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Should 'Good Works' And 'Living The Christian Life' Appear In Lutheran Sermons?

That is the question that was asked by Pastor Mark Surburg back in 2013, which he answered in a post on his personal blog, and in a study I found quite helpful.

As a "Newtheran," I'm quite familiar with Ephesians 2:8-9. I mean, after all, it's the foundation for what we believe, teach, and confess about being saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

However, I never caught myself doing this until just recently, but I always seemed to ignore verse 10 for some strange reason.

Perhaps being fed a steady diet of Law, Law, Law all the time in the years leading up to my conversion to becoming a Confessional Lutheran gave me a distaste for anything and everything that even gave the slightest hint of being a vehicle for the Scripture-twisting Works-Righteousness crowd, but whatever it was, it caused me to completely and unashamedly ignore those words.


Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.


Yet, there it is in plain, simple, straightforward language that I can understand.

Just great! You mean to tell me that now that I finally start to feel "comfortable" in my new "Confessional Lutheran Skin" my heart and mind are being drawn to the topic of "good works" and "living the Christian life" again!?! I thought I left all of that nonsense behind when I escaped American Evangelicalism!

Here's the thing...it's not "nonsense" because it's in the Bible. In other words, I should want to try to understand what God is saying about such things since He put it into His Word.

Well, all I know is that Pastor Surburg's presentation on the subject couldn't be better. Unless I'm missing something, he addresses this issue head on and gives a Biblical, Confessional, faithful Lutheran perspective, IMHO.


Mark's Thoughts: Would Paul Want Pastors To Preach And Teach About Good Works? 
The Book of Concord has much to say about what the Lutherans teach concerning good works, and since they teach it one would think that the topic is expected to appear in Lutheran sermons. 
In spite of this, Lutherans are often quite hesitant to talk about good works and living the Christian life in sermons. Beyond that, in recent years I have noticed a much stronger position present among some Lutheran pastors. There are those who say that good works should not be something that is addressed in preaching. They maintain that exhortation and teaching about good works is Law that accuses and undermines the Gospel focus of the sermon. 
How are we to resolve this issue? If only someone like the apostle Paul had given instruction to pastors about how they are to deal with good works as they preach and teach in the midst of their congregations. We are blessed because in fact, he did. Paul’s letter to Titus deals very directly with this topic and by listening to this letter we can gain great insight how we should handle it as Lutheran pastors.


Some have described Titus as being about "Good Doctrine, Good Deeds" in its most simplistic interpretation.

Personally, I love the notes in my Lutheran Study Bible that introduce this epistle.



Reading Titus 
The rich man grips his belly in pain, pleading for the physician to explain what is wrong. "Too much rich food! Too much wine!" the physician complains. "Excesses will kill you. No wonder your body is not sound." Like a sincere physician, the apostle Paul warns Titus about the excesses that afflict the congregation of Cretans, who were proverbial for gluttonous excess (Titus 1:12) and who craved new and different doctrines (Titus 1:10; Titus 1:13-14; Titus 3:9). Paul teaches that soundness (Titus 1:9; Titus 1:13; Titus 2:1-2, 8) comes from modest living in accordance with the truth. The wholeness of the Gospel brings salvation and leads to self-controlled living.

Blessings For Readers 
As you read Titus, reflect on the excesses in your life. Our world today offers excesses of every variety. Yet, as Paul demonstrates, the basics in life and in doctrine are God's greatest gifts. The simple purity of the truth is the hope of our salvation.

Luther On Titus 
This is a short epistle, but a model of Christian doctrine in which is comprehended in a masterful way all that is necessary for a Christian to know and to live. In chapter 1 he teaches what kind of man a bishop, or pastor, ought to be, namely, one who is pious and learned in preaching the gospel and in refuting the false teachers of works and of man-made laws, those who are always warring against faith and leading consciences away from Christian liberty into the captivity of their own man-made works, [as if these works,] which are actually worthless, [should make them righteous before God.] In chapter 2 he teaches the various estates -- the older, the younger, wives, husbands, masters, and slaves -- how they are to act, as those whom Christ, by His death, has won for His own. In chapter 3 he teaches Christians to honor worldly rulers and to obey them. He cites again the grace that Christ has won for us, so that no one may think that obeying rulers is enough, since all our righteousness is nothing before God. And he forbids association with the obstinate and with heretics. 
*- Luther's Works 35:389-90


Incredible how such a short epistle, and one that has only three chapters, can contain a splendid summary overview of Christian doctrine and life!

So, should "good works" and "living the Christian life" appear in Lutheran sermons! Yes, absolutely!

However, and in a Lutheran layman's terms, let's remember what others have said before about our good works: that they are for our neighbors and not for ourselves so that we might use them to measure our own justification and/or sanctification.

Our works stem from God's saving action, springing from God's work in Baptism.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. 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 our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

1 comment

  1. Of course, as soon as I published this piece, I saw this from Pastor Matt Richard...

    Lutheran And Reformed Differences On The Third Use Of The Law:
    http://www.pastormattrichard.com/2014/11/lutheran-and-reformed-differences-on.html

    "...the Lutheran Confessions hold that the law provides neither negative nor positive motivation for the Christian life (SD VI). The Christian's sanctification is a work of the gospel."

    Grace And Peace,
    Jeff

    ReplyDelete

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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