Martin Chemnitz on Good Works

The Augsburg Confession and the Apology set forth the reasons thus: It is necessary to do good works commanded by God, not that we may trust to earn grace by them, but because of the will and command of God, likewise to exercise faith, and for the sake of confession and giving of thanks. Urbanus Rhegius, in the booklet [Preaching the Reformation], summarizes the reasons in this way:

  1. Because our good works are due obedience commanded by God which we creatures owe the Creator, and they are as it were thanksgiving for the favors of God and sacrifices pleasing to God because of Christ.
  2. That our heavenly Father might be glorified thereby.
  3. That our faith might be exercised and increased by our good works, so that it may grow and be stirred up.
  4. That our neighbor might be edified by our good works and spurred to imitation and be helped in need.
  5. That we might make our calling sure by good works and testify that our faith is neither feigned nor dead.
  6. Though our good works do not merit either justification or salvation, yet they are to be done, since they have promises of this life and of that which is to come. 1 Ti 4:8.


In Commonplaces: Loci communes Philipp Melanchthon lists in this order the reasons why good works are to be done:

  1. Because it is God’s command, and we are debtors.
  2. Lest faith be lost and the Holy Spirit grieved and driven out.
  3. To avoid punishments.
  4. Since our works, though they do not fulfill the law of God and not merit eternal life, are nevertheless called by God sacrifices that both please and serve Him for the sake of Christ.
  5. Since godliness has promises of this life and of that which is to come.


Luther sets forth the reasons why good works are to be done in such a way that, if they were briefly summarized, the list would be about this:

  1. First, some have regard to God Himself, namely since it is the will of God (1 Th 4:3) and the command of God (1 Jn 4:21). And since He is our Father, it therefore behooves us children to render obedience to the Father (1 Peter 1:14, 16–17; 1 Jn 3:2–3). And as He loved us and graciously forgave [our] sins, so we also should love the brethren, forgiving them [their] sins (Eph 4:32; 1 Jn 4:11), that God might be glorified through us (Phil 1:1; 1 Peter 4:11; Mt 5:16). Christ also redeemed us, that, being dead to sins, we might live unto righteousness and serve Him (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Co 5:15; Titus 2:10; Lk 1:74–75; Gal 5:25). Nor should we grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Th 4:8).
  2. Some motivating reasons for good works have regard to the reborn themselves. For since we are dead to sins, we ought therefore no longer walk in sins but live unto righteousness (Ro 6:2, 18; 2 Co 5:17; Eph 5:8, 11). Likewise, that we might have sure testimony that our faith is not false, feigned, or dead, but true and living [faith], which works by love (1 Jn 2:9–10; 3:6, 10; 4:7–8; 2 Peter 1:8; Mt 7:17; Gl 5:6).  And that we might not drive out faith, grieve the Holy Spirit, [and] lose righteousness and salvation (1 Ti 1:19; 5:8; 6:10; 1 Peter 2:11; 2 Peter 1:9; 2:20; Ro 8:13; Gal 5:21; Col 3:6; Eph 4:30). And that we might not draw divine punishments on ourselves (1 Co 6:9–10; 1 Th 4:6; Mt 3:10; 25:30; Lk 6:37; Ps 89:31–32).
  3. Some reasons have regard to the neighbor, namely that the neighbor be helped and served by good works (Lk 14:13; 1 Jn 3:16–18). That [our] neighbor might be drawn to godliness by our example (Mt 5:16; 1 Peter 3:1).That we be not an offense to others (1 Co 10:32; 2 Co 6:3; Phil 2:15; Heb 12:15). That we might stop the mouths of adversaries (1 Peter 2:12; 3:16; Titus 2:7–8). And it is unimportant in what order the reasons are listed because of which good works are to be done, provided the Scripture basis of this article is retained complete and pure.


Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments : An Enchiridion, electronic ed., 98-99 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).



Martin Chemnitz on Good Works — 16 Comments

  1. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10

  2. Looking to your works for assurance of salvation – Is it possible to do this without, in even a small way, relying upon your works for your justification?

  3. @Ken Miller #2

    Probably not, but thanks be to God, these will be sins for which Christ died to forgive, as well as the others…meanwhile, we have helped our neighbor (?)

  4. @Ken Miller #2

    Yes, Scripture, our Confessions, Luther, Chemnitz, etc. all say that it is indeed possible. This is because works show that our faith, which is a gift from God, is indeed living. For all of this we give God thanks and praise.

  5. @Ken Miller #2

    That particular item brings to mind 2 Peter 1:10 and verses immediately before.

    Perhaps your question can also be answered in terms of the object of one’s trust: We trust that it is God working in us even as we act willfully to fulfill our identity and calling in Christ.

    “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you….” Phil 2:12-13

    “… he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion….” Phil 1:6

    “… every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above….” James 1:17

  6. @Pastor Andrew Packer #4

    Thanks for the response, Pastor Packer. It seems like there are a number of issues that this doesn’t address, however.

    How do we avoid self-righteousness when looking to our works as the source (a source) of assurance?

    How do we avoid the trap of doing good works to “prove” that I’m saved, and then looking to our works and saying, “see, I’m a Christian because of my good works.” That’s awful close to works-righteousness.

    What role do our works play in assurance together with Word and Sacrament?

    How do we hold that, on the one hand, “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and justice to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness,” but on the other hand, “if you’re not doing good works, regardless of your confession of sin, then you’re not really saved?”

    Is there a degree of good works that we must see in our lives before we can have assurance?

    How do we avoid becoming “fruit checkers” always trying to determine who in our congregation is “in,” and who in our congregation is “out.”

    I’ve seen this approach go terribly south in a Non-Denominational Baptist Church. Everyone becomes the judge of the status of his brother’s salvation, based on the amount and type of good works displayed by his brother. I’ve experienced the pendulum of pride because I was “doing enough,” followed by despair, even seriously contemplating suicide for extended periods of time, when I wasn’t “doing enough.”

    One the one hand, I want to be faithful to scripture. On the other hand, I don’t want to return to that place again. I became a Lutheran because I thought the Lutheran church was different. Was I wrong?

  7. @Ken Miller #6

    Hi Ken,
    You pose some excellent questions! These are the same questions that have plagued me for years. I won’t attempt to answer them, but I’ll throw in my 2 cents on the general topic.

    I’ve always found solace in the Lutheran doctrine that we are to look nowhere else for assurance of salvation than the cross of Christ. It is this historic and objective truth that we rely upon, coupled with God’s promises of salvation in Christ, not ourselves. Looking inward leads only to despair or pride, as you stated.

    Some will argue: but the promise must be received by faith, and how do you know you possess faith? Well, first, because I am baptized, whereupon the Holy Spirit, through the Word, bestowed me with God-given faith. Second, because I hear and read/study the word of God (Rom 10:17). Baptism and the Word are, again, external truths, based on God’s promises. Outside of me. And thus utterly reliable.

    Finally, as regards good works… I find solace, having read through the Book of Concord, that the reformers (and Luther’s writings) tell us that good works are the natural fruit of faith and will occur spontaneously. We don’t stop to consider them, we just do them:

    “Article VI “Of the Third Use of the Law,” teaches that although Christians, in as far as they are regenerate, do the will of God spontaneously, the Law must nevertheless be preached to them on account of their Old Adam, not only as a mirror revealing their sins and as a check on the lusts of the flesh, but also as a rule of their lives.”

    I am a fan of Gerhard Forde, which many confessional LCMS pastors will warn against (admittedly, he got some things wrong), specifically because he echoes this truth in his book “Justification: A Matter of Death and Life.” In it, he says the Christian doing good works is the parent who rushes to their crying baby, or stops to help someone who has fallen, and the thought of doing a “good work” never comes to mind. If we stop to consider whether or not to do something, pride can play the major role. Luckily, Christ’s blood covers even the sin of our best works, as well as our least works.

    Hope that helps. Don’t fall back onto the teeter-totter of moralism!

  8. @jwskud #7

    Rather than moralism, perhaps I should have cited the errors of pietism:

    2 Pietism: an 18th Century movement centering on the use of small groups called conventicles as the setting for the nurture of the spiritual life, shifting away from the means of grace to the individual spiritual experience of the believer. Assurance of salvation was to be found in one’s personal experience of Christ. Doctrine was less important than living a pious life. Justification was displaced by an emphasis on sanctification.
    (taken from Pastor John Pless’ study guide on “The Hammer of God.”

    And let me also steer you to this excellent paper which touches on this issue of assurance:

  9. @jwskud #7

    Works are an evidence of salvation, but it can be dangerous to make them an assurance of salvation. Even unbelievers do “good works.”

    But, that being said, certainly we do not discount them, and as often as we revisit the gospel for our ultimate assurance, we also revisit the law as our curb, mirror, and guide. And the law often functions in those three roles in a simulataneous manner. If I am guilty of being untruthful, the law as a mirror shows me that I am in sin and must confess my sin. But the law does not stop there. God really DOES expect me to be truthful, and therefore through the law expects an amendment of ways if I am being an untruthful person. If I come and confess my untruthfulness, but then flippantly decide to engage impenitently in untruthfulness upon leaving church, I have missed the entire point of the gospel and forgiveness, and I turn the law into a hollow command.

    It is not the conformity to good works which saves us, but neither should our conformity to good works be ignored altogether. We as Lutherans are to avoid both extremes of legalism and antinomianism. We strive for good works, not to become saved, but because we ARE saved solely through the person and work of Christ.

  10. @Ken Miller #6

    Sorry for the delay in responding. It’s been a crazy week. I don’t have much time tonight either, but please consider these wise words from our Confessions on this. I think they answer your questions (the first one from Solid Declaration IV, the second from SD, XI):

    Above all, this false Epicurean delusion is to be seriously rebuked and rejected: some imagine that faith, and the righteousness and salvation that they have received, cannot be lost through sins or wicked deeds, not even through willful and intentional ones. They imagine that a Christian retains faith, God’s grace, righteousness, and salvation even though he indulges his wicked lusts without fear and shame, resists the Holy Spirit, and purposely engages in sins against conscience.

    32 Against this deadly delusion the following true, unchangeable, divine threats and severe punishments and warnings should be repeated often and impressed upon Christians who are justified through faith:

    Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers … will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10)

    Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21; see also Ephesians 5:5)

    If you live according to the flesh you will die. (Romans 8:13)

    On account of these the wrath of God is coming [upon the children of disobedience]. (Colossians 3:6)

    33 The Apology provides an excellent model that shows how and when exhortations to good works can be made without darkening the doctrine of faith and of the article of justification. In Article XX (90), on the passage 2 Peter 1:10, “Be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure,” it says:

    Peter speaks of works following the forgiveness of sins and teaches why they should be done. They should be done so that the calling may be sure, that is, should they fall from their calling if they sin again. Do good works in order that you may persevere in your calling, in order that you do not lose the gifts of your calling. They were given to you before, and not because of works that follow, and which now are kept through faith. Faith does not remain in those who lose the Holy Spirit and reject repentance.

    34 On the other hand, this does not mean that faith lays hold of righteousness and salvation only in the beginning and then resigns its office to works as though they had to sustain faith, the righteousness received, and salvation. It means that the promise, not only of receiving, but also of retaining righteousness and salvation, is firm and sure to us. St. Paul (Romans 5:2) ascribes to faith not only the entrance to grace, but says that we stand in grace and boast of the future glory. In other words, he credits the beginning, middle, and end to faith alone.

    They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. (Romans 11:20)

    [He will] present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith. (Colossians 1:22–23)

    By God’s power [you] are being guarded through faith for a salvation. (1 Peter 1:5)

    Obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. [1 Peter 1:9]

    35 It is clear from God’s Word that faith is the proper and only means through which righteousness and salvation are not only received, but also preserved by God. Therefore, it is right to reject the Council of Trent’s decree, and whatever elsewhere is set forth with the same meaning. For they say our good works preserve salvation, or the righteousness of faith that has been received, or even faith itself. They say it is either entirely or in part kept and preserved by our works.

    36 Before this controversy quite a few pure teachers used similar expressions to explain the Holy Scriptures. However, they in no way intended to confirm the above-mentioned errors of the papists. Still, a controversy arose over such expressions, from which all sorts of offensive distractions followed. Therefore, according to St Paul’s admonition (2 Timothy 1:13) it is safe to hold fast both to “the pattern of the sound words” and to the pure doctrine itself. In this way, much unnecessary wrangling may be cut off and the Church preserved from many scandals.

    McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 550–551). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

    And also:

    The Holy Spirit dwells in the elect, who have become believers, as in His temple [1 Corinthians 6:19]. He is not idle in them, but moves God’s children to obey God’s commands. Therefore, believers, too, should not be idle, much less resist the work of God’s Spirit. They should practice all Christian virtues, in all godliness, modesty, temperance, patience, and brotherly love; and they should give all diligence to make their calling and election sure [2 Peter 1:10]. They should do this so that the more they find the Spirit’s power and strength within them, they may doubt their election less. 74 For the Spirit bears witness to the elect that they are God’s children (Romans 8:16). Sometimes they fall into temptation so terribly that they imagine they can no longer perceive the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, and so they say with David, “I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from Your sight’ ” (Psalm 31:22). Yet they should, without regard to what they experience in themselves, again say with David the words immediately following (as is written in the same place), “But You heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to You for help.”

    McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 612). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

  11. @J. Dean #9

    I’m certainly not discounting good works! Rather, along with Luther and the reformers, I exhort to good works (both myself and others). But they have nothing to do with salvation. Nothing. If they did, the Gospel is not good news, and Christ’s merits were insufficient. Thus, we look to Christ and Christ alone for our assurance.

    We can (and should) use good works like James does (James 2:24) – they prove our justification in the eyes of others. I’ve told my wife numerous times over the years that I feel I’ve not made much “progress” in my Christian walk, but she is always quick to respond that SHE sees the difference – a kinder, gentler, more loving and caring husband and father… That can be quite edifying, especially to those who don’t grade themselves on a “curve,” but rather on God’s level (Mt 5:48).

    And as it pertains to exhorting, exactly who needs the exhorting? The Old Adam still living within us, that’s who! My Old Adam is one heck of a swimmer – he needs daily drowning in remembrance of baptism and exhortation through the Law. The new creation needs no exhortation or admonition to good works – he is already fully sanctified by Christ and does everything to His glory without thought of self.

    Thanks for the comments, God Bless.

  12. @Pastor Andrew Packer #11

    Thanks for the input, Pastor. It’s certainly a fine line to walk. I understand that good works are an evidence of our faith, but I think how we talk about this issue has to be done carefully. For those coming out of a legalistic tradition, any talk of “look to your works to see whether you have faith,” can bring up all sorts of baggage. Long checklists detailing the degree of perfection that we must attain to have been written by men like John MacArthur and preached by men like Paul Washer. Without any reference to sacramental efficacy, and with very little reference to the sufficiency of Christ’s work, these men use the idea of “assurance” to make justification a matter of good works. Given the culture of Evangelicalism, I think we should treat the matter of assurance with great care, so that we do not cause confusion. Wesleyanism takes this error to another level entirely with its doctrine of Christian perfection.

    If we’re talking to someone living in sin and refusing to repent, I think it would be appropriate to point out the contradiction between their confession of faith, and the reality of their lives. If we’re talking to Christians who are confessing their sins, repenting, and seeking to obey every day, but are still struggling with their flesh, it can be confusing and even detrimental to point them to their works. It’s a sticky topic, for sure.

    I guess Luther, in a sense, is a good example for how to handle the two opposite errors of antinomianism and legalism. When dealing with the papists, he said “No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day.”

    When dealing with the antinomians, he took a different tone, even seeming to contradict himself.

    Paul dug his heals in the hardest in his epistle to the Galatians. The error of trusting your works for salvation is almost always treated more harshly in scripture than antinomianism. Paul was much more gentle with the Corinthians, for example. I think that should be instructive for us as well. On the one hand, antinomianism can lead to indifference and we may loose the Holy Spirit through continuance in sin and a refusal to repent. On the other hand, trusting our works for our righteousness means that we are cut off from Christ, according to Paul. It seems the latter error is more serious and poses a more immediate threat.

  13. @Ken Miller #14

    Hi again, Ken. Great comment above. I think we are coming at this issue from the same place. I’ve spent many a night fearing for my salvation, convinced God was disappointed with me. The real problem with that sort of thinking is that it is entirely ME-focused and takes my eyes off Christ. And yet it is the prevailing message of much of the evangelical American church!

    I, too, struggled with the Lordship Salvation crowd (MacArthur, Tozer, Swindoll, etc.). It is a veiled form of Roman Catholicism, replete with works righteousness. I found Charles Bing’s “Lordship Salvation – A Biblical Evaluation and Response” a very helpful and exhaustive (200+ pages!) resource. You can view it at:

    I disagree with Bing on a few things (he doesn’t believe God grants faith or repentance!), but he does a great job addressing all of the texts of the LS proponents, going into the Greek, and utterly refuting all of them.

    Finally, I agree with all the responses above, I just make note that audience matters, as you pointed out. Those with hardened consciences need to be exhorted to works, and insofar as we are all still sinners, our Old Adam needs that exhortation. But our new creation, born of baptism, needs no exhortation. And those with a pricked conscience will squirm in their seats when confronted with messages like, “Well, ‘Mr. Christian,’ if you were really a Christian you would be doing such and so!” Ugh – that’s the last thing my conscience wants to hear…but it also helps put down the Old Adam.

    In a nutshell, when I hear exhortation to good works, I know it’s for my own good, but I know because of Christ, I’m already perfect, and await the ascertaining of that perfection. Hope that makes sense.

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