The Good Work of Faith

Issues, Etc

Quoting Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller:

Here’s the thing that is amazing when a Lutheran starts to talk about good works, and the reason why it sounds so different than anybody else is because normally when we think of good works we think of, you know, helping the poor, not sinning, being charitable, things like this. But when our Lutheran fathers talked about good works they talked about works according to the first table of the Law, the you shall have no other Gods, you shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God in vain, and remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, and so the true good works that the Christian is able to accomplish is to trust in God in times of suffering. To trust in God even when we’re dying. To believe that God hears us when we pray. To patiently endure the chastisement of the Lord. To believe what God promises even though it doesn’t look like those promises are coming true. Now that’s an amazing list of good works that aren’t even anywhere near a list of virtues, or anything else like that that we might come up with if we were talking about what it means to be a good person. In other words, we live in, the Christian lives in this life knowing that Jesus suffered for us and died for us, and that He rose for us and now He prays for us. And that certainty, that faith, completely redefines how we look at ourselves and our neighbors and the lives that the Lord has given to us.

The quote comes from a June 2, 2015 Issues, Etc. segment titled “Responding to Evangelical Prooftexts: Philippians 2:12-13, ‘Work Out Your Own Salvation.’ ”


About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.


The Good Work of Faith — 12 Comments

  1. Great article! I never thought of/saw good works in this light. It makes sense. I will be sharing this. Another fine example of how a person is NEVER too old to learn something new….to have light shed on our Lutheran teachings.

  2. Gobbledygook.

    The Lutheran Confessions are chock full of discussions about good works, what they are and what they aren’t.

    What distinguishes the Evangelical Lutheran approach isn’t a particular focus on the First Table, but rather its emphasis on FAITH. FAITH makes good works “good”. Without faith, good works are “sin”.

    Still further is the confusing emphasis on works vs. virtues. The two aren’t mutually exclusive; indeed, we find Jesus and Paul emphasizing both obedience to the Law (do this; don’t do that) and the virtues (the redeemed are certain kinds of persons).

  3. @Robert C. Baker #2

    Yes. Good works are certainly performed from an obedience by faith to the first table. But Rev. Wolfmueller makes it sound like the only good works are works of the first table. No. I’m sure Rev. Wolfmueller knows and believes that good works are also good works of the second table done in faith, but he mispoke badly here. Luther’s comment about a woman changing diapers in faith is one of many examples that show Luther very concerned to talk about the good works of the second table.

  4. To characterize what “a Lutheran” sounds like in this way does not accurately represent what many plain-speaking Lutherans correctly understand about good deeds.

    The reason so many Christians think of good works in terms of loving one’s neighbor is because that’s how Scripture speaks.

    The attitude of Lutheran exceptionalism fails to recognize what we have in common with millions of other Christians.

    Invoking “our Lutheran fathers” may resonate with some readers, but this reader has a strong preference, rather, for turning to Scripture directly for guidance, especially on fundamental topics such as this one. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Ps. 119:105

    The claim that a list of deeds and expressions of devotion toward God is “amazing” appeals to emotion but not to understanding.

    The notion that faith in Christ “completely redefines” how we look at our neighbors does not square with the Scriptural claim that the work of the law is written even on the hearts of unbelievers (Romans 2:15).

    (#3 above) If serving one’s neighbor naturally flows from fear, love, and trust in God, why is the Second Table of the Law even necessary? If a child fears, loves and trusts in his father does he then “naturally” know how to treat his brother?

    “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24

  5. @Scott Diekmann #6

    Yes, it’s important to listen to the segment in context. I’m sure that our Confessions say something about FAITH being the ‘greatest good work’. When Pastor Wolfmueller says the following:

    ‘and so the true good works that the Christian is able to accomplish is to trust in God in times of suffering.’

    ‘To believe that God hears us when we pray’.

    ‘To trust in God even when we’re dying’.

    ‘To patiently endure the chastisement of the Lord’.

    ‘To believe what God promises even though it doesn’t look like those promises are coming true’.

    To me, the above statements are the important things in the post.

    In Christ,

  6. @Elizabeth (5) and Robert(2)

    Funny how we can each take away something different from an article/quote. In his quote:(“And that certainty, that faith, completely redefines how we look at ourselves and our neighbors and the lives that the Lord has given to us.” ) I believe he states it is faith that makes good works good and this faith also brings us to do good works for our neighbor. It is just me but I thought it was a good post.

  7. @Carl H #7

    Amen! I believe most Lutherans agree your comments and your reference to look to the clear scriptures and not interpretations by church fathers.
    Thanks and God’s blessings to you.

  8. I would note that in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession it basically makes the same point Pastor Wolfmueller makes here: good works include the first table as well. These works, done in faith, were held up by the Lutherans vis a vis Rome, while the works of the second table were also talked about.


  9. Apology, III
    68] For good works are to be done on account of God’s command, likewise for the exercise of faith [as Paul says, Eph. 2:10: We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works], and on account of confession and giving of thanks. For these reasons good works ought necessarily to be done, which, although they are done in the flesh not as yet entirely renewed, that retards the movements of the Holy Ghost, and imparts some of its uncleanness, yet, on account of Christ, are holy, divine works, sacrifices, and acts pertaining to the government of Christ, who thus displays His kingdom before this world. For in these He sanctifies hearts and represses the devil, and, in order to retain the Gospel among men, openly opposes to the kingdom of the devil the confession of saints, and, in our weakness, declares His power. 69] The dangers, labors, and sermons of the Apostle Paul, of Athanasius, Augustine, and the like, who taught the churches, are holy works, are true sacrifices acceptable to God, are contests of Christ 70] through which He repressed the devil, and drove him from those who believed. David’s labors, in waging wars and in his home government, are holy works, are true sacrifices, are contests of God, defending the people who had the Word of God against 71] the devil, in order that the knowledge of God might not be entirely extinguished on earth. We think thus also concerning every good work in the humblest callings and in private affairs. Through these works Christ celebrates His victory over the devil, just as the distribution of alms by the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 16:1, was a holy work, and a sacrifice and contest of Christ against the devil, who labors that nothing may be done 72] for the praise of God. To disparage such works, the confession of doctrine, affliction, works of love, mortifications of the flesh, would be indeed to disparage the outward government of Christ’s kingdom among men.

    AC, XXI
    3] He is to be prayed to, and has promised that He will hear our prayer; and this worship He approves above all, to wit, that in all afflictions He be called upon, 1 John 2:1: 4] If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, etc.

    Ap., V
    106] The greatest virtue, they say, justifies. By no means. [It would be true if we had a gracious God because of our virtue. Now, it was proven above that we are accepted and justified for Christ’s sake, not because of our virtue; for our virtue is impure.] For just as even the greatest or first Law does not justify, so also the greatest virtue of the Law does not justify. [For as the Law and virtue is higher, and our ability to do the same proportionately lower, we are not righteous because of love.] But that virtue justifies which apprehends Christ, which communicates to us Christ’s merits, by which we receive grace and peace from God. But this virtue is faith. For as it has been often said, faith is not only knowledge, but much rather willing to receive or apprehend those things which are offered in the promise concerning Christ. 107] Moreover this obedience towards God, namely, to wish to receive the offered promise, is no less a divine service, latreiva, than is love. God wishes us to believe Him, and to receive from Him blessings, and this He declares to be true divine service.

    Ap., III, 33
    The woman came with the opinion concerning Christ that with Him the remission of sins should be sought. This worship is the highest worship of Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to Christ. To seek from Him the remission of sins was truly to acknowledge the Messiah. Now, thus to think of Christ, thus to worship Him, thus to embrace Him, is truly to believe.

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