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What Luther Says

Q&A: Faith And Good Works

This is for anyone who is looking for help in understanding the relationship between faith and good works in the Christian's life.

Help Me To Understand Faith And Good Works

Q: I am having some trouble coming to understanding of faith alone based off of the Scripture that was cited on your website and was hoping for further explanation regarding the seemingly conflicting messages. I think for me what is most problematic is actually Romans 2--not listed as a reference but essential in understanding fully Romans 3 and 4. Romans 2 is based on the idea that to be truly Jewish is to be inwardly circumcised and not outwardly circumcised and inwardly something else. Then given Romans 3 and 4, is this necessarily an attack on good works as being a means for salvation or is this an attack on professing to be one thing and actually being another? I was just wondering because of the obvious stark contrast to James 2:14-26.

A: The key question you seem to be asking is this: Is what Paul says in Romans 3 (e.g., verse 28 "...we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of law") "an attack on good works as being a means for salvation?"

As you no doubt are aware, the central and consistent teaching of Paul that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ is nowhere more beautifully summarized than in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works...." By its very definition "grace" means that human works do not contribute in any way to a person's salvation or justification, as St. Paul says in Romans 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace." Or as the apostle had already said in 3:28, "...a man is justified by faith apart from [Greek: choris] works of law." Paul said this, of course, in the context of Jewish opinions regarding what was required for salvation. By making circumcision a necessary requirement for one to be saved (Acts 15:5), the Jews had attacked the Gospel of God's grace at its very core (Galatians 5:1-12!).

The faith of which Paul speaks, of course, is a living faith in Jesus Christ that produces, by God's Spirit, the good works that God wills be done in the Christian's life. That is why, immediately after his beautiful summary of the Gospel in Ephesians 2:8-9, he continues, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Of this living faith, Luther so eloquently said: "Oh faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good. Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active" (Formula of Concord, SD, IV, 10-11).

This is precisely what the entire book of James is all about. Genuine faith is a faith that shows itself in good works. Or as Luther again put it once, as an apple tree makes fruit and the fruit does not make an apple tree, so works do not make a Christian, but a Christian does good works.

Usage: We urge you to contact an LCMS Pastor in your area for more
Published By: LCMS Church Information Center

I've recently discovered this valuable resource provided by the LCMS and wanted to share it with all of you, especially since I firmly believe that Apologetics (a fancy schmancy word for "Contending For And Defending The Faith") is something that's really needed in our Synod these days.

Remember, all our good works are tainted with sin. "All our righteous acts are like filthy rags" as Isaiah reminds us (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, they cannot be counted for our salvation. Only the perfect, all-sufficient righteousness that Jesus accomplished for us with His perfect life, will be enough for our salvation. This comes to us by grace, imputed to us through faith, faith being a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, "good works" are important in the sense that you may criticize your Christian brother or sister for failing to do "good works" insofar as God's Word criticizes him/her ("faith without works is dead" James 2:14-26), but you must criticize yourself at the same time, because no one is perfect, and all have sinned.

Faith, big or small, strong or weak, as long as it trusts in Jesus' merits, will save us. Saving faith is not contingent upon the amount of works one does, but is a gift of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. So, we must trust in Jesus Christ above all for forgiveness from sins and for eternal life.

Even so, let's work while it is day before night comes when we cannot work (John 9:4), knowing that God has given us a purpose and things to do for Him in this short little life (Ephesians 2:10). We need to be merciful and forgiving to one another while also encouraging one another to do good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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