Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why do good works?

Martin Luther in The Freedom of the Christian claims that 'no other work makes you a Christian than the one work: "you believe in him who he has sent" (John 6:29)'. This inevitably leads to the question: why then would anyone do anything good?

In The Freedom of the Christian at least his argument seems to have this structure:

  1. The Christian seeks to do certain good works such as fasting because he wants to bring his body under control.
  2. He seeks to bring his body under control because he wants to serve his neighbour more.
  3. He seeks to bring his serve his neighbour more because he spontaneously desires to please God.
  4. He seeks spontaneously desires to please God because his inner man has been created in the image of God and made new by faith.
  5. He is able to freely and cheerfully do this because he has all riches of righteousness and salvation in Christ.

Interestingly he never speaks explicitly of doing works out of gratitude or thanks (although that sometimes seems implied). Nor does he argue that it will bring benefits to the Christian that he would not otherwise receive either in this life or in the future.

Also striking to my eye was his emphasis on subjecting the body which is not heard much in the contemporary church. However, it is also interesting that he does not argue that this should be done because of some value that this has in itself, but instead he sees it as a means to the end of serving others. In this way he beautifully combines the importance of both private good works (bible reading, fasting etc) and public good works (practical help to the poor etc), and shows how they are inseparable, but of different orders of importance.

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