“Concord” is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers’ knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them “with one heart” to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.
“Faith apart from works is dead,” writes St. James (James 2:26b ESV). But we confess that we are saved by faith alone, apart from works. Doesn’t the addition of works cancel faith? Or maybe Lutherans have gotten it wrong, and obedience really is a part of faith and salvation.
It would be a mistake to say that Lutherans never talk about good works. But good works must have their proper place. The 6th article of the Augsburg Confession speaks to good works: “Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God” (Augsburg Confession VI.1).
First, good works follow faith; they don’t precede faith. Not a single good deed is required to obtain faith. Faith is obtained by the work of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace. But, faith is bound to bring forth good fruits. Read that again. Faith is bound to bring forth good fruits.
Second, this means that faith isn’t just a potential to do good works, as if it’s a special divine power that you can decide to use or not use. Faith is bound to bring forth good fruits. Why? Because faith is the work of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit doesn’t stop with faith. He also works the good works in you. As St. Paul writes in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Who prepares the works? God does; we simply walk in them.
When you see good works and the new obedience worked by the Spirit in this way, we can then boldly confess along with the Augsburg Confession, “For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17:10. The same is also taught by the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone” (Augsburg Confession VI. 2-3).
You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard serves as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.