Pastor Mark Anderson
Martin Luther challenged the conventional thinking of his day (and ours, for that matter) by declaring that the character of the person establishes the goodness of a work and not the other way around. This countered the prevailing view of the church that we become good by doing good things, or good works (an idea that can be traced at least back to Aristotle), and that we can judge how good people are by what they do.
But Luther was a good theologian and student of Scripture. He knew full well what the Lord had to say about good people;
“Why do you call me good”, he once said” no one is good but God.”
Texts like this and his many years of ‘do-gooding’ as a monk, taught him that while a good work may appear good on the outside, it may be rooted in the most diabolical intentions and motives. If the inner, essential character of the person is primary in establishing the ultimate value of what we do, then even the best of what we do cannot be called good in the truest sense. And if we are (to use the common expression) to “do the right thing”, how do we even know what the right thing is? Do you want to use my list? Should I use yours? And what if we disagree?
So let’s cut to the chase: Jesus did not come as another religious practitioner with a list of spiritual values to be clarified and a religious do good program we are to be about. Jesus came to do what we, in the confusion of our sin and murky motives, could never do. Jesus came to do the good work of salvation for us, for our sakes precisely because doing good, let alone being good, is way above our pay grade.
The Scriptures declare that our Lord was “…in every respect tempted as we are yet without sin.” Like your life and mine, our Lord’s life was set in the crucible of the law, in the refining fire of the sinful world. But unlike your motives and mine, His deepest motives were revealed, in the truest sense, to be rooted not in idolatrous love of self, but in the love, mercy and gracious will of God for sinners.
Christian faith really begins when we are brought to the point of recognizing the bankruptcy not of our worst, but of our best, where God and everything else is concerned. Only then do we see the contamination of our so-called ‘good’ works as they stand in sharp relief to the efficacy and unique, pure and divine goodness of Christ’s work.
Therefore, when we hear the gracious proclamation of what our Lord has said and done for us – and what He continues to do for us in word and sacrament, we may trust His good Word absolutely. And in the trusting sing joyfully from the heart;
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
No merit of my own I claim by wholly lean on Jesus name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand!”
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus our Lord.”