Concord #24: Good Works (part 5)

"Concord" is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers' knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them "with one heart" to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.

Good Works (part 5)

“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. For Ambrose says: Faith is the mother of a good will and right doing. For man's powers without the Holy Ghost are full of ungodly affections, and are too weak to do works which are good in God's sight. Besides, they are in the power of the devil who impels men to diverse sins, to ungodly opinions, to open crimes. This we may see in the philosophers, who, although they endeavored to live an honest life could not succeed, but were defiled with many open crimes. Such is the feebleness of man when he is without faith and without the Holy Ghost, and governs himself only by human strength” (Augsburg Confession XX.28-34).

It is necessary to do good works because that is God’s will. But good works cannot be done without faith. Faith receives the forgiveness of sins, which renews the sinner and causes him or her to desire to do what God desires. But without faith, there can be no good works. This means that a good work is not measured by its outward quality, but rather by the faith of the individual who does it. Ambrose (a church father from the 4th century) says it well: “Faith is the mother of a good will and a right doing.” In a sense, then, forgiveness is the grandmother of good works. The Word of forgiveness gives birth to faith, and faith gives birth to good works.

It is certainly possible to do a work that is outwardly good without faith. Philosophers have been concerned with right living since the early Greeks, but they never accounted for the severity of original sin.

So, in conclusion, the teaching of grace does not forbid works, but rather shows exactly how good works are done. Good works flow from faith. “Hence it may be readily seen that this doctrine is not to be charged with prohibiting good works, but rather the more to be commended, because it shows how we are enabled to do good works. For without faith human nature can in no wise do the works of the First or of the Second Commandment. Without faith it does not call upon God, nor expect anything from God, nor bear the cross, but seeks, and trusts in, man's help. And thus, when there is no faith and trust in God all manner of lusts and human devices rule in the heart. Wherefore Christ said, John 15:5: Without Me ye can do nothing; and the Church sings:

Lacking Thy divine favor,
There is nothing found in man,
Naught in him is harmless” (Augsburg Confession XX.35-40).

You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.

Created: July 4th, 2017