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I Don't Have To Do Good Works! ...do I?

Written by Paul Warneke. Posted in PastorPage

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 Text: Eph 2:4-10 (emph. verse 10) “10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

             We all know Ephesians 2: 8-9. Many of us have it memorized. Maybe it’s your confirmation verse. It's one of those staples of the Lutheran Church. In fact, it's practically the mantra of the Lutheran Church, the very treasure that Martin Luther set out to return to the church, that it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God! Not by works, so that no one can boast.

            Could it be any clearer? Could there possibly be any question about who is responsible for our salvation? If we are going to believe the Scriptures, as we say we do, then we have got to heed the word of our text and know that salvation comes by grace, God's unmerited favor: God’s Riches at Christ's Expense…

            And that grace comes through faith, faith that comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. It's a gift of God, by the Holy Spirit through His Word. This is not from yourselves. Once again, it's a gift...

            …Not by works, so that no one can boast.

             Ok. Are we clear on this point? As I said before, this is our Lutheran mantra. But please notice that Martin Luther did not make it up. It's right out of the Bible, a quote from the Holy Scriptures! And it's a good quote. However… there are those who will take this quotation from Scripture and use it for their own purposes. They will use it to say things like, “Since I'm not saved by good works, then good works don’t need to be part of the Christian life.”

             Actually, they're probably more apt to put it this way, “I don't have to do good works in order to be a Christian. All I have to do… is believe.”

 

             But look now at what's being done here. They have taken the gospel, the good news of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, and turned it into a statement about themselves, and about what they have to do, and what they don't have to do.

             But the gospel of Jesus Christ is not about what you have to do, or about what you don't have to do. It's about what God has done for you.
             What IS about what you have to do? The Law. God's Word in all its sternness. God’s Word about what is required of you. And please know that God is very serious about what is required of you.

            Yes. Good works are required. And not just an attempt at them. Not just trying hard. Not even doing the best you can. You are required to be perfect in your execution of good works.

            The person who stands up and smuggly says, “I don't have to do good works to be a Christian” doesn’t understand. You see, it's not a matter of not having to do them. It's really a matter of not being able to do them.

             You are required to do good works. And when you know that's true, when you know God demands good works from you, but you come to the realization that you are so steeped in your selfishness and sin that you can't carry out the good works God requires of you, you can't do the good work God requires of you, what’s your reaction?

             By the power Holy Spirit through His Word, our reaction is not “I don't have to.”  Instead our reaction is to drop to our knees (figuratively if not physically), and in contrition and repentance we regret our inabilities, we grieve over your inadequacies, we sorrow over our sins.

             And now, here's the good news; and it's got nothing to do with what you've got to do, it's got nothing to do with what you don't have to do. In fact, it's got nothing to do with you at all. Except for you as the recipient of God's good works for you.

             God so loved the world (our gospel lesson says), that he gave his only Son, the Son of man who was lifted up on the cross, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and everyone dying from the bite of the snake was healed, so the Son of Man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ was lifted up on that cross to take away the sins of the world, your sin, my sin, our sin of not doing the good works required of us. Jesus Christ has taken it upon himself, to bring to us forgiveness.

            Verse 10 of Ephesians 2 goes on to say that we are God's workmanship. That's something we profess in the Apostles Creed, isn’t it? In the first article we say,  “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

             And with Martin Luther, we say we believe that God has made me and all creatures, he has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses.

             But even so, there is still the fact that, as the psalmist says, I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. So, I needed another type of creation, and you needed one too. We needed a re- creation. We needed to be created in Christ Jesus.

            And so God very graciously bestowed this new creation on us in our baptisms, in our hearing of the word, in our coming to faith. He called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith. And so, as verse 10 says, 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works….

            What did I just say? For good works?

             Isn't it funny how we can have Ephesians 2:8 & 9 memorized, talking about Grace, talking about faith, talking about the gift of God, not of works.

             But then we forget about verse 10. Or maybe we’re not even familiar with verse 10 at all. Created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

             The NIV version reads, …created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

             But, once again, let’s not get caught up in what we have to do. Ephesians 2:10 does not say you have to do good works. Our ESV version talks about “walking in them.” And a literal translation of the original Greek says we were created in Christ Jesus unto good works.

            That brings us once again to our Gospel reading. I've referred to it already, another mantra of the Lutheran Church, the old gospel in a nutshell; John 3:16 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

             Well, let's move down to the last verse of our gospel lesson, verse 21 where we read, 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

              Why do we love? If we love God, if we love our neighbor,

 1st John 4:19 says that we love, because He first loved us. Which is basically what we just read in John 3:21.

             If we are going to do any good works, if we are going to do any loving, if we are going to do anything worthwhile, it is only going to be because God is working in us.

             Philippians 2:13 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

             And what is God’s good pleasure for you? He has created you in Christ Jesus. You are his workmanship. He has created in you a clean heart, a new heart, and renewed a right Spirit within you. He has made you alive in Christ Jesus, even though you were once dead in you are trespasses and sins. In baptism you have been buried with Christ, and raised up with him to a new life… a new life that that includes good works, that God prepared beforehand.

            And what are those good works? And who are you supposed to do them for? Let me answer the second question first. You could do those good works for God. But the trouble, he doesn't need them. He can get along just fine without your good works.

             But do you know who does need your good works? Your neighbor needs them. Your neighbor needs the good works which God prepared beforehand that you should walk in them. Your neighbor needs for you to do good works for him or her.

            Remember earlier when I quoted our text saying, “You are God’s workmanship”? And then I talked about how that is a first article issue, about God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, who has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses….

            And Luther goes on to say, “He also gives my clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife, children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

             And how does He do that? How does He richly and daily provide you with all that you need to support your body and life?

             Well, there are people who are God’s workmanship. And God has made arrangements for them to provide you with what you need.

            Likewise, as we’ve been saying all along tonight… YOU are God’s workmanship, and you have been created in Christ Jesus unto good works. You have been created in Christ Jesus to provide for your neighbor what he or she needs to support this body and life.

             Now you haven’t been created in Christ Jesus to provide everything your neighbor needs to support their body and life. But you have been created… you have been called… to provide for your neighbor something; something that he needs; something that she needs.

             Most notably in your job… in your occupation, the way you make a living. You’ve been called by God there to provide goods or services that you neighbor needs. You love God, you love your neighbor by doing your job.

             But it doesn’t end there. The list can be endless of the ways God has called you to love your neighbor, whereby He works through you. But a helpful list is this: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, worker?

             We all fit in a number of those categories. And that list is not exhaustive. But do you know where that list came from? It came from Luther’s Small Catechism, the chief part about Confession, when it talks about the sins we should confess.

             You see, while were created in Christ Jesus unto good works, that we might walk in them, we fail to walk in them, time and time again.

             So often we see our jobs as drudgery, something we’d like to tell our boss to take and shove, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to love our neighbor.

             So often we see our role as father, mother, son, daughter, husband or wife as drudgery as well, not looking for opportunities in these roles to love, and serve, and do good works, but to simply do our obligations, or if we can get away with it… not do our obligations.

             It goes for every calling you might have, every hat you may be called to wear, every position God has provided for you to do good works, to love your neighbor as yourself… you fail time after time after time.

            But what is our topic this morning? What’s our text about?

 It’s about the good news! Good news that’s got nothing to do with what you've got to do, and nothing to do with what you don't have to do. It’s the good news about what God has done for you in Christ Jesus.

             God so loved the world (our gospel lesson says), that he gave his only Son, the Son of man who was lifted up on the cross, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and everyone dying from the bite of the snake was healed, so the Son of Man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ was lifted up on that cross to take away the sins of the world, your sin, my sin, our sin. Jesus Christ has taken it upon himself, to bring to us forgiveness.

             May God grant that he would continue working in us, convicting us of our sin, and forgiving our sin as his word is proclaimed in our hearing and administered in the sacraments.

             And may He grant that He would continue working in us and through us, as our neighbor has need. Amen.

             And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.