Dear Friends in Christ,
“How can I help?” Don’t we love to hear this question asked? This question gets at the heart of what it is to be a Christian. We teach and confess, from Scripture, that the Christian life is made up of faith toward God and love towards our neighbor. What we call “good works” are those acts of love and service to our neighbor that flow out of faith in Jesus Christ’s free gift of forgiveness of our sins. Martin Luther writes about faith and love (good works) in his preface to St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans:
Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith. When they see that no improvement of life and no good works follow—although they can hear and say much about faith—they fall into the error of saying, “Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.” This is due to the fact that when they hear the gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create an idea in their heart which says, “I believe”; they take this then to be a true faith. But, as it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either, and no improvement follows.
Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.
Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, pp. 370-71)
“O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith.” I marvel at this statement. What we learn from this teaching is that our lives of faith in Christ are not lived for our own benefit, nor to serve or take care of ourselves, but instead are lived for the benefit of the other. In fact, Luther points out that one who does not have faith and love is in fact an unbeliever. We’re not saved by our works–we have salvation solely due to the gracious gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus–but our faith in Christ must produce good works.
Several months ago, I encouraged the Voters’ Assembly in asking themselves the question “How can I help?” I want to encourage us all to think this way. As a congregation of believers, we have a shared life together which flows from our forgiveness in Christ. As a group of Christians in this place, we have myriad neighbors whom our Lord has put into our everyday lives.
As you ask “how can I help?” please open your eyes and ears to the various ways to serve here at Good Shepherd. I also hope you’ll see with your eyes and ears the ways that the Lord is also providing you in your various vocations: husbands, wives, parents, employees, employers, hearers of the Word, citizens. In all these roles you are given myriad possibilities to serve and to help.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
“Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:10-12)
Again, will you please ask “how can I help?” during the next month, both here at Good Shepherd and in all the other places where God has gifted you to serve? Lord, help us to always be ready to help! In Jesus’ name; Amen.
Peace in Christ,