The Devil Hates Your Good Works

The devil hates your good works for three reasons. First, the Father of lies hates your good works because good works, by necessity, flow from faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus said, “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.”[1]

Good works are only good when they are done by a regenerate heart. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.”[2] Fallen man sins because he is a sinner. The regenerate man does good works because he has been forgiven of his sins, regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that the image of God, the new man, is being daily sustained, strengthened and actuated by the power of God.

Good works are not good if they are used to justify oneself. These works are worse than nothing: “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”[3] Even the works which are done in faith do not declare us righteous: “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’”[4]

The works which the devil loves are not good but evil. These works cannot be called good because they take away from the central article of the faith: justification. They point us away from our salvation, Christ Jesus, and point us to our own endeavors. These works, even if they conform to the ten commandments, are wicked because they are done from a faithless heart. They cannot be called good by any stretch of the imagination.

It is only by faith that our works are pleasing to God: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him.”[5] But in faith, our works are dear to our Savior: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”[6]

The devil also hates good works because good works conform to the will of God, His commandments, and in our imitation of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

Whatever is pleasing to God is hateful to the devil. The devil hates the commandments because they reflect God’s will, as Formula VI, par. 15 says: “when we speak of good works which are in accordance with God’s Law (for otherwise they are not good works), then the word Law has only one sense, namely, the immutable will of God, according to which men are to conduct themselves in their lives.”

And so the devil seeks to deceive us. He desires that we do works which are not commanded by God in His word. This was one of the great discoveries of the Reformation. Monasticism was viewed as a good work, but it was not commanded by God. Men tried to please God, not with works which God commanded, but with works contrived out of their own imaginations.

Luther’s words on the Third Commandment are helpful on this point: “any observance or work that is practiced without God’s Word is unholy before God, no matter how brilliantly it may shine, even though it be covered with relics, such as the fictitious spiritual orders, which know nothing of God’s Word and seek holiness in their own works.”[7]

Another reason why the devil hates good works is because good works will abide into eternity. Heaven and earth will pass away in fire. The good works of the Christian will endure into eternity: “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”[8]

This is why Christians are admonished to make the most of their short stay on earth by performing good works (Gal. 6:10; Eph. 5:16,; Col. 4:5). This is why pastors are directed to teach good works with all diligence (Titus 3:8 14; 1 Tim. 6:17 ff).

As soon as a man is converted, his home is no longer in the world; his true home and commonwealth are in heaven. But our God wants us to stay in the world so that we might serve Him and our neighbor on earth. Above all, good works serve the proclamation of the Gospel.

Therefore, Luther’s words concerning the Anabaptists ring true today:

See what little value they attach to good works—they are ready to sell their good works for a penny! By this, they want to ape us and our teaching that good works do not make sinners pious, do not blot out sins, do not reconcile God. To this, the devil adds his bit and so utterly despises good works that he is ready to sell them for a penny. I thank God that the devil in his cleverness here overreaches himself and so shamefully befouls and befools himself.

We teach that to reconcile God . . . is so high and great and glorious a work that alone Christ, the Son of God, could do it. . . But that therefore good works should be nothing or be worth only a penny, who ever heard of such a thing, or who could teach such a thing except the lying mouth of the devil?. . .

I hold my good works dearer than my own life, which certainly should be held more precious than all the world; for if what I do is good, God has done it through me and in me. . .

Though it does not make me holy . . . still it is done to the praise and glory of God and for the benefit and welfare of my neighbor, both of which cannot be paid for or equaled by all the world’s goods. . . Has not Satan here hidden himself well? Who cannot feel him here?[9]

[1] Matthew 7:17-18.

[2] Matthew 12:35.

[3] Isaiah 64:6.

[4] Luke 17:10.

[5] Hebrews 11:6.

[6] Romans 12:2.

[7] LC, Second Commandment, par. 93.

[8] Rev. 14:13.

[9] ST. L. XIV: 310 f.


The Devil Hates Your Good Works — 10 Comments

  1. Bravo! Thank you for such a scriptural confession concerning our good works.

  2. Thank you, Pastor Berg, for a wonderful posting about good works that are pleasing to God. It is so rare to read something on this subject from a Lutheran pastor that does not somehow, as you indicated, violate the doctrine of justification, and therefore the Gospel.
    There is once sentence with which I do not disagree, but I would like to add something to it: “As soon as a man is converted, his home is no longer in the world; his true home and commonwealth are in heaven.” The other thing that happens to a man as soon as he is converted, is that he becomes a new creation in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. Therefore the will of God becomes our will; not perfectly, as so many are anxious to point out, but to whatever extent we are a new creation, we are – undeniably. St. Paul goes so far as to say, 1 Corinthians 2:16, “But we have the mind of Christ.” In Hebrew, “the mind of Christ”, would be “Torah”, which is what God wrote on our hearts, Jeremiah 31:33.
    Thank you again.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  3. It is most comforting to read this. Despite my many failures as a husband, father, pastor, brother, and son, it is a comfort to know that God looks at those things I do in love toward my neighbors with delight. Thank you, brother!

  4. Rev. Berg:

    Yet, the devil delights in your good works when you specify them and “count” them as such.
    He then sends you out to find more good works to count, ad nauseum.
    Judas counted his betrayal as a good work in the furtherance of The Kingdom.

  5. @Jim Heap #4

    What makes a good work “good?” The unbeliever’s definition can be left out, since they are not good. This includes Judas. It is God Himself Who declares a good work “good.” What pleases God? Faith in the vicarious satisfaction and the resulting fruit. If you are “counting” them, then you have placed yourself under the Law and not under grace. If so, your works are no longer good; they are a curse.

    This is why Amsdorf’s dictum, “Good works are harmful for salvation,” was wrong. He rightly defended the fact that good works are not necessary for salvation. However, the Concordists realized that his language was unhelpful and dangerous. Our language must be clear, lest we lead Christ’s lambs astray.

    To specify means “to identify clearly and definitely.” The Scriptures do specify what the will of God is in the Ten Commandments and in the Table of duties. So, we not only can specify what good works are, but pastors must also teach and preach this. Otherwise, faithful hearts will be led astray into works which are not commanded by God and also are dangerous for the Faith, like monasticism.

  6. Well put. Good works in the scriptural sense are indeed an abomination to the devil. And as you rightly pointed out, a work can also be evil, even if it outwardly conforms to the law of God (example: generously giving money for the purpose of self-exaltation).

  7. Howdy,

    Are the good works of christians still considered filthy rags? I know i am justified through faith in the finished work of Jesus on my behalf, and I want to please God with my life as a result, but the idea that anything I do to please Him is considered filthy rags is depressing.

    But, then, if God’s standard of true goodness is perfection, how could our sin-tainted works be considered truly “good?” Does the standard of what constitutes a work being “good” change, or is it that any sin it contained has been done away with and forgiven at the cross, so now God only sees the good in it? Any help on this point would be greatly appreciated!


  8. @Joe #8
    Howdy, Joe,
    I wonder about this too sometimes, and have found that any good I do is so thoroughly out-weighed by sin that it is truly frightening. So, what do you think about this:
    It is He and He alone who doeth good. If/when He doeth good through you/me, you/I may or may not be aware of it? If you do good, don’t pat yourself on the back for it. All praise be to God and God alone. As soon as I feel good about having done good, the devil is there to piss on it. Yet, there is joy in the doing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.