“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’” (Matthew 25:37–39)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. The end of the church year focuses on the eschatological judgment of God, and where there is judgment language, there is also talk of good works. Good works can be the third rail of Lutheran theology. We say that words like ‘necessary,’ ‘should,’ and ‘must’ can be used when speaking of the relation between Christians and good works. At the same time, we also reject the language that good works are necessary for salvation or that salvation cannot happen without them (FC Ep IV).
If that wasn’t confusing enough, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats shows us that good works are also invisible. Neither those on the left nor the right are aware of their works. The sheep wonder when they did them while the goats ask when they didn’t do them. This is because good works, strictly speaking, are not something that we do. Good works are the result of God working in us. In other words, good works arise naturally in the believer because of God’s actions in them. God is both the source and the doer of your good works. Your good works began with God working on you in the waters of Baptism, and your good works continue as you live out your baptismal identity. They continue as you fulfill the various vocations that God has given you.
They are largely invisible because you have been freed from having to count them, track them, or keep any kind of record of them. You don’t have to pile up good works like extra-curricular activities for a college application. Good works flow from faith. They do not lead to it. This is the truth of what Christ did for you on the cross. Without faith in Christ, no work is good. With faith in Christ, even the most mundane action can become a good work that only God can see. May the Lord, who has begun this good work in you, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
O Lord, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit that, ever mindful of the end of all things and the day of Your just judgment, we may be stirred up to holiness of living here and dwell with Your forever hereafter; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
-Pastor Grant Knepper is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Hillsboro, Oregon.
Audio Reflections Speaker: Rev. Duane Bamsch
Study Christ’s words on the cross to see how you can show more Christlike grace in your life. Perfect for group or individual study, each chapter has a Q&A at the end, and the back of the book includes a leader guide. Available now from Concordia Publishing House.