Your Greatest Works

Some comments in an earlier post raised the question as to if our good works are sin. We now receive some clarity!

“Conscience does not find peace through any work. Here it is only the gospel which is fully effective. In addition it is also necessary to know that one’s works are those God has commanded. Vocation gives steadiness and strength before men, because righteousness in vocation, according to earthly rules, is a real rigteousness, which before men we are not to despise or label as sin. But before God, on the other hand, even the most righteous work is serious sin, which stands in need of forgiveness, since it proceeds from an evil heart. Against such an evil heart other men have no right to complain, if behavior is honest and not mastered by the evil of that heart. But God passes judgment on the inner, resisted, invisible evil. Only the gospel, not one’s vocation, can remove that judgment against the sinful heart and gives peace to the conscience” (Gustav Wingren, Luther on Vocation trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004), 76).

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10 thoughts on “Your Greatest Works

  1. So, if this is correct, then everything we do is sinful. Doesn’t that diminish the fact that every person is created in the image and likeness of God, albeit stained by origional sin? Doesn’t it also diminish the fact that through baptism we have been washed free of origional sin, united to Christ in his passion, death and resurrection, and thus adopted as children of God? Just wondering what your thoughts are?

  2. We don’t believe that Original Sin is washed away at baptism, only that it is completely forgiven. This is why our understanding of the human as Christian is simul iustus et peccator: 100% sinner (because we still live in this world and sin still attacks us), and 100% justified (because Jesus has done everything to make us righteous). Notice that Wingren does not say that everything we do is sinful, but that everything we (as sinful humans) do is sinful _before God_. Before humans we might look pretty good. The good things we do for our neighbors are genuinely good for them; before God they are good only insofar as He sees us in the (restored!) image of Jesus Christ, and through His righteousness.

    (By the way, Dana (um, Father Christensen, I mean) will you e-mail me? I need to ask you a question.)

    Tim

  3. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the quote, but doesn’t this contradict the Solid Declaration’s explaination of the Third use of the Law:

    22] But how and why the good works of believers, although in this life they are imperfect and impure because of sin in the flesh, are nevertheless acceptable and well-pleasing to God, is not taught by the Law, which requires an altogether perfect, pure obedience if it is to please God. But the Gospel teaches that our spiritual offerings are acceptable to God through faith for Christ’s sake, 1 Pet. 2, 5; Heb. 11, 4ff. 23] In this way Christians are not under the Law, but under grace, because by faith in Christ the persons are freed from the curse and condemnation of the Law; and because their good works, although they are still imperfect and impure, are acceptable to God through Christ; moreover, because so far as they have been born anew according to the inner man, they do what is pleasing to God, not by coercion of the Law, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, voluntarily and spontaneously from their hearts; however, they maintain nevertheless a constant struggle against the old Adam.

  4. Which quote? The main post?
    If that’s the one to which you’re referring, I don’t think so. The SD is speaking to the same issue, namely, how we are righteous–not because of anything we do (works remain evil, in and of themselves before God), but because of Christ’s work. Thus, our good works are pleasing to God. But not because they are good and free from sin in His sight.

    Tim

  5. Yes, the original quote. I guess my reaction was that the original quote confirmed “although in this life they are imperfect and impure because of sin” it (again unless I’m just not seeing it) doesn’t speak of the work of the Gospel that through faith our works “are nevertheless acceptable and well-pleasing to God.” The quote seemed to stop short of agreeing with the latter in that it was right to point out that the Gospel removes judgement, but it seemed to still imply that our good deeds are not acceptable to God.

  6. (I think) That’s because, even according to the Formula of Concord, our good deeds are not acceptable to God *by themselves.* They are acceptable to God because we are in Christ.

    That is what the posted quote from the FC says: “the Gospel teaches that our spiritual offerings are acceptable to God *through faith for Christ’s sake*,…although they are *still imperfect* and *impure*…”)

    But becasue of this reality, we can go even farther if we want to keep speaking in terms of “pleasing God.” As Christians, even when we sin outwardly, (say, when we break the speed limit by 1/2 mph,) we are *still* pleasing God by what we do *because* we are in Christ. Paul says, “All things are permissable.” (1Cor. 6:12) “*Whatever* you do, work heartily, as for the Lord…” (Col.3:23!)

    So…yes, our good deeds are acceptable to God in Christ, but so are our wicked ones. And that is the very essence of the Gospel.

    But someone will then say, “Then why not do evil?” Paul says the condemnation of those who say such things is just,(Rom. 3:8) because they are missing the point. They are missing the Gospel. In baptism we are literally *freed* from sin! How can we live in it any longer?

    Rather, since as Christians we know that God is eternally pleased with us in Christ, and that nothing we do can either improve on or diminish this reality, we are forced by the Gospel to find a new motivation for good works. The answer is utterly unthinkable to carnal man: we are motiveated to love our neighbor *for his sake and his sake alone,* simply because of his need, without merit or rewards for us, without thinking about our relationship to God, but thinking about God’s relationship to our neighber (that of uncondtional love!).

    Such a motivation is strange and alien to natural man because it is utterly self-sacrificial. We get nothing from it at all, aside from being participants in the reality of God’s love for others, for *their* sake.

    (I believe) this is what the FC teaches very clearly in Art. X. It certainly is the way that Luther, Chemnitz, and other orthodox Lutherans such as Koeberle, Wingren and Walther wrote and taught. It’s all about Jesus to the extreme that it stops us from doing things for Jesus. Rather, even in our good works, we find that Jesus is still doing things for us…and for our neighbor.

    “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

  7. Oops. Not FC X, but FC VI, and that in light of FC III, IV and V. It’s a package deal. 🙂 FC X is that “other” controversial FC article.

  8. I am reminded of my confirmation verse:

    Joh 15:5 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.

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