“Love of God and Love of Brother”

Text: 1 John 4:16-21

Love of God and love of brother: these things go together. Peanut butter and jelly, pancakes and syrup, mashed potatoes and gravy, vanilla ice cream and root beer; these things also go together. When one part of those things is missing, we definitely notice. You can’t have a PB&J without the PB or the J; you might not want to have pancakes without syrup. Mashed potatoes without gravy is plain wrong. With these things, we recognize that two elements go together to give the complete experience. Without both things, you don’t have it. Same with love of God and love of brother.

St. John said toward the end of our text, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”[1] St. John meant to teach his flock that the love of and for God is expressed not just in private devotion and prayer, but also in works of love for our fellow man. And, actually, there is a causal relationship between the two, because the faith and love of God which has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit causes us to bear the good fruits of love. A good tree bears good fruit, our Lord once said. Where these fruits are lacking, where the love for neighbor is absent, there is cause for concern. For instance, we heard about the rich man and Lazarus. In our text today, we learn that the love of God, which He demonstrated for us by sending His Son, causes us also to love those around us.

I.

Our text today from St. John’s first epistle picks up in the middle of a discussion he’s been having about love. In fact, St. John writes a lot about love; perhaps, even more than St. Paul – though we give him all the credit for 1 Corinthians 13. But, rather than talk about love from below – from our human perspective – St. John talks about love starting at the top; He starts with its source – God. After all, as he said in our text, “God is love.”[2] What St. John means is that God in His essence is love – perfect, complete, and total love. Now, God is also other things – Scripture also calls God just, holy, righteous, and good. However, according to St. John, all love finds its source and definition in God alone.

We have come to know and believe the love that God has for us,”[3] he said. Not only is God love in its divine, perfect, and purest sense, but He has demonstrated that love toward us. How? By sending us His Son. St. John said earlier in our same chapter, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[4] St. John writes of the divine work of God, our justification. For us, and for our salvation, God the Father sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh to suffer and die on the cross. By this we know the love God has for us, and what our understanding of love should be.

The Biblical definition of love is love that is self-sacrificial, that gives without counting cost – even to those who are undeserving and unthankful. For, isn’t that what we are as sinners? Each and every one of us is self-centered by nature, not self-sacrificial. We do what we want, at whatever cost, it sometimes seems. If that means going against God’s Word and will, our sinful nature often says, “so be it.” Then, no sooner do we come and confess our sins – and receive forgiveness – than do we show shallow thankfulness by falling back into the same sinful patterns we were in before. We have neither deserved forgiveness, nor have we earned it – quite the opposite – yet God’s love for us was shown in this way: for us dark and depraved sinners, He sent the Light of the World to die in our place and for our forgiveness.

II.

If God so loved us that He sent His Son to die for us cold and unthankful sinners, and even continues to forgive us when we repent and confess our sins, in the words of St. John, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”[5] He said also in our text today, “this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”[6] This is maybe what we can call the “meat” of today’s text. St. John wrote this because, as we have today, there were many in his time – already – who claimed the name of Christian yet lived otherwise. There were many who were glad and content to hear the Word but resisted the Spirit’s work in their lives. The evidence brought up in this Epistle, was that these people did not live in love. Their lack of love for their brother showed their lack of love for God.

Therefore, St. John encouraged his faithful flock to abide in God’s love, and so abide in Him. To abide in God’s love is to remain connected to the heavenly vine. God showed His love for us by sending His Son to die for us, and that same Son gives that love to us through His gifts of Word and Sacrament. To abide in God’s love is to continue to receive these things faithfully and regularly. But there is another aspect to abiding in God’s love, and that is St. John’s focus today – love of God and love of brother are two sides of the same coin. The rich man from our parable today found himself in Hades not primarily for his lack of love, but for his lack of faith. The fact that he did not lift a finger to help the beggar at his gate was proof that in his heart he did not believe in the mercy of God.

As God has called us to faith by the preaching of the Word and the washing of Holy Baptism, and by the Holy Sacrament, and has continued to sustain and strengthen us in the faith, He now leads and causes us to love those around us. And this love is not a human love, but a perfect love, St. John said. The love that God has given us has been poured into our hearts, and it’s a love that is self-sacrificial. It’s a love without fear, a love that does not count cost. It’s a love that gives without expecting return – even to those who do not deserve it, or who are unthankful. And, why? Because that’s how God has loved us.

III.

Having heard these words of exhortation from St. John, though, we might realize that the love we have received from the Lord, we have not shown to others. At least, not fully, and not all the time. At times, we’ve been plain unloving. We have deemed people unworthy or undeserving of our love. When they’ve been unthankful – or not thankful enough – we’ve felt justified in removing our love from them. Though we’ve been called to love, we have not. We have sinned.

When the rich man called out to Abraham from Hades, Abraham directed him back to the Scriptures. We would do well to heed his advice, for in the Scriptures, we find that God so loved us – undeserving, and sinful as we are – that He sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh to redeem us from our sins. And though we continue to be sinners, He continues to forgive us by sending pastors to absolve us in His stead and by continuing His Sacraments among us. When we find ourselves to be unloving, what do the Scriptures say to do? Repent and confess our sins, be forgiven, and, by the Spirit’s aid, begin again.

Love of God and love of brother go together. Two sides of the same coin, like peanut butter and jelly, mashed potatoes and gravy, green eggs and ham. You can’t have one without the other. So that we might have both, God showed His love for us by sending His Son. By abiding in His love, we are caused to love our brother. St. John said, “We love because He first loved us.” Amen.[7]


[1] 1 John 4:20, English Standard Version.

[2] 1 Jn. 4:16.

[3] 1 Jn. 4:16.

[4] 1 Jn. 4:9-10.

[5] 1 Jn. 4:11.

[6] 1 Jn. 4:21.

[7] 1 Jn. 4:19.

Now Is the Favorable Time

Text: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10

We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain…Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”[1] Thus, St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his second letter. In his first letter to them, he was very direct in addressing the issues they faced. He spoke very clearly and authoritatively concerning the sins that were being openly committed among the congregation. The Corinthians received Paul’s word, repented of their sins, and received forgiveness. Through faith in Christ they were restored to a right relationship with God and each other, and they were renewed to live the life of faith, to live in the good works produced by the Holy Spirit within them. Still, the temptation remained among them to be idle in the faith.

To be idle in the faith is what St. Paul meant by receiving the grace of God in vain. To receive God’s grace in vain is to hear the Good News of Christ, believe in the Gospel, and then to live as if nothing has changed. To receive the Gospel in vain is to hear and believe the Gospel, but then act the complete opposite – or to do nothing. The Corinthians struggled here, and we do, too. St. Paul said to them that now is the favorable time and day of salvation. The time promised so long ago through the prophets has come. The kingdom of God has been brought in by Christ’s incarnation, and we live now in the forgiveness of sins. Now is the time for the Word to spread to all the world so that many believe. For night will soon come, when no one can work. Since we live now in the time of God’s grace, let us use this time in fruitful ways: by a faithful witness to Christ and endurance together as His body.

I.

As St. Paul said, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” What Paul means is that the time that God had promised, where salvation would be accomplished, and sins forgiven, has now come. Beginning with the promise made to Adam and Eve in the Garden, then with the promises made to the Patriarchs, and continuing through the prophets, God’s people lived in faith in the Messiah and longed for His arrival. Then, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary – to be born under the Law – to redeem us who were held captive beneath it. Through in Jesus, we receive the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. Our past and continuing transgressions are not counted against us by God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

So that all might hear and believe His saving Word, Christ commissioned the Apostles, St. Paul and the others to spread His Word. And, they did so, “by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech.”[2] They devoted themselves to the spread of the Word because they knew that, by the Word, all things are made new. When the Word is preached, the Holy Spirit works through that Word to create faith in those who hear it. When faith is created – at that moment – an individual receives salvation. The salvation that Christ long ago accomplished on the cross is applied to them. By faith, dead sinners are made alive saints. For those who hear the Word of God and receive the gift of faith, it is the day of salvation. And now is the favorable time, in which the Word of God is spreading to all the world. It has even spread to us, we who have heard the Word and believed, who have been and are continually renewed by the Word and Sacrament.

II.

Since now is the favorable time and the day of salvation – the time in which the Gospel of Christ is spreading to all the world – let us use this time to be faithful and fruitful stewards of God’s grace. To receive God’s grace in vain, as St. Paul said, is to hear the Gospel and act as if we haven’t. As St. Paul would say to the Romans, it would be to use God’s grace as a cover-up while we continue to sin. To the contrary, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”[3] By faith in Christ our sins are forgiven, and we are raised to new life. We become new creations and receive new and right desires by the working of the Holy Spirit within us. Two of these desires, good desires produced in us by the Spirit, come to mind.

The first is this, as St. Paul said, now is the day of salvation in which the Good News of Christ is given to the world and where sins are forgiven by grace through faith – but how are people to believe unless they hear, and how are they to hear unless someone shares with them the saving Gospel? Believe it or not, there are people who haven’t heard of Jesus. And, moreover, there are many who have heard of Jesus – but not the true Gospel. The true Gospel is that Jesus Christ suffered and died to accomplish that is necessary. We receive salvation not through some moral perfection on our part, but by God’s grace as a gift. St. Paul and the Apostles endured many things and traveled far so that more would hear this Good News. We are called to share it with those in our daily lives.

The second holy desire produced in us by the Spirit was actually brought up last week as well: steadfastness and endurance in God’s Word. In our reading we heard of all things St. Paul endured for the sake of the Word. We, likewise, have been called to suffer with Christ. In fact, you cannot have Christ without bearing the cross. But, we do not bear the cross alone. The Holy Spirit produces in us endurance in the face of the world, but this endurance is lived out together as the body of Christ. We have all been called by the one Spirit, we all have partaken of the one body of Christ; we are united with Him and each other by Baptism. When we are together, encouraging, supporting, teaching and forgiving each other, we become hardened against the assaults of the devil and the world.

Behold, now is the day of salvation,” St. Paul said. Now is the time in which the kingdom of God is among us. Now is the time in which the Gospel is being spread to all the world, and soon the time will come when all work will cease. Since we have heard and believed the Gospel of Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit, let us use this time in fruitful ways – by faithful witness to Christ in our lives and by enduring together as His body on earth. Amen.


[1] 2 Corinthians 6:1-2. English Standard Version.

[2] 2 Cor. 6:4-7.

[3] 2 Cor. 5:17.

Escaping Corruption

Text: 2 Peter 1:2-11

Tonight, we enter once again the season of Lent. By now, we have celebrated our Lord’s incarnation and birth. We have witnessed the glory of His transfiguration. We await yet the celebration of His victory over death and the grave at Easter. But, as we learn from the Transfiguration, before we can celebrate our Lord’s victory over death and the devil, we must first witness His cross. Just so, in our lives here, before we receive our Lord’s forgiveness, we must first be called to repentance. Before we can be comforted by the Gospel, we must first be convicted by the Law. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent afford us another opportunity to reflect on our lives, especially our failures in regard to God’s holy Law, and begin again the cycle of repentance and faith.

This is what St. Peter encouraged in our Epistle reading. He wrote, “As His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.”[1] St. Peter encouraged his hearers that God has, indeed, given us all good things. By His grace, through faith in His Son, He has given us the free and full forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He has brought us out of the corruption of this sinful world. Being God’s children now, we are called to live the life of faith. As God has granted us all good things through the knowledge of His Son, St. Peter encourages us to supplement this faith with virtue so that we may not be found to be unfruitful stewards of God’s grace.

I.

Tonight, we are in the same chapter of St. Peter’s second letter as we were back on the Transfiguration – although our present text actually comes before that one. We might remember that St. Peter wrote to a group of fellow Christians who were undergoing stress. They were undergoing pressure from the world to conform to its immoral way of life. They were also under attack from within. Some in the congregation were asserting that Peter and the other Apostles were liars and that Christ wouldn’t return. St. Peter responded with Apostolic authority that they had not made the Good News up, for they were with Christ on the holy mountain. They were eyewitnesses of His glory and have now made known these things to the world. As such, St. Peter’s hearers could be assured that their sins were, indeed, freely and fully forgiven. Their entrance into eternal life had been secured.

We, too, continue to live under the same pressures that Peter’s original hearers endured. The Church at large continues to bear the scorn of the world, and we in the Missouri Synod are under ever-increasing pressure to fall in line with our sinful society. Unfortunately, even within the Church – as in St. Peter’s time – there is the temptation to set aside or look at in a different light the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Like the saints of old, the pressures set us on edge.

As St. Peter wrote to them, he writes to us: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.”[2] Despite the pressure we feel, we have this confidence and promise: God has indeed rescued us from this sinful world. By the knowledge of His Son and through the washing of Holy Baptism, He has given us the forgiveness of our sins and entrance into eternal life. As St. John said, “Beloved, we are God’s children now.”[3]

II.

St. Peter wrote that God has brought us out of the corruption of this world through the knowledge and faith of His Son. He has brought us into His marvelous light and caused us to be no longer children of wrath, but His very own dear children. As God’s beloved children, He also leads us by His Holy Spirit to do His will. His will this: that we love and serve Him and our neighbor. St. Peter said it like this: As God has brought us out of the corruption of this world and given us all good things in His Son, “[So] make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”[4]

These things – virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and love – are not things God requires of us in addition to faith, but they are the good fruits the Holy Spirit produces in us through faith. The Spirit causes us by faith to bear good fruit: to love our neighbor with a genuine and pure love, to be steadfast under trial, to love God’s Word and to study it, to exercise self-control in the face of temptation. None of these things are what the world teaches or desires of us. But God, by His Holy Spirit, brings us to be and live as His children. St. Peter says, “If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[5] That is, when God’s will is carried out in our lives, when we live in love to our God and each other, our conscience is comforted and we are assured of the faith that dwells within our hearts.

III.

My friends, St. Peter encourages us to practice and exercise our faith, “to confirm [our] calling and election,” by seeking an increase of the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.[6] But, when we examine our hearts, we find nothing good in them. It is the truth that, because of our sinful nature, we are more apt to deny our calling by our actions than to confirm it. We are more ready feed grudges than forgive, more ready to sleep than be awake and sing God’s praises; we are more ready to be content with what we’ve learned than to study more deeply the living and active Word. We more easily give in to temptation than resist it. And sometimes, because of our deep sinfulness, we don’t even feel bad.

‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’[7] We are gathered this evening to mark the beginning of our Lord’s Lent. We have received the sign of the cross on our foreheads. It is in ash, because we are but ash. The Lord formed our first father from the dust, and because of our sin, to dust we shall return. This dust is in the shape of cross, for by the cross our Lord has redeemed us from sin and death and brought to us eternal life. We have been made God’s children, and we have failed to live up to our calling. Therefore, we return again this evening to repent. We repent of our failures to love God and our neighbors. We repent of our great and vast iniquity. And we know that, as far as the east is from the west, so far has our God removed our sins from us.[8] May He grant unto us an increase of faith, hope, and love in this season, and, by His Spirit, an increase of the fruits of faith in our lives. Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Pet. 1:3, 5.

[2] 2 Pet. 1:3-4.

[3] 1 Jn. 3:2

[4] 2 Pet. 1:5-7.

[5] 2 Pet. 1:8.

[6] 2 Pet. 1:10.

[7] Joel 2:12.

[8] Ps. 103:12.

Love Is

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”[1] These beautiful words of the Holy Spirit are given to us this week through St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. These are words that we’ve heard and read and sung and aspired to. These words have been read at many weddings to encourage husbands and wives as they begin their new life together in the love of Christ. Yet, for over a thousand years this text has been the epistle reading for this Sunday, the last before Lent.

I don’t remember who it was who first taught me this text, but I was taught to understand this text by taking wherever “love” is written in this text and read, “Jesus.” Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus bears all things and endures all things. His love for us will never end. Jesus’ love for us wasn’t even diminished by the prospect of dying on the cross. Jesus bore the rejection, the suffering, the pain and dying, all for us – so that our sins might be forgiven. Out of His great love for us, He died for us. By our Baptism into His death and resurrection, that great love which He has for us is given to us. By the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts through Baptism, we are led to share that same love with those around us. The love of Christ within us causes us to be long-suffering, to be forgiving, and to rejoice with truth.

I.

As I said, the epistle reading this week has, for generations, been paired with the Gospel reading from Luke 18. This Sunday is called Quinquagesima, which means, “about fifty days before Easter.” As we stand on the verge of our Lord’s Lent, we hear of His nearing Jerusalem for the last time. The Transfiguration happened back in Luke 9, and ever since then, Jesus has been traveling upward and forward, toward Jerusalem. It’s not a long journey, but Jesus sort of meanders – He preaches and teaches and heals all over, so that many might hear and believe in Him. Many do believe, but some don’t yet understand why Jesus has come. So, Jesus, taking the twelve, said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”[2]

Jesus explains to the Disciples here – for a third time – why He’s come: to fulfill the promises of God by being mocked, humiliated, spit upon, and killed. Then, He will rise from the dead. All these things must be done to secure for the world the forgiveness of sins, to fulfill God’s Law and remove His righteous wrath from us poor sinners. Jesus here demonstrates the depth of His great love for us. There is nothing He would not endure, nothing He would not suffer, for us – for you and me. He did not despise us for our sin, but He has been patient with us. He did not keep a record of all the things that we have done wrong, but instead, died for them all.

When Jesus died on the cross, He accomplished what theologians call, “The Great Exchange.” That means, that when Jesus died on the cross, He died taking our sins upon Himself and we, in turn, receive His righteousness. He takes our place in death so that we share His place in life. This exchange happens in Baptism. That’s what St. Paul talks about in Romans 6, how we are buried with Christ in Baptism and raised with Him to new life. In Baptism, we receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts, bringing with Him the love of Christ. This is why St. Paul writes what he does to the Corinthians.

II.

You might remember that the Corinthian congregation was founded by St. Paul. They were a young congregation, a lively one. They were composed of both Jewish and Gentile converts to the faith. Yet, they had problems. For one, false doctrine had infected the congregation. St. Paul spent much of the letter teaching on topics related to the Sixth and Eighth Commandments. Second – what prompted the text today – the congregation was not living in the love of Christ. Many held themselves to be more important than others. Those with certain gifts pitted themselves against others who had different gifts. The different members of the one body of Christ all tried to be the most important member. St. Paul said to them, that if he were to speak in the tongues of men and angels, if he were to prophesy and understand all mysteries, if he were to give away everything he had – but had not love – it would all be for nothing.

Perhaps, we are not so different from the Corinthians. We have been called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel of Christ. We have been united with our Lord through Baptism into His death and resurrection. We have received the body and the blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Yet, we often times think of ourselves as the most valuable member of the body. We have related to others, even in this very congregation, with less than Christian charity. We have not explained everything in the kindest way, we have not forgiven as we’ve been forgiven; and, when we’ve been sinned against, we have lashed out in one way or another.

For these behaviors, we should be ashamed. But, my friends, this is why these texts from Sts. Paul and Luke are heard together. While we are impatient with those around us, Christ has been patient with us. While we have kept record of our brother’s sins, our God has kept none. And, while we have failed to endure the life to which we have been called, Christ fulfilled His purpose by dying on the cross for us. For, He is love. And this love He has for us, has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.[3] By the working of the Holy Spirit within us, the love of Christ is carried out in our lives.

III.

How? In the ways Paul talks about in our text. First, the love of Christ is patient. In Greek, this word means “longsuffering,” and is most often used for God – who bears with us in our iniquity. So, also, are we called to be with those around us. The fact is, we are all sinners. And, because we are sinners, we sin. But, instead of demanding absolute perfection from others, the love of Christ within us causes us to forgive and bear with those who sin against us. Second, Christ’s love within us leads us to not keep a record of wrongs. The English says, “[love is not] resentful,” but the Greek means that the love of Christ which has been poured into our hearts through Baptism causes us to forgive and not store up the number of someone else’s sins. Third, St. Paul says, “[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”[4] This means that the love of Christ which has been given to us produces in us a rejoicing at the common confession of the truth. The love which we have been given causes us to joy at being together: here in worship, in Bible study, and all the other times where we speak and share the living Word of God.

Often times, this text is preached as a Law text. However, it is also Gospel. Patience, forgiveness, and a love for each other are good things produced in us by the Holy Spirit. We do not make ourselves be this way. Rather, the Spirit produces these things in us through faith. However, the Old Adam still claws away at us. He is drowned in our Baptism, but the temptation to sin will never be fully removed until we put off this sinful flesh in the Resurrection. So, when we hear this text and find these things not happening in our lives, here’s what we can do: confess our sins and receive Christ’s absolution. For our sins, Christ suffered and died on the cross. By His Word, He forgives us our sins, strengthens in the faith, and produces these good things in us. We should pray that the Holy Spirit would ever increase these good fruits within us.

Dear friends, this is the last Sunday before our Lord’s Lent begins. On Wednesday, we will receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads in repentance of our sins, but also in faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. Out His great love for us, He suffered and endured all things so that we might live with Him in life. By His Holy Spirit, that love is also poured into our hearts so that might live in love toward each other. God grant this unto us all. Amen.


[1] 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, English Standard Version.

[2] Lk. 18:31-33.

[3] Rom. 5:5.

[4] 1 Cor. 13:6.

Augsburg Confession, Article XX: Good Works

“Our teachers are falsely accused of forbidding good works,” so begins Article XX of the Augsburg Confession. It continues, “Their published writings on the Ten Commandments, and other similar writings, bear witness that they have usefully taught about all estates and duties of life. They have taught well what is pleasing to God in every station and vocation in life.”[1]

Article XX of the Augsburg Confession is subtitled, “Good Works,” and is by far the longest article in the Augustana (the Latin title of the AC). You may remember that the topic of good works has come up already – particularly in Article IV, “[We teach] people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. [They] are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith…” and in Article VI, “[We] teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruit. It is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will. We should not rely on those works to merit justification before God.”[2] Despite these clear discussions of the relationship between faith and good works, it still got muddied by our opponents. This topic was, perhaps, the chief difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutherans – and it remains so today. However, we will allow that the different poles have grown (slightly) closer over the centuries.

This article is a long one, so I will provide the link for you to read it here. In a nutshell, the article answers the question: “What about good works?” The answer is: we do them, not to merit righteousness nor salvation, but because they are God’s will. A living faith is bound to and will bring forth good fruit. The Lutherans were falsely accused by the Romans of both abolishing and forbidding good works. They accused us of removing good works from salvation, and then going as far as to say that we are not allowed to do them. Well, we’re guilty on the first charge: our good works do not contribute to our salvation. On the second charge, some Lutherans did teach this later on and were publicly rebuked for it.

So what do we teach? “First…that our works cannot reconcile God to us or merit forgiveness of sins, grace, and justification. We obtain reconciliation only by faith when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ’s sake.” (9) That’s pretty much what we already said back in Article IV. Our good works do not reconcile us to God, nor do they merit anything salvific. We are reconciled to God for Christ’s sake through faith. The article goes on to quote both St. Paul and our Lord on this matter. It also defends against the charge that the Lutherans have created a new interpretation of Paul. “If anyone wants to be tricky and say that we have invented a new interpretation of Paul, this entire matter is supported by the testimony of the Fathers. Augustine defends grace and the righteousness of faith in many volumes against the merits of works. Ambrose, in his book The Calling of the Gentiles, and elsewhere, teaches the same thing.” (12-13)

But, why go over all this again? Both our conscience and the comfort of salvation are at stake. The article says, “This whole doctrine must be related to the conflict of the terrified conscience. It cannot be understood apart from that conflict.” (17) That is to say, when sins wreaks havoc in our lives and we are revealed to be the most terrible and wretched of sinners, it is of the utmost comfort to know that it is not my work that gains salvation – but Christ’s. As the hymn goes, “Thy works, not mine, O Christ.” Now, the article says, spiritually inexperienced people dislike this doctrine. Our sinful flesh would like nothing more than to take pride in our own worth. But, “God-fearing and anxious consciences find by experience that it [this article] brings the greatest consolation.” (15)

The article then points out the fact that, up until then, the consciences of God’s people were plagued by the doctrine of works. There was no comfort offered in the Gospel of Christ. Instead, people were driven into the desert and monasteries, hoping to merit grace by a pious life. Over time, more good works were invented to merit grace – pilgrimages and such. To these things, people were pointed – and not to the comfort of the Gospel of Christ. “That is why the need was so great for teaching and renewing the doctrine of faith in Christ, so that anxious consciences would not be without consolation but would know that grace, forgiveness of sins, and justification are received by faith in Christ.” (22)

Next, the article moves onto what we mean by “faith.” It says, “People are also warned that the term faith does not mean simply a knowledge of a history, such as the ungodly and devil have. Rather, it means a faith that believes, not merely the history, but also the effect of the history.” (23) This is actually pointing back at our opponents. It was taught that if one simply acknowledges the historical facts of Christ’s passion, it was enough. The Lutherans teach that assenting to the bare facts is not enough. Faith is also trusting in the effects of it all: Christ suffered and died for us on the cross so that we may receive forgiveness and righteousness by grace through faith. As it says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

Lastly, “We teach that it is necessary to do good works. This does not mean that we merit grace by doing good works, but because it is God’s will.” (27) It is only by faith that we receive the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit creates faith through the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments, and through those things He also renews our wills and causes us to bring forth good works. Without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to do good works. Works that seem to be righteous (considered righteousness even by the world) are in fact sinful, when done apart from faith.

It is necessary to do good works according to God’s holy will. Through the Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit leads us to do them. While we are in the flesh, we will never be perfect in our works. Our sinful flesh is always at war with the law of our minds, as St. Paul would say. Nor are all good works visible. Prayer on behalf of others is an example of a good work that flows from faith, but isn’t necessarily visible.

This was a rather long discussion. But, then again, it’s a rather important topic. Where does our righteousness before God – and salvation – come from? From our works? No, but from Christ. Christ is our righteousness, and His work is counted to us through faith. Do we then discount good works? No. Good works are to be done. It is God’s will. As the hymn goes, “For faith alone can justify; Works serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.”

Next month we’ll cover a topic that maybe you’ve had some questions about: the saints in heaven. What are they up to, and why do Lutherans not pray to them? After that, we’ll turn to the next section of the Augustana, concerning errors that had popped up in the practice of the Church, which are now corrected. Examples? Communing in both kinds, the marriage of priests, and the authority of the Church. See you next month!


[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 42. Further quotes from this article are marked by their paragraph number.

[2] Ibid., pg. 33.