list of those who were “evangelists” and we decided that evangelism was best done by those with its gift. All of this distanced the average Lutheran Christian from the task and purpose of sharing the faith. Advance a few years and we were shopping at Willow Creek or Saddle Creek or CCM radio stations in the hopes that if we looked different and sounded different people would be attracted to us. Never mind the fact that our sanctuaries were architecturally unsuited for this style and our heart was not fully convinced (hence the traditional services that kept us Lutheran in identity at least at 7 am on Sunday morning). Our mission execs began shopping for those churches that were growing and they shifted our paradigms and made us more missional and insisted that everything we were or did had to be negotiable if we were really to grow.52
What was once seen as the natural spontaneous proclamation of the Gospel by the laity in their daily vocations, has been replaced with a command that all our members are to go out with the intentional—and often artificial—proclamation of the Gospel among their friends, relatives, and acquaintances.53 Along with this well-intentioned directive, fear and anxiety filled the hearts of many as the application of a man-made law burdened the consciences of the laity. Through such an emphasis, the trait of being shy or introverted has been made into sin for the Christian who is not eager and willing intentionally to speak the Gospel to others. Inadvertently it has come to be seen as a sign of weakness when a Christian only invites others to attend where the Gospel is proclaimed publicly or to be visited by the pastor.
As the earth circles the sun, it maintains its own gravitational pull. It pulls along the moon, a thousand man-made “satellites”, and an entire atmosphere. So it is with us. Weekly we rotate into the Divine Service. We are forgiven, strengthened and hurled back into our lives—sometimes streaking across the sky of this dark world with a burst of joy and light; at other times with joy burning dimly under clouds of challenge and even failings. And then we pull others into the gravity of Christ, drawing them along with us to church, Bible class, and Sunday School, if at all possible.54
The unscriptural distortion of Christian vocation has saturated much of our recent church literature, teaching and sermonizing.55 Sadly it has laid a heavy, unhealthy burden upon our members. Consider the following concluding statements from Northwestern Publishing House’s devotional booklet Meditations:
- “As part of our life of following Jesus, let’s make sure that as we tend to matters pertaining to our families, we also set aside a portion of our time and money and use of our skills and abilities to serve our Lord in his church. As Jesus commands us, ‘You go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ It’s not easy, but then our Lord never said it would be.” (July 16, 1998)
- “Think of the comfort and peace it gives you to know your Lord and Savior and all he has done for you. Now think of the difference you can make by saying it to someone who doesn’t know him yet. Let the Holy Spirit work in someone else so he or she too may know the King’s way of thinking.” (May 15, 1999)
- “If your friends don’t yet know what Jesus has done for them, tell them now! Their eternal lives depend on it.” (Oct. 16, 2001)
These are all concluding words of the devotions for those days, which instead of declaring the good news of Christ to be appropriated through faith by the reader, they left them with a moralistic message and with unfair guilt. (This is a confusing of the Law and Gospel similar to the conditional absolutions and benedictions that have too often been copied and pasted in newly crafted orders of service.)56 If the Biblical text of the devotions under consideration would have the Christian be convicted of neglecting the mission of the Church, then forgiveness, the unconditional Gospel, must be specifically declared in that concluding statement instead of yet another call to action.
In examining these three sampled years of Meditations it can be observed that in both 1998 and 2001 12% (one every eight days) of its devotions emphasized this explicit command to readers intentionally to preach the Gospel. In 1999 it was 16% (one every six days).57 This shift in emphasis has in turn generated theological disturbances, which could have far-reaching and long-lasting ill effects. Klemet Preus writing about an influential Lutheran Church-growth promoter Kent Hunter, made these observations:
Lutherans, of course, believe the great commission. Hunter shows that the earliest Lutherans had an urgent sense of mission. But Lutherans do not make Christ’s commission their central article. Lutherans consider the doctrine of justification of the sinner before God by grace for Christ’s sake through faith as the central article of the faith, the article by which the church stands or falls.… If any other article of faith replaces justification by grace as the chief article, then the entire system of theology will ultimately be corrupted.58
It was common in the 1980s and 90s to hear the admonition: “change or die.” Instead of seeing the natural connection of possessing the truth of the Gospel and the inherent desire by its confessors to support its proclamation throughout the world, steadfastness in doctrine was set in conflict with mission mindedness as though they were mutually exclusive emphases. Yet it is our Lord who always puts them before us as complementary. Ironically the recorded statistics from the past few decades might lead us to conclude that American Confessional Lutheranism’s attempt to change the role of its laity in regard to evangelism and even the purpose of its divine services to make them friendlier for the visitor has come perhaps at a high price.
To be sure all Christians should be knowledgeable and supportive of the mission of the Church that Christ has given. We should also take advantage of all opportunities presented to us to speak of the hope that we have in Him. If we fail under these circumstances, we need to repent, knowing that as Jesus said: “[E]veryone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:32–33). Ultimately, whether any guilt over lack of Gospel-sharing is real or perceived, only the cross of Christ brings relief—full forgiveness—and renewed strength for daily living. Again Pastor Woodford makes these pertinent observations:
[W]hen the value of the mundane estates of everyday life are trivialized and dismissed as unimportant by the church in the name of what is claimed to be a more important missional way of life—whatever that means—a great loss is suffered and undue burden begins to afflict the believer.
For example, a Christian mother and her four young children go to the grocery store and meet a fellow shopper, but because she needs to tend to her children and do the grocery shopping for her family, she does not evangelize to the fellow shopper. Does this mean that she is not a missional person or, worse, that she is sinning? What about the college student who is tending to his studies instead of formally evangelizing the students on campus? Does he lack a missional attitude? Is he sinning? Or is he simply living his vocation as a student?
I am by no means saying they cannot or should not share the faith. Rather, my point is that demands to be missional can often evoke guilt or even the illegitimate abandonment of a God-given vocation. And again, to be clear, this is by no means meant to discourage witnessing to others. It is simply meant to celebrate and intentionally recognize, as Wingren demonstrated, that the mission of God encompasses the greater whole of life. Therefore, if we are being honest, perhaps we should consider whether or not a missional pressure to abandon one’s vocation is not actually a disservice to the church.59
Therefore when we blur the lines between the role and tasks of those called to the public ministry with those not so called, and say in regard to all Christians—“everyone a minister” we lose sight of the holiness of the callings of all Christians. These are many and varied, and in which natural and spontaneous witnessing takes place wherever God’s people live, move and have their being. Since in truth it is the laity that primarily engages the unbelieving world through their vocations, we end up hurting the mission of the Church through a forced requirement that all are to “preach” the Gospel.
Evangelizing is not a program or set of gimmick-laden activities. It is a corporate attitude of the heart of a congregation. It is embedded and expressed in the congregation’s culture. Evangelizing demonstrates a congregation’s passion for Christ and its compassion for the world God created. It is congregational living into Christ’s costly call.60
On Trinity 4 the Church prays: “Grant, O Lord, we beseech You, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by Your direction that Your Church may joyfully serve You in all godly quietness.”61 True Christian piety is so often hidden in our everyday living that only the Father in heaven knows how neighbor is being engaged with Jesus through us. We go about our lives neither trying to hide our actions nor seeking to have them observed by others. In our daily vocations we act according to the need of another as it arises and our Lord gives us the ability to meet that need. We have not been called to subject our neighbors to rude and obnoxious engagement. Rather when called upon to defend the Gospel, all Christians are to do it with “gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15). Mormon missionaries and Jehovah Witness tandem teams should not be commended by us for their zeal. They do not possess a zeal based on the knowledge of the truth, but motivated by a man-made law seeking a righteousness apart from Christ (cf. Rom. 10:1–4).
We get to live our lives quietly, reverently and securely in Christ. In our vocations we daily show love to those for whom we cook, for whom we clean, for whom we protect, whom we teach, for whom we make repairs and build, for whom we care in their medical needs, to whom we sell our wares. All such acts of love—and so many more—may be overlooked by those who receive our loving attention and sometimes may even be despised by them; but God is pleased with these acts done in His saving name.
As we participate in closed Communion on Sunday morning, who of us focuses on the fact that we are “loudly” and distinctly engaging others with Jesus? Yet we are told by the Lord’s Apostle that we are proclaiming the Lord’s death as we eat His holy body and drink His precious blood (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23–26). By our eating and drinking we proclaim the Gospel to our fellow communicants at the table with us and the non-communicant left behind in the pew. With quiet minds and hearts we proclaim the Gospel; we engage others with Jesus through humble lives of worship and praise. The message of Christ crucified is heard loudly and clearly in some of the most unremarkable ways through His Church here on earth.
Typically we sinners hear Jesus say: “humble yourself” and we want to find a way we can manufacture this humility and control it by acts of self-discipline (cf. Col. 2:18–23). The monastic life of Rome and the “how to” books and fads of the modern evangelicals pursue this and fail miserably. All such attempts, when carried out to their fullest, leaves the sinner in the religion of the Pharisee of old. We should rather desire the religion of the tax collector and in Christ we shall ever find it. (cf. Lk. 18:9–14)
We can grant the life of the tax collector like other despised or forgettable vocations hidden in Christ does not have popular appeal, because in it the Christian gets lost living so quietly among fellow human beings. The romance and glamour of being the person who is seen as obviously pious and outwardly righteous appears more popular compared to the quiet life of repentance and faith while performing despised or ordinary tasks. But in the end, the life of self-righteous glory itself robs glory from God our Savior and does not help our neighbors to observe Christ their Savior in our words and deeds.
It is true, most visitors to the temple on such a day as described in the parable found in Luke 18 would have noticed the Pharisee and not the tax collector. The “sinner” would have continued to be viewed with suspicion (cf. Luke 19:1–10—Jesus’ visit with Zaccheaus). Yet in God’s sight, the tax collector was justified. So it is with us.
Like the tax collector we may have a vocation that is generally despised. For example: a mother or father may have a child who thinks the parent’s rules are put in place only to make life miserable and the parent is despised for setting and enforcing them. A student who defends the victim of a bully and is berated and mocked for it, will often be excluded from the more popular cliques. A worker in an office where the supervisor receives the praise for work the worker does quietly behind the scenes makes the supervisor look good, but is himself despised by coworkers as though these same actions were done to receive an award. As Christians we get to live in these ways to the glory of God and welfare of our neighbor, hidden though they be in Christ.
As we go about as sinners who repent daily and live trusting in the mercy God has for us in His Son, our humility will be seen by some. The unbelieving world will not exalt us for such a life-style. And in truth it will often hate us for it, just as it hated our Lord (cf. Jn. 15:18–19). In the end, that same Jesus will exalt us for the sake of His work of redemption completed for us by suffering, dying and rising again.
Jesus is the servant of all servants, serving us all the way to the cross and promising to serve us even when we reach heaven (cf. Lk. 12:37). For His sake, we get to show the humility of service while having all that we do hidden in Him. This is Jesus’ religion. As we boast in Christ’s righteousness and His strength alone all we do will be safely hidden in Him to the glory of the Father (cf. 2 Cor. 11:30 – 12:10).
Yea, Lord, ‘twas Thy rich bounty gave
My body, soul, and all I have
In this poor life of labor.
Lord grant that I in ev’ry place
May glorify Thy lavish grace
And serve and help my neighbor.
Let no false doctrine me beguile;
Let Satan not my soul defile.
Give strength and patience unto me
To bear my cross and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
In death Thy comfort still afford.62
VI. As You Wish That Others Would Do to You, Do So to Them.
While one cannot find in the New Testament explicit commands to “preach” the Gospel applied to individual Christians not called specifically to do this, one does repeatedly find the explicit call to godly living in whatever vocation Christians find themselves. In such interactions with neighbors in vocation, the Christian has many opportunities naturally arising for him to speak the Gospel in keeping with the implied mission of the Church as again reflected in Matthew 28, etc. (cf. Appendix C, p. 74). This observation is attributed to Luther: “[M]ortals are bound to each other by a chain of misery. But mercy ought to break the fetters.”63 Christians are agents of God’s mercy in this life. We naturally engage with Jesus those neighbors with whom we empathize. The mission of the Church remains the same: to proclaim the Gospel of salvation in Christ alone throughout the world. While acts of charity are never to be equated with the Gospel, they are truly connected.
The great period of cultural engagement that was the 1960s unfortunately was a period of great secularization of both government and church institutions. Some theologians even redefined the Gospel in political terms. Even in LCMS circles it became popular to assert that serving the poor or building houses is the Gospel. This view of social work (which confuses Law and Gospel) caused a significant portion of the LCMS to recoil against social concern and the Church’s life of mercy. This was in part out of a deep desire to be faithful to Scripture and the Confessions. Thus many pastors and others abandoned the social ministry playing field altogether. This understandable mistake was made in an effort not to lose the focus of Christ and justification, but it was a mistake nonetheless.64
The great plea of pragmatic U.S. Christianity and the twentieth-century concept of “social gospel” remains central today: “Deeds not creeds!” Another version states: “Doctrine divides; service unites.” But this view overlooks the fact that “doctrine” or “teaching,” is central to the New Testament and is the very source, strength, and motivation for mercy (in Acts 2:42 koinonia/mercy and didache/teaching are next to each other)… The Lutheran Confessions advocate creeds with deeds. Christ’s incarnation, the Gospel and all its articles, bring us salvation and drive us into service and love of our neighbor. In the New Testament, refusal to have mercy is a rejection of apostolic teaching (1 John 3:15–17). Doctrine and love belong together.65
Our Lord speaks these familiar words in His Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:27–36).
When we recall these words of our Lord, our sinful natures try to come up with reasons we should strike back, hold on to our tunic and cloak, and refuse the request of the beggar. But the command to love our neighbor even if he is our enemy stands before us without one iota or dot being removed. Deep within the waters of our baptism the new man drowns the old through contrition and repentance in response to the rhetorical question: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (Ja. 2:15–16).
Throughout the Gospels we can observe Jesus calling upon us frequently to show mercy to our neighbors. It is a predominate message from our Lord to His Church. His Apostles did the same in their messages recorded for our benefit. Lutherans recognize this call to action throughout their Confessions.66 We are called upon to show mercy to all, first among our fellow believers and then to those outside the Church. We are called upon to do this as individual Christians with those whom we come in contact through our daily vocations. We are called to do this corporately as congregation, synod and yes, even as community through other Christian or secular organizations.
As we respond to the needs of our neighbors, Christ is at work in His love through us. “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on Me.’ For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:2–7).
Grant our hearts in fullest measure
Wisdom, counsel, purity,
That they ever may be seeking
Only that which pleaseth Thee.
Let Thy knowledge spread and grow,
Working error’s overthrow.67
VII. Stir up One Another to Love and Good Works.
In 2011 the Evangelical Lutheran Synod adopted the Strategic Plan Goals as presented by its Planning and Coordinating Committee. Goal #4 is “View each congregation in the synod as a mission congregation” and Goal #7 is “Develop and provide resources to share with congregations and pastors on ways to engage the unchurched in our respective communities.”68
However, if we strictly define a mission congregation as one comprised of members who are burdened with the task of calling on and preaching the Gospel to the unchurched whether familiar or strangers, we will be making the mistake all too often committed in our circles since the 1970s. This will certainly continue to be an excellent avenue for those extroverted among us who could even be called as evangelists locally. However we need to explore and develop an ongoing way to encourage our membership as a whole to value vocation and the ways that naturally avail themselves in those vocations for us to serve our neighbors in love, and thereby engage them with Jesus.
Let us briefly explore some of those ways we are able do this. In doing so, however, we need to be cautious about developing lists of which good works are to be done. As Christians set free by Christ, we have the freedom to do and to leave undone. Consciences sanctified by the Spirit in the grace of Christ will at times and under certain circumstances refuse to act, but another will act and both can be right and proper.
In his sermon on the First Sunday in Advent [Luther] defines love as giving oneself to one’s neighbor. “Maybe you ask now what good works you are to do for your neighbor. The answer is that they cannot be named.” Christ’s work for us is not divided into parts; it is an entirety which included death on the cross. Love is like that. Love discovers for itself what is of the greatest benefit to a neighbor. It cannot busy itself with deeds prescribed by rules of propriety without ceasing to be love. It becomes a bondage under law, concern with one’s own holiness, which, uncertain of salvation, seeks to achieve certainty by requiring sacrifice for a neighbor. It has names for all works, each more formidable than the next. Such sporadic “love” does not live in childlike faith; therefore it lacks the Spirit’s certainty. It is not love, because its first interest is not a neighbor’s need, but the salvation of one’s own soul.69
First we should consider how it is that God uses us in our good works passively produced in us through the working of the Spirit. When those near to us observe how we personally deal with cross and trial, we engage them with Christ, in whom we trust. Consider one such Lutheran Christian who experienced many crosses and trials in his life and could still sing the hymn he composed:
Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near With His cheer;
Never will He leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son For my own
To my faith hath given?
Though a heavy cross I’m bearing
And my heart Feels the smart,
Shall I be despairing?
God, my Helper, who doth send it,
Well doth know All my woe
And how best to end it.
God oft gives me days of gladness;
Shall I grieve If He give
Seasons, too, of sadness?
God is good and tempers ever
All my ill, And He will
Wholly leave me never.
Hopeful, cheerful, and undaunted
Everywhere They appear
Who in Christ are planted.
Death itself cannot appall them,
They rejoice When the voice
Of their Lord doth call them.70
Paul Gerhardt, the writer of the above hymn, was a pastor in 17th century Germany, who survived the 30 Years War. Four out of his five children died in childhood, and his wife died when his surviving child was only six years old. As a pastor, he remained faithful to the Lutheran Confessions against the pressures of his day. This cost him his prestigious position. Through these and many other passive works of faith many were engaged with Jesus through him without him necessarily knowing how God used him for such salutary purposes. So it is with us as Christians today who deal with crosses and sufferings of our own and are observed in our responses of faith, whether in the family, workplace, places of leisure or business.
To those same friends, relatives, and acquaintances whom God has connected to us through our vocations, we actively show them care and concern. All such displays which have been refined by the fires of our own crosses and trials, are often received by them as real and genuine. These neighbors in need may benefit by our expressed concerns, or congratulations for that matter (cf. Rom. 12:15)
- We can stay in touch with them in person, by phone, cards, texts, e-mails or social networking.
- We can include them and their needs in our personal prayers and even request that they be included in our corporate Sunday prayers.
- We can offer to help them in their needs with meals, transportation, lawn care, house cleaning, child care, paying bills, donating sick time, finding employment, lodging, etc.
- We can visit bearing gifts, both the practical: books, blankets, games, puzzles and the impractical: flowers, desserts and chocolates.
- We can give comfort to a person who is dying while holding a hand, reading the Holy Scriptures and singing hymns, or being present in the room praying silently.
Our vocations lead us into all sorts of contacts and opportunities to serve. Even when retirement becomes part of our vocation we can see we are free to serve in ways not available to a person who is still employed in support of one’s family.
What can and should be done individually might be greatly enhanced if done as a congregation or synod. “Too often the mandate for mercy is limited to the individual Christian in his or her individual vocation in the world. But just as the individual has a vocation to mercy, so the whole Church, the body, the plural, the community is holy and called to a corporate lived holiness.”71
We can seek out needs in our communities that are not currently being met. Do we have many in our communities in search for help with food? Then perhaps it makes sense to establish a food pantry or regularly participate in a community sponsored pantry or soup kitchen. Are the developmentally disabled, deaf or blind being underserved in our community, physically and spiritually? Then something like establishing a “Jesus’ Cares”72 program could be considered. Is there a lack of sustained assistance during long stretches of illness, which even local hospice care does not address? Then organizing a volunteer network to manage such long-term care like “Gloria’s Angels”73 might be a very worthwhile endeavor.
Faith Lutheran Church, the ELS congregation in Carthage, Missouri, stepped up to the challenge presented them in 2011, when many of their neighbors affected by the tornados in the Joplin area were in great need. Faith along with WELS Christian Aid and Relief teamed up and organized an eleven-day work party, reaching out to many potential volunteers throughout the nation in both the ELS and WELS. Are we situated in a military community? Then perhaps participation in the USO locally would be a logical act of service. Is there a large medical facility in our backyard? Then securing, maintaining and supplying a house to offer out-of-town family members residence during extended stays could be appropriate.
Look internally and externally. Does your congregation know its own demographics? What are the needs of the elderly in your congregation? Is mental health an issue? Is addiction a significant issue? Is family counseling a necessity? What about marriage issues? Does your congregation have a logical tool to assess internal needs? What are the needs within the broader community? Is affordable housing a problem? What about elder care? What is your community’s demographic makeup? Are there significant immigrant populations, and if so, what needs do they have?… Pastor and people also can visit police and fire departments, hospitals, schools, and community institutions. Ask about the types of calls the police make. What are the principal issues in the schools? Who is the hospital treating or unable to treat? City hall and public school offices can provide a wealth of information about the community. From this legwork may emerge a vision for how your congregation might address need in the name of Christ, both within the congregation and in terms of the broader community… congregations who care for the needy internally are the very congregations who also look outside themselves to the needy in their communities. The goal is to be intentional. A congregation can intentionally become a community that reflects the mercy of Christ that is so richly delivered every Sunday morning.… A congregation or a pastor may have a deep desire and commitment to care for the needy, but the congregation and pastor may have no ability, no funding, or no expertise to do so.… Are there possibilities for partnership?… City and county governments are deeply involved in social services and often provides such services in cooperation with local congregations and other nonprofit organizations. Are there other Christian congregations that could provide an opportunity for “cooperation in externals” or shared work that does not involve joint worship or compromise convictions of the faith?74
As both individual Christians and congregations we can approach God’s command to holy living as a wrongful means to an end: to build up our outward institutions in a way that glorifies us. In so doing, all such efforts will very likely miss the real needs that present themselves to us and, our choice of activities will become self-serving.
Our Lord calls ordinary Christians individually and corporately to show mercy and charity through their good works with intentional purpose. Based on what our Lord and His Apostles emphasize in the New Testament would it be more advisable to establish Christian Service Committees in our congregations before Evangelism Committees? The mission of engaging others with Jesus is intimately connected with the life in this world of the Christian who is called by the Lord to serve neighbor in Jesus’ name. However the work of Christian service should not be reserved in a congregation for only the few who participate in the committee. In the same way the work of evangelism should not be left to a few members of a committee. Perhaps a concerted effort should be made among us to see the connection between both Christian service and evangelism and thereby incorporate a broader understanding of how Christians engage others with Jesus in word and deed. If any committee is formed to concentrate on these worthwhile emphases, its purpose should be clearly stated to help their fellow members to understand their roles in these given areas to spur each other on in their several vocations and together meeting real pressing needs in their community.
In keeping this proper emphasis, perhaps the synod-wide thank offering being planned to commemorate the 500th and 100th Anniversaries of the Lutheran Reformation and our synod respectively in 2017 and 2018, should seek to raise funds for the synodical Christian Service Committee to manage. Not only could this help expand its normal operations, but it could establish a fund from which to help match individual congregational efforts in Christian service in their communities throughout the synod. This enhancement of our Christian service might give opportunity for collaborative efforts with our Board for Home Outreach to develop a plan to gather and disseminate ideas and practical suggestions for all our congregations and their members in serving the needs of neighbor.
O Holy Spirit, enter in
And in our hearts Thy work begin,
Thy temple deign to make us.
Sun of the soul, Thou Light divine,
Around and in us brightly shine,
To joy and gladness wake us.
To Thee giving
Still may be in love increasing.
Thou Fountain whence all wisdom flows,
Which God on pious hearts bestows,
Grant us Thy consolation.
That in our pure faith’s unity
We faithful witnesses may be,
Of grace that brings salvation.
By Thy teaching;
Let our preaching
And our labor
Praise Thee, Lord, and bless our neighbor.75
Well done good and faithful servants!76 You stand before the Father in heaven forgiven of all sin through the blood of His Son and clothed in His robe of righteousness. Your many random acts of kindness performed in your various callings, often hidden even from yourselves will be revealed in the Judgment for Jesus’ sake. Your intentional acts of kindness, which you are called upon shrewdly to perform in Jesus’ name have been washed clean of all ill motive. You are promised that these works will be remembered by the many neighbors you served engaging them with Jesus, who with joy and appreciation will receive you into the eternal dwellings (cf. Lk. 16:1ff).
It is true there are many dangers to our faith and confession of Christ Jesus as our only Savior when the topic of good works is considered and put into practice. Our sinful natures eagerly wish to contribute in some way to a more favored position before God. We know historically that Lutherans have succumbed to the devil’s trick of equating acts of kindness with the very Gospel itself and so declared a social gospel, not the Gospel of salvation in Christ for sinners. But all such dangers do not excuse us from putting into practice these very acts, which our Lord desires to see in us.
Dr. Martin Luther set us good examples of Christian service, whether it was the hospitality shown at his table or alms given to the poor at his door or his insistence of staying in Wittenberg when many fled in the face of plague and disease in 1527, 1529, 1538 and again in 1539. More than an example, our Lord Himself conducted Himself perfectly with kindness and compassion at every turn for us. Beyond His holy example Jesus actually credits us with His life of righteousness to be received by faith. We now get to be who we already are in Christ, the holy ones of the heavenly Father, engaging others by all that we say and do.
You will find in the Bible and in the Confessions one urging after another to abound in good works. You will find them urging us to do good works not to contribute to our salvation but because of the love of Christ and the needs of those all around us. And yes, they will urge us to good works also because of our own great and very personal need to show our love and gratitude to him who loved us first and gave himself for us. If that doesn’t move us to strive after good good works, then we can only conclude that we are dead branches already broken off from the vine and fit for nothing but the fire, just as Jesus said.77
We, the privileged children of the most High God, have been created, redeemed, and sanctified for good works. We now get to be our Lord’s heart of grace and mercy, His hand of kind and compassionate service, and His mouth of peace and comfort. Jesus engages our neighbors through word and deed wherever He places us. His command to love one another and all our neighbors, even our enemies, is no less a command from our Lord than His mandate “Do this in remembrance of Me”. You have been taught to observe all that Jesus has commanded you. “And behold”, [Jesus promised] “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). We engage others with Jesus through our charitable words and actions wherever our Lord places us in this life to His glory alone.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:19–25).
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20–21).
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
1 A fictional self-deprecating story to illustrate our common conflict: On his deathbed, a Lutheran pastor assures his family and friends gathered at his side that he is surely going to heaven. “How can you be so sure?” they ask. “Because I’ve not done one good work my whole life,” says the pastor.
2 For a more detailed dogmatic presentation on the topic of good works you are directed to the essay given by Pastor Wilfred Frick to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod at convention in 1973: “The Practice of Christian Love Among Christ’s People”.
3 Bible quotations in this essay are from “The Lutheran Study Bible: English Standard Version”, Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis, 2009, Edward A. Englebrecht, ed. All pronouns referring to God will be capitalized and words will occasionally be placed in bold for emphasis.
4 The Edict, issued on May 25, 1521. Dennis Bratcher, ed. Copyright © 2011, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved (No copyright claims are made for the text of the original document.) http://www.cresourcei.org/creededictworms.html (bold added for emphasis).
5 F. Bente, ed. Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House), 1921,pp. 53-57.
6 Lewis W. Spitz, ed. Luther’s Works, Vol. 34 Career of the Reformer IV, (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press), 1960, “Commentary on the Alleged Imperial Edict”, 1531, p. 90.
7 Triglot Concordia, p.343, (bold added).
8 The Council of Trent The Sixth Session: The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent, Trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), p. 30, (bold added).
9 “[George] Major taught that good works are necessary for salvation and that without good works nobody can be saved. Nicholas von Amsdorf rejected Major’s teaching, but introduced a new error on the opposite side. Amsdorf insisted that good works are harmful and detrimental to salvation. The Formula of Concord settled this controversy by insisting that good works are necessary for Christians, but that the words ‘for salvation’ should be left out of this statement.” Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions – A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, ed. Paul Timothy McCain, Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis 2005, 2006, pp. 466-467. (Closely connected to these errors addressed in Article IV of the SD, there were also the antinomian sentiments first expressed in Luther’s day by John Agricola and defended later by the Wittenberg Philippists. They contended that the Law had no real application to Christians. Therefore Articles V and VI , regarding the proper distinction between Law and Gospel and the Third Use of the Law, were found necessary to confess. See pp. 461-462.)
10 Triglot Concordia, Formula of Concord: Epitome, p. 797.
11 Ibid, p. 801.
12 “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification”. by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. 4. Explicating the Common Understanding of Justification, 4.7The Good Works of the Justified, paragraph 38. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html, (bold added).
13 Ordinary: Unchanging parts of the liturgy, e.g., Confession of Sin, Gloria Patri, Kyrie; Propers: Variable parts of the liturgy appropriate to the day or season, e.g., Introit, The Collect (prayer of the day), The Gradual.
14 The Worship Committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Mankato, MN., Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, (St. Louis: Morning Star Music Publishers, Inc., 1996), p. 42.
15 Ibid, p. 148 (Consider how this is found in many of our hymns as the main subject: #18, 19, 27, 78, 82, 182, 189, 227, 236, 237, 383, 415, 488, 490 & 506; and in many lines of others, e.g., #327 & 406.)
16 An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, (Mankato, MN: Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 2001), pp. 13-32, adapted.
17 When a faithful preacher of God’s Word expounds on a Scriptural text, he will always seek to preach specific Law and specific Gospel. If those specifics are not stated in explicit terms in the text itself, it is at least suggestive. Specific Law is applying God’s Law as found in the 10 Commandments which all Christians have been tempted to break and have sinned against God and neighbor in this regard. Having rightly preached the Law of God the preacher will then preach the Gospel specifically. He will declare that this particular sin is forgiven and that Christ has fulfilled all righteousness and credits to the believer through faith His perfect fulfillment of that particular Commandment under consideration. General Law preaching condemns only in sweeping generalities and can easily be dismissed by the hearer as applying only to others. General Gospel preaching often speaks only about the Gospel and can also be easily dismissed by the hearer as not personally applicable. (See Nathan’s specific Law and Gospel preaching to King David – 2Sam. 12:5-7, 13.)
18 “O Lord, We Praise Thee”, (#327, v. 3), Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.
19 This is not to be confused with what is often called the “Full Gospel Movement” in America. “The term Full Gospel is often used as a synonym for Pentecostalism, a Protestant movement originating in the 19th century. Early Pentecostals saw their teachings on baptism with the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and divine healing as a return to the doctrines and power of the Apostolic Age. Because of this many early Pentecostals called their movement the Apostolic Faith or the Full Gospel.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_Gospel)
20 Harold L. Senkbeil, Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1994), p. 163.
21 Ibid., pp. 167-168.
22 “Thy Strong Word”, (#72, v. 3), Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, (bold added).
23 “If Thy Beloved Son, O God”, (#374 vv. 4-5), Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.
24 Triglot Concordia, pp. 929 (bold added, cf. also p. 931).
25 An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, p. 147.
26 Good News, Vol. 2, No. 2, (St. Louis: Concordia Mission Society, 1996), p. 13.
27 Daniel M. Deutschlander, The Narrow Lutheran Middle: Following the Scriptural Road, (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2011), p. 137.
28 Eugene Klug, ed., Sermons of Martin Luther: The House Postils, Vol. 2, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books), p. 100.
29 Triglot Concordia, p. 161.
30 Deutschlander, p. 145.
31 “In Jesus’ Name”, (#4, v. 1) Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.
32 “Such baptizing with water means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts; and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, “The Meaning of Baptism” p. 22.
33 Ibid., p. 196.
34 Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God At Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), pp. 133, 135-136.
35 Robert Kolb, Speaking the Gospel Today: A Theology for Evangelism, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1984), pp. 198-199 (agape is defined by the author previous to the quote as “love which seeks not its own but abandons itself in offering love, care and concern to others”.)
36 Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation, translated by Carl C. Rasmussen, (Ballast Press, 1994), p. 10.
37 Ibid. p. 73.
38 An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, p. 168.
39 Senkbeil, pp. 171-172.
40 Wingren, p. 131
41 Senkbeil, pp. 165-166.
42 “Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful. carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.’ What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels.” Walther I. Brandt, ed., Luther’s Works, Vol. 45 The Christian in Society, (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1962), “The Estate of Marriage”, 1531, p. 39.
43 Gene Veith, Jr., God At Work, pp. 140-141.
44 Matthew C. Harrison, Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2008), p. 79.
45 In keeping with the fact that what we regularly receive on Sunday morning at divine service shines forth throughout the week in our daily vocations, Parkland Ev. Lutheran Church, Tacoma, WA has instituted a new practice this current church year. During the last hymn of those services an usher extinguishes the candles in the chancel. Before extinguishing the last candle, the usher will light the taper of the candle-lighter. The usher then exits the sanctuary down the center aisle with the taper still lit to signify that as we exit we carry the light of Christ with us out into the world through our many and varied vocations. (cf. John 8:12 and Mt. 5:14-16) Printed in the worship folder after the closing hymn this is stated to explain the rubric: “The Light of Christ goes with us into the world to shine through our vocations.” However there has been a movement the last few decades among law based evangelicals and social gospelers to communicate at the end of Sunday worship that the participants are now being sent to do the real work. “Worship is over. The service begins!” This wrongful emphasis of separating worship from daily service needs to be avoided.
46 “Day of Wrath”, (Hymn #537, v. 6), Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.
47 Triglot Concordia, p. 491 (bold added).
48 It is not about whether or not the Church is to be engaged with seeking the lost, it is about the locations for that engagement (vocation is about location first and foremost). So while Mt. 28 speaks to the Church as a whole, it is not a legal/moral mandate but an evangelical mandate given to the Church. How it is applied and carried out in the individual Christian’s life is tied with his/her God-given vocations in their locations and with those whom God places in their spheres of operation. For too long we have taken this and other passages to mean that every Christian must make a law/Gospel presentation to everyone with whom they come in contact or else they are failing.
49 A devotion on Matthew 28:19-20 by C. F. W. Walther contains these observations, “WITH THESE WORDS, Christ sends His apostles out to all nations and makes all mankind their field of work… The Church for which the command was intended consists, not solely of the clergy, but of all believing Christians. Even if Christ had never spoken these words, the Church would still be obligated to spread the Gospel throughout the world… For this reason, the mission to the Gentiles remains the Christian’s obligation. It is an obligation that has been imposed on him both by Christ’s command and by the requirement to love God and man.” [God Grant It, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006) transl. by G. P. Grabenhofer, p. 101-02]. The same can be said on a related subject, the private (in contradistinction to public) use of the Office of the Keys (Matthew 18:15-18). The keys are used privately when individual Christians, on behalf of Christ, speak the Gospel of forgiveness to others; when they forgive the sins of those who sin against them; and when they retain the sins of those who do not repent.
50 Klaus Detlev Schulz, Mission from the Cross: The Lutheran Theology of Mission, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), p. 236.
51 Lucas V. Woodford, Great Commission, Great Confusion, Or Great Confession?: The Mission of the Holy Christian Church, (Eugene, OR: WIPF & STOCK, 2012), pp. 52-57.
52 Pastor Peters, “Lutherans and Evangelism”, pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com, 2010.
53 The essayist remembers in college how he joined a few other students as they went to downtown Milwaukee shortly before Christmas, standing on street corners with clipboards in hand engaging strangers/Christmas shoppers with questions like: “Do you know what Christmas is all about?” etc. However, a few years later he worked as an orderly in a hospital on a rehabilitation floor where he engaged patients with Jesus who approached him. Some of these were a paraplegic newly converted to being a Jehovah Witness; an agnostic city politician – self taught and successful who had been paralyzed from the neck down from a brain stem stroke; and a former Playboy Bunny from Lake Geneva, WI who was suffering from MS, to name a few. He worked 3:00 – 11:00 p.m. and usually had the last 1.5 hours of the evening shift with limited duties and these individuals invited him to speak with them about spiritual matters. This was vocationally natural and spontaneous, but the downtown Milwaukee exercise was contrived and fake – rude and obnoxious.
54 Matthew C. Harrison, A Little Book of Joy: The Secret of Living a Good News Life in a Bad News World, (Lutheran Legacy, 2009), p. 158.
55 It became common at one our area ELS/WELS High Schools that every weekly chapel conducted by area pastors was to have a mission emphasis. At joint ELS/WELS services hosted by the High School like the Reformation Festival Service instruction was given that there was to be a mission emphasis as well.
56 Absolution: “God, our heavenly Father, has forgiven all your sins. By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, he has removed your guilt forever. You are his own dear child. May God give you strength to live according to his will.” (Christian Worship, p. 38, see footnote #57 on use of CW) and “By the mercy of God we are redeemed by Jesus Christ, and in him we are forgiven. Let us rest in peace until the rising of the sun when we shall serve him in newness of life.” (Quotation from worship folder used within our fellowship.) An absolution formula originally set for publication by the ELS in its Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary of 1996, but thankfully was omitted in the final editing was this: “God forbid that through impenitence and unbelief any among you should reject His grace and forgiveness, and your sins be retained.” The absolution should contain only pure Gospel.
Benediction: “Brothers and sisters, go in peace. Live in harmony with one another. Serve the Lord with gladness. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord …” (CW, p. 44) “May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to himself. May the power of the Lord Jesus make us strong to do his will. May the peace of the Lord Jesus fill our lives. (CW, p.152) “In the Name of the Father, the Love of Jesus and the Power of the Holy Spirit, go forth into the world as people of hope and servants of the Gospel and all those who need it.” and “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”(Quotations from worship folders used within our fellowship.)
57 This is not to condemn the use of NPH’s “Meditations”. It remains an overall reliable devotional tool, but as it is with all materials produced by faithful and confessional church bodies, the reader still needs to exercise discernment. It can be noted that the current issue (May 27 – Aug. 25, 2012) has only 9% of its devotions that contain such a well-intentioned but misguided emphasis. The popular ELS publication “Book of Family Prayer” lacks the proper Gospel declaration in a few of its daily devotions. Another worthwhile study that goes beyond the assignment of this essay would be to see how in Confessional Lutheran Church bodies in America there has been an unintentional supplanting of the material principle, “justification by grace for Christ’s sake through faith”(the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls), by the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples…” (Mt. 28:19-20). Pastor Peters, cited above, saw the glory days of American Lutheranism as noted by two nationwide popular Magazines: “Look” (April 1, 1958) and “Time” (April 7, 1958) as being a high water mark. But as John Krienke, a reader from Florida noted in The Lutheran Witness, May 20, 1958, Vol. 77, No. 10, p. 23(239): “The articles seem to say that the Lutheran churches are finally growing up from their unrealistic positions of the past.…These articles have chosen the opinions and beliefs that will make the Lutheran church appear most popular to the public. Our people must not think that all of these ideas are characteristic of the thinking of all or even the majority of our leaders. We must never compromise doctrine. Thus, in our growing popularity and strength, we must be even more on guard against the insidious working of the devil, the world, and even our own fleshly liking of praise. The uncompromised, pure Gospel of Jesus Christ has been our strength in the past and, by God’s grace, will continue to be our strength in the future.” Krienke was sadly prophetic in his warnings and as those Confessional Lutheran bodies started to decline in numbers and in their confession of the truth, one might discover an intentional and pragmatic borrowing from non-Lutheran sources to address some of the decline noticed in the 1970s and beyond.
58 Klemet Preus, “The Theology of the Church Growth Movement: An Evaluation of Kent Hunter’s Confessions”, Logia, Ephiphany 2001, Vol. X, Number 1, p. 46.
59 Woodford, p. 165. (Another example of this pressure to be missional is often mentioned in regard to the airport/plane experiences as though a Christian must facilitate stranger conversations with the goal to evangelize. It is not a sin to enjoy solitude with a set of headphones above 10,000 feet!)
60 Richard H. Bliese and Craig Van Gelder, eds., The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), p. 76.
61 Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, p. 159.
62 “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart”, #406, v. 2, Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (see also “Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying”, #191, vv. 2 & 3).
63 Harrison, Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action, p. 23
64 Ibid., p. 213.
65 Ibid., p. 161.
66 “The Confessions assert that the Church has a corporate life of mercy and that the Church is unified by ‘doctrine, faith, sacraments [and] works of love.’ (SA II IV 9)The bishops are to carry out the work of ‘alms’ in behalf of the Church. (Tr 80-81) Charity is ‘the outward administration of Christ’s kingdom among people.’ (Ap V 72) The Confessions cajole us not to disregard the plight of the poor (LC I 297) nor allow the ‘public alms of the Church’ to be squandered. (Ap XXVII 5) The Confessions call works of charity a way in which we praise God. (Ap V 71-72) The Confessions promise rich reward for the assistance of the needy. (LC I 252) The Confessions call Christians to social responsibility. (LC I 240) The Confessions call on us to ‘let harm come to no one, but show him all good and love.’ (LC I 193-94)” Ibid, p. 165.
67 “Come, O Come, Thou Quickening Spirit”, (#438, v. 2) Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.
68 “Report of the 94th Regular Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod”, Mankato, MN, June 19-23, 2011, pp. 112-113.
69 Wingren, pp. 48-49.
70 “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me”, (#377, vv. 1-4), Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.
71 Harrison, Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action, p. 118.
74 Harrison, Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action, p. 189-191.
75 “O Holy Spirit, Enter In,” (#27, vv. 1 & 3) Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.
76 To maintain the proper tension as the righteous of the Lord who live in daily repentance, consider not only Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in Mt. 25, but also His parable on Unworthy Servants in Lk. 17 – “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”
77 The Narrow Lutheran Middle, p. 150.
The Various Rites and Offices in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary
- Prayer of Confession –
- “… increase in us a true knowledge of You, and of Your will, and true obedience of Your Word.” pp. 41, 62
- “We earnestly desire to grow in true godliness. Help us, O God, for the sake of Jesus our Savior.” p. 42
- “Grant that we may serve You in newness of life, …” p. 88
- “… grant that we may live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of Your holy name.” pp. 109 & 120
- “… we … let Your holy and blessed will rule in all things.” p. 131
- Prayer of the Church –
- “… so that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” p. 48
- “… that we may … bear much fruit in well doing.” p. 96
- “ … may bring them up in true faith and obedience to Your will.” p. 96
- “Bless all who in their daily calling endeavor to do You will, and give them the assurance that their work in pleasing in Your sight.” p. 96
- Exhortation –
- “You … should love one another with a pure heart, …” pp. 53, 77
- Collect of Thanksgiving –
- “ … strengthen us … in fervent love toward one another …” p. 56, 83
- “… that we may be enabled constantly to serve You; …” p. 83
- “Send us out to do the work You have given us to do, to love and serve You as faithful witnesses …” p. 104
- “… preserve him/her/them in the grace of baptism so that he/she/they may grow in faith, walk in newness of life by the power of Christ’s resurrection, …” p.135
- Collect –
- “… we may be made a holy temple acceptable unto you …” p. 58
- “ … that we receive Your Word with thankful hearts, and live according to it, …” p. 58
- “… that in steadfast faith we may serve You …” p. 86
- “Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of Your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of Your love.” p. 108
- “… grant … that all our doing being ordered by Your governance, may be righteous in Your sight …” p. 118
- “… that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments …” pp. 126, 132
- Closing Prayer –
- “You have taught us what You would have us believe and do. Help us, O God by Your Holy Spirit for the sake of Jesus Christ, to keep Your Word in pure hearts, that we thereby may be … perfected in holiness …” pp. 57 & 59
- The Litany –
- “… tenderly grant us Your boundless mercy that we may walk in newness of life …” p. 139
Church Year Collects
Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, pp. 147–166
- Christmas 1
- … direct our actions according to Your gracious will, that in the name of Your beloved Son we may be made to abound in good works; …
- Epiphany 1
- … and grant that they (Your people) might both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and by Your merciful help may faithfully perform them; …
- Palm Sunday
- … You have sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Himself our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross, that all should follow the example of His great humility: Mercifully grant that we may … follow the example of His patience …
- … We humbly beseech You, that as You put in our minds good desires, so by Your continual help we may bring them to good effect; …
- Easter 2
- … we who have celebrated the solemnities of the Lord’s resurrection, may, by the help of Your grace bring forth the fruits thereof in our life and conduct; …
- Easter 4
- … Grant that all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s kingdom may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession and follow all such things that are agreeable to the same; …
- Easter 5
- … Grant unto Your people that they may love what You command …
- Easter 6
- … grant to us, Your humble servants, that by Your holy inspiration we may think on those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding may perform the same: …
- Easter 7
- … grant us always to have a devout will towards You, and the desire to serve Your majesty with a pure heart; …
- … Grant us by that same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things …
- Trinity 1
- … grant us Your Holy Spirit, that we may please You both in will and deed; …
- Trinity 4
- … the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by Your direction that Your Church may joyfully serve You in all godly quietness; …
- Trinity 8
- Grant to us, O Lord, we beseech You, the spirit to always think and do those things that are right, that we, who cannot do anything that is good without You, may by You be enabled to live according to Your will; …
- Trinity 10
- … Mercifully grant that we who by Your grace in Christ have been made partakers of Your heavenly treasure, may also cheerfully serve You in this life, walking in the way of Your commandments; …
- Trinity 12
- Almighty and everlasting God, only by Your gift it comes that Your faithful people perform true and praiseworthy service: Grant, we beseech You, that we may faithfully serve You in this life …
- Trinity 13
- … Increase in us daily the gifts of faith, hope, and love, that we may love all that You command; …
- Trinity 16
- Lord, we pray that Your grace may always go before and follow after us that we may be continually given to all good works;
- Trinity 19
- … of Your bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech You, from all things that may hurt us, that we, being ready in both body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things You would have us do; …
- Trinity 20
- Grant, we beseech You, merciful Lord, to Your faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins and serve You with a quiet mind; …
- Trinity 21
- Lord, we beseech You to keep Your household, the Church, in continual godliness; that through Your protection it may be free from all adversities and devoutly given to serve You in good works to the glory of Your name; …
- Trinity 22
- O God, our Refuge and Strength, the Author of all godliness: be ready, we beseech You, to hear the devout prayers of Your Church; and grant that those things which we ask in true faith we may obtain by Your boundless mercy; …
- Trinity 24
- Stir up, we beseech You, O Lord, the wills of Your faithful people, that they may lay hold of Your gracious promises by faith, and in their lives bring forth the fruits thereof; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
- All Saints
- … grant us grace to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, …
- 2nd to Last Sunday
- O God, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit that, being ever mindful of the end of all things and the day of Your last judgment, we may be stirred up to holiness of living here …
|Book/NT||Call/Specific Good Works||Call/Holy Living||Call/Preach Gospel by All Christians||Call/Preach Gospel by Called Ministers||Mission Call/to the Church|
|Mt.||5:16, 39ff, 44; 7:12;19:19||10:42; 25:35ff||4:19; 10:7,18,27; 28:19 3:2; 4:17; 9:37–38; 13:18ff; 21:16; 22:2ff; 24:14|
|Mk.||12:31||1:17; 3:14; 6:7ff; 13:9ff; 16:15–20||1:15, 38, 45; 2:17; 10:29; 16:20|
|Lk.||6:27ff, 35, 38; 10:28, 37; 14:10; 16:9; 17:4, 10; 22:26||1:75||5:10; 8:39; 9:3, 60; 10:9; 12:12,42; 21:13||4:43; 5:32; 8:16; 10:2; 11:33; 13:18ff; 15:7, 10, 32; 16:16; 19:10; 24:47|
|Jn.||3:21; 13:15, 34; 14:12, 15; 15:8, 12, 16||7:38||1:7; 15:27; 17:18–20||1:44ff; 4:14, 29, 37; 18:21|
|Acts||26:20||9:36||5:20, 29; 10:42; 16:10; 20:24; 22:15, 21; 23:11||5:42; 8:4, 25, 35, 40; 11:20; 13:31, 38, 49; 14:7; 20:20; 28:31|
|Rom.||6:4, 13, 19; 8:4; 12:1,6, 10, 20–21; 13:3–4, 8, 13–14; 15:2, 7||3:31; 6:17ff; 7:4, 22; 15:14–16||1:5–6; 15:16||9:17; 10:8ff|
|1 Cor.||5:8; 6:19–20; 7:17; 10:24, 31; 12:26; 14:1, 12, 26; 15:58; 16:13–14||13:1ff||12:8ff (gifts ?); 14:1–3 (gifts ?)||1:21; 3:6ff; 5:9ff; 10:33|
|2Cor.||2:8; 5:14–15; 7:1; 8:7, 24; 9:11ff; 13:11||3:2ff; 5:10||2:17; 5:18–20||2:14; 10:15ff|
|Gal.||5:13–14, 22; 6:1–2, 9–10|
|Eph.||2:10; 4:1ff, 23–25, 32; 5:1–2, 8–10, 15, 19–20, 24–25; 6:1–9||6:4 (parental),15, 17 (Implied)||Philip.||1:9–11, 27–30; 2:12–16; 4:4, 8–9, 14–18||1:14–18 (brothers?)||1:5–7|
|Col.||1:10; 2:6; 3:18–24; 4:5||4:6 (answer)||1:5–6, 24–29; 4:3|
|1 Thess.||2;12; 3:12–13; 4:1, 4, 9–12; 5:13b–14, 23–24||4:7||1:7–9 (descriptive)||2:2, 8–9|
|2 Thess.||3:13||1:11–12; 2:16–17|
|1 Tim.||2:11; 5:3–4; 6:11b–14 (Tim), 18–19||2:1–3; 5:25||2:4|
|2 Tim.||2:24 (Tim)||2:21||4:5||4:17|
|Titus||2:2–6, 7–8(Titus), 9–10; 3:1–2, 8, 14||2:11–14|
|Heb.||6:10–12; 10:24–25; 12:1c, 14; 13:1–5, 16, 21||9:14; 11:6|
|James||1:19, 22, 27; 2:8; 3:13, 17–18; 5:7|
|1 Pt.||1:15, 22; 2:12, 15; 3:1,4,7–9; 3:15; 4:8–11; 5:5, 8||1:24||2:9; 3:15 (defense); 4:11 (gift)||1:25|
|2 Pt.||1:5, 10; 3:14||3:11|
|1 Jn.||2:5–6; 3:18, 23; 4:7||2;29; 3:7; 4:21||1:2, 5|
|Rev.||22:11||2:4–5; 14: 13; 19:8||12:11 (descriptive)|
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