Stop Doing Good Works To God

BY MARTIN LUTHER

"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." -Luke 6:36

You have often heard that we need not do good works to God, but to our neighbor. We cannot make God stronger nor richer by our works, but we can make our neighbor stronger and richer with them; he is in need of them, and hence they should be directed to him and not to God. This you have often heard and you have it now in your ears; I would to God, that it might come also into your hands and feet.

Therefore observe here what a perversion it is for man to exercise himself in doing works to God, which should be done to his neighbor; and then centers his faith in men and saints, which he should center alone in God. Turn this around, and then it is right, thus: faith must belong alone to God, whoever receives the divine works, God alone does them, and the same works of God we receive alone through faith. Then we should apply ourselves to our neighbor and arrange all our affairs to the end that they serve our neighbor. Before God all should be done in pure faith alone. The reason of this is because no one can help us but God, and what we have in body and soul we have alone from God, and in him alone should we anchor our heart.

Now, they turn it around thus, so that they center faith, which is due to God, upon themselves and other people and they fall down before their own devised idols, and what the great masters have invented, and place their confidence in them. Is not that very satan and death? As God in Jeremiah 2:13 says: “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water." Again he says in verse 35: "you say, ‘I am innocent; surely his anger has turned from me.’ Behold, I will bring you to judgment for saying, ‘I have not sinned.’"

First he says, that the bride has become a harlot and has turned from God; the living fountain from which flow life, salvation and all good, they have forsaken. Secondly, they turn to their own invention, and make their own fountain, in which there is no water. Thus also people build upon their own inventions, saying mass, fasting, praying and the like; they indeed appear very much as though they were a fountain, as though they would draw from it life and salvation, yet it cannot hold any water; and they forsake God, the living fountain.

See, then that faith belongs to God alone and it should acquire for us from God alone what we need in temporal and spiritual matters; and it should acquire all in a way that it does not think it has merited it. This same faith should later again flow forth from our heart’s depths to our neighbor freely and unhindered in good works; not that we wish to rest our salvation in them; for God will not have that, but wishes the conscience to rest in himself alone.

This Luke explains when he says: "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." Here my conscience must be disposed toward God as a gracious, merciful father, and in harmony with this, go out to my neighbor and be also merciful to him.

[this is an edited excerpt of a sermon by Martin Luther] 

We are a Law & Gospel collective of creative contributors, dedicated to proclaiming to people how Christ remains faithful even when we are faithless. We provide a voice for Christians who are both Sinner & Saint. We promote the bad news that you are a greater sinner than you think and the good news that Christ is a greater savior than you can imagine.

Twitter @ChristHoldFast