God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does. Now the 2017 Lenten season arrives in this 500th Anniversary year of the Lutheran Reformation. Martin Luther restored the pure preaching of the Gospel to the people of God: that we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ alone–apart from works of the Law.
Our forefathers reckoned this Gospel “the article on which the church stands or falls.” We sing and happily confess that Gospel in the old Reformation hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” (LSB #555),
1 Salvation unto us has come
By God’s free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.
3 It was a false, misleading dream
That God His Law had given
That sinners could themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.
Yet Lutherans then and now were falsely accused of actually forbidding or otherwise discouraging Christians from learning how to and doing good works. From time to time, people have taken hold of the Gospel and turned the wheel just enough to run themselves and others right off the road to heaven. True, these may have stayed out of the ditch of “works righteousness” on the right side, but some crossed the lines and lanes–crashing into the ditch on the left known as “Antinomianism.”
Take note of verse 9 of that same hymn:
9 Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify;
Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.
“Faith Alone Works!” is our theme for this year’s Midweek Lenten series. We will return to the pure font of Holy Scripture and in the writings of our Reformation forefathers, drink the refreshing waters in which God plainly teaches us the true and joyous relationship between faith and good works. There is much comfort to be found here!
We certainly wish to steer clear of the deadly ditch of “works righteousness,” which teaches that we are saved by the good works we do–or that they somehow contribute to our salvation. They don’t. Period.
But the ditch on the left is equally deadly to faith, the dangerous “Antinomian” heresy! The word is Latin for “against the Law” or “opposed to the Law” of God. It refers to the notion that since our good works don’t save us, we can just keep on sinning all we want! A “Christian” sort of lawlessness and permissive self-indulgence in sin fast follows, when one swerves so far away from “works righteousness” that we strive to live out very little or none at all. We so rob God of glory and us of comfort. As St. Paul says, “Mae Genoito!” That is, “By no means” should we act that way!
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)
“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:31)
So how do we stay on the narrow road? By driving everything, faith and our works, straight to Christ who freely gives and brings forth both in us. Join us this Lenten season as we hear how “Faith Alone Works,” in Christ!
–Pastor Jeffery Warner