Good Works and Useless Burdens

BY MARTIN LUTHER

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think… -Romans 12:3

No Christian can boast that his own efforts have made him a member of Christ, with other Christians, in the common faith. Nor can he by any work constitute himself a Christian. He performs good works by virtue of having become a Christian, in the new birth, through faith, regardless of any merit of his own. Clearly, then, good works do not make Christians, but Christians bring forth good works. The fruit does not make the tree, but the tree produces the fruit. Seeing does not make the eye, but the eye produces vision. In short, cause ever precedes effect; effect does not produce cause. Now, if good works do not make a Christian, do not secure the grace of God and blot out our sins, they do not merit heaven. No one but a Christian can enjoy heaven. One cannot secure it by his works, but by being a member of Christ; an experience effected through faith in the Word of God.

How, then, shall we regard those who teach us to exterminate our sins, to secure grace, to merit heaven all by our own works? What is their theory? They teach that cause is produced by effect. Just as if mere muscular tissue that is not a tongue becomes a tongue by fluent speaking or becomes mouth and throat by virtue of much drinking. As if running makes feet; keen hearing, an ear; smelling, a nose; nourishment at the mother's breast, a child; suspension from the apple-tree, an apple. Beautiful specimens, indeed, would these be--fine tongues, throats and ears, fine children and fine apples.

Well might you exclaim: "What impossible undertakings, what useless burdens!”

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