Faith and Good Works
We believe, teach, and confess that good works certainly and without a doubt follow true faith, just as fruit grows on a good tree (Matthew 7:17). We also believe, teach, and confess that good works should be entirely excluded from the question of salvation, just as they are excluded from the article of justification.
In his essay, The Freedom of a Christian, Martin Luther captures this paradox of the Christian life. “The Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. The Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
When talking about faith and good works, we must remember why we distinguish them. We distinguish them because God is clear that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone on account of Christ alone. In other words we are saved by “faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). We are saved by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone.
Faith alone saves, yet faith is never alone; it is always accompanied by works so that we can help our neighbors. We do not reject the fact that good works must be done but we do question why they are done. Works are not “good” if they done in order to make God love us more. That turns “works” into the keeping of the Law by which we try to merit salvation. To try to make God love us more with our works says that we really do not believe Jesus when He said “for by grace you have been saved, through faith apart from works.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
So the questions might be raised, “what good works are to be performed and what are the criteria of good deeds?” First we must realize that without the Holy Spirit, God’s will can be done only in an outward sense. In other words, it will look good to humanity, but not to God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we as Christians spontaneously do what the Law demands for the right reason — a reason emanating from the love of God for us and not for reward or fear of punishment. Just as when someone hits you in the gut and the wind gets knocked out of you, when the Gospel “hits” us in the gut (so to speak), good works get knocked out of us, not because of anything in us, not so that we can earn God’s love or escape punishment, but rather because of what the Gospel (something outside of us) has done to us. Good works are lived out in our vocations, or callings, in life. As the Lutheran Confessions remind us, God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.