Good Works

Note: I had been working on Luther's oft-quoted verse, "That Thou mightest be justified when Thou judgest," when Jon began corresponding with me again and trying to righteously hang onto his good works. He said he would have no hope if he could not see Christ's works in him. He agreed that many good works were evil, but that Christians who had faith performed pure works. He further justified his persuasion by stating that he wanted to have positive influence so he could broaden his sphere for Christ.

These are quite similar thoughts and actions I had as a Christian until I walked into the Lutheran church and was exposed to the sound teaching of the Word—not through the pulpit ministry but through the writings of Martin Luther. I suspect all Christians have similar thoughts indicating their need to hang onto their good works, consider them good, and not condemn them in the fear of God.

I am trying to get Christians to consider the seriousness of the present religious situation. It seems that very few people are concerned about the multitude of beliefs among Christians, so I thought maybe if I showed how Luther's interpretation varies so greatly from all others, that this would have an impact on even one mind and heart.

It is absolutely presumptuous to assume you have faith if you do not believe properly. It is just about as presumptuous to believe you have genuine faith if you will not condemn even your best works as abject sin. In this way you learn what it truly means to hang onto only Christ, trust only Christ, and truly walk by faith, which is the substance of things not seen. I see my works. You learn of David's concern for the Lord's glory by saying, "That Thou mightest be justified." David wanted NO part or responsibility for his salvation. He knew, believed, taught and confessed that salvation is of the Lord. No room for decisions, good works, good intentions, or the goodness of nature.

If God wants to resurrect your works, approve of them, garnish them, put them on display for eternity, then let Him be the one to do this. In the meantime, condemn your works as filthy that you might gain Christ. Otherwise, if you hang onto works, how are you different from someone who positively states that works are needed for salvation? I truly do no see the difference. The difference is that one is being more honest about their position. A rose by any other name is a rose. We are either saved by faith alone, walk by faith alone, and cling only to Christ alone or not. To hand onto our works in any way is to deny Christ, no matter what your official creed is. Your practical creed states loud and clear, "My works save me."

Anyway, I polished this off and sent it to "Jon." Jon is having a most difficult time hearing this message because his mind has been so polluted with false teaching. You can read our discussion on the web. There you might notice what I have been noticing: Once one falls from the basic teaching of the Word, there is no end to the misconceptions and errors that arise about all other doctrines about the Word. Example: The church questions, "This is My body," and consequently add to or take away from this word. Then works are substituted for true faith. Then, as you can see with Jon, one falls away from the proper teaching concerning other subjects, such as honoring elders. Jon believes, contrary to the Word, that elders must earn respect. Is this not walking by sight and doing away with the commandments of God? I could go on and on and explain how I SELDOM hear the proper interpretation of even the basic stories of the Bible. There is no end to apostasy when it begins.

In the fear and praise of God, I submit this to you for your consideration. I hope it will help you see how far we have fallen, and make you start and tremble at Christ's words, "When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?"

Dear Jon:

The only thing I care about is your or anyone's becoming a genuine Christian. Even though I contributed my share to false faith most of my life, it is not my fault that you don't know and have not been taught what genuine faith looks like. The church has lost the true and genuine knowledge of Christ. Luther was afraid it would happen within years of his death; Christ said it would happen before His return; Paul said even the Elect would be deceived; and I live to see it and try to turn even one to righteousness and true holiness—a holiness that transcends both our sins and our good works. But just as in the days of Noah, only my family believes my message of what God's Word truly means, but also of God's coming wrath. This is not what I want and it is not something I have worked toward; but the fact remains, only my family, by the grace of God, are responding to the Word of God.

The church has become absolutely smug. Everyone possesses a know-so salvation today. And the designation "everyone" could not be more appropriate than it is in this discussion. There is a spiritual confidence, zeal, and excitement that is truly demonic, appeals to the reason of man, and emphasizes some tangent of the flesh. Everyone is so smug and sure they are unimpressed by the Word, all the while bragging of their love for the Word. They won't be concerned by Christ saying there will not be faith on the earth when He comes, and they will not be humbled and contemplative when Paul urges us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Everyone has a death grip on Christ.

But two things prove this grip is false—other than the fact that religion today has virtually no semblance to what Luther taught about it. One is, there is very little knowledge of sin today. The commandments are rarely taught and when they are they are not properly expounded, explained, and applied to our lives today. Luther fully explains what the commandments mean and from his teaching we could gradually develop a sense of sin so that we would begin to hunger for the Gospel of Christ. As it stands, we are satiated by our own vomit of presumption, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness. We are not really sinners today.

But I have addressed this at length elsewhere. What I want to address now is our so-called good works; and your defense of good works gives me that occasion. Luther often quotes Psalm 51: "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when You speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts." I finally spent some time on this verse, as I do with all oft-quoted passages by Luther. I figure if he used them over and over, I would benefit if I reflected on them over and over.

I did a brief comparative study of various commentators on this verse. Scofield's only reference on this Psalm was: "No believer of the present Church Age need ever pray, 'Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.' This certainly goes against Luther and does precious little to encourage people to examine themselves to see whether they are in the faith. Keil-Delitzsch coldly miss the salient points of this Psalm, focus on the obvious sins of David, but they do give a wonderful pronouncement of depravity: "the whole corrupt and degenerated condition of the sinner."

Pulpit Commentary: "Every sin is mainly against God; and the better sort of men always feel this." You would like this one, Jon, for it assumes there are better sorts of people. They sweep depravity under the rug, even though they probably accept and embrace the term "original sin." Spurgeon hits the depravity aspect, but adds this point: "It is not the punishment he cries out against, but the sin. To an awakened conscience, pain on account of sin is not transient and occasional, but intense and permanent, and this is no sign of divine wrath, but rather a sure preface of abounding favor." Spurgeon, whom Walthur praised as one of the very few "sectarians" who walked in the truth of the Word, almost hits the real subject matter of this Psalm, saying, "God cares not for the pretense of purity, but looks to the mind, heart, and soul. David feels that God is teaching him truth concerning His nature, which he had not perceived before."

Here is the truth God was teaching David. It was the truth that he was sinful through and through. That is, that even his good works were odious to God. This is the other horn of the altar which has been broken off to this church. We assume God is pleased with our works and worship. NO! Why do you think the prophets went out of their way to teach us all our righteousness is as filthy rags! I have always been impressed with my good works and desire to worship God. But I never knew this was abject sin in the sight of God. In my opinion, I began to become a Christian about five years ago when I ran across Augustine's statement quoted by Luther: "Even our good works need God's pardoning mercy." When I shared this with the Lutheran Men's group I led, you would have thought I had called Christ a bastard. The pastor had to come in and tell them what I was teaching was absolutely correct.

This is the rock which people stumble over as they try to come to Christ on their own merit: even the ones who will admit some of their sin and sinfulness, will not admit the stench attached to their so-called good works. It is for this reason that Luther states categorically: When a Christian looks at what he does, he has lost Christ. You can intellectualize this statement all you want, but to no avail. Luther said it and all his writings support this brief diatribe. Paul said we fall short of the glory of God. Are we to say, "Yes, Paul, you are right, except when I am right with God." Was Paul ever so right with God that he could not cry out, "O wretched man!"?

Here is Luther on this passage. "A true penitent heart sees nothing but its sin and misery of conscience. He who still finds any counsel and help in himself cannot in all earnestness speak these words; for he is not altogether miserable but feels some comfort in himself, apart from God's mercy. Sham saints {he means you, Jon} do not perceive their own wickedness; they imagine they are as they should be."

"This is the verse (v. 4) from which we learn to thoroughly disregard our outward good works and to put no faith in the praise and honor of them by others. They are done in uncleanness and weakness, and are not counted good in God's sight unless we confess them as such. Hence the interpretation which takes this verse to mean outward sins is far from right. For without question we sin and do evil also by outward sins, not only before God but before men as well."

"Hence the prophet says here: 'In order that this terrible sin of pride may not infect me, I confess that I am a sinner before Thee and do no good, so that Thou mightest remain in truth and prevail, and also overcome all who content with Thee, justify themselves, and judge Thee in Thy words.' For in the end God will prevail and gain the victory, either here by His goodness or hereafter by His severity. It will do no good to be justified before men or in our own eyes, for we must ignore this and wait with fear to learn what God thinks about it."

Luther continues: "The outward righteousness and apparent piety is pure deception, without foundation and without truth, because it covers the sin within and is only a type of the real and true righteousness. This type is hateful to Thee, but man loves it. The wisdom of God is revealed to the proud only in its outward appearance, but it is revealed to the humble in its inner truth and hidden foundation. Now the outward appearance of this wisdom consists in this, that man believes he serves God with his words, thoughts, and works, and measures up to God's standard. It is all an outward show, which is apparent to anyone, as there are many ways and means of doing this. In all this men seek God, but entirely in reverse and outwardly. Inwardly they know Him less than all others, because they seek themselves, and under the pretext of studying and learning about God!"

"The inner and hidden part of this wisdom is nothing else than knowing oneself thoroughly, and therefore hating oneself. It is seeking all righteousness not in self but in God, always dissatisfied with oneself and yearning for God, that is, humbly loving God and looking away from self. This inner, unknown righteousness is revealed in all kinds of outward behavior, manner, words, and works, in which the proud remain and harden themselves. Therefore God, who loves reality and truth, hates them, because they love the outward appearance and hypocrisy. This happens to all those who do not reject themselves in their own eyes and at the same time are not concerned that they are rejected in God's sight. In fact, they set themselves up in God's presence and exalt themselves. Therefore they will be abased and cast away. For they imagine they are clean, righteous, and enlightened, and therefore cannot be rejected. The others, however, feel and know that they are justly cast away on account of their sins. Therefore they come forward with fear and humbly pray for what the self-righteous think they have already gained with their holiness. For of myself I am depraved. The Holy Spirit must make me holy and sustain me. The Holy Spirit makes free and willing men, who do not serve God out of painful fear or improper love. If there were no hell or punishment, they would not serve at all."

"Knowledge of sin is not some speculation or an idea which the mind thinks up for itself. It is a true feeling, a true experience, and a very serious struggle of the heart, as David testifies when he says, 'I know (that is, I feel or experience) my transgressions. The proper subject of theology, therefore, is man guilty of sin and condemned, and God the Justifies and Savior of man the sinner. Whatever is discussed in theology outside this subject, is error and poison. All Scripture points to this, that God commends His kindness to us and in His Son restores to righteousness and life the nature that has fallen into sin and condemnation."

"Nature always thinks this way, and it says to itself: 'I dare not life up my eyes to heaven; I am afraid in the sight of God. I know both that I am a sinner and that God hates sin. So what shall I pray?' Here a very hard battle begins. Either the mind is confused within itself by the consciousness of sin and believes that it should delay praying until it finds some worthiness within itself, so to speak; or it looks around at human counsels and various consolations so that it first thinks about some kind of satisfaction that will enable it to come before God with some confidence in its own worthiness and say, 'Have mercy on me, O God.' This is the constant belief of our nature, but it is highly dangerous. It encourages our minds to trust in our own righteousness and to think we can please God with our own works. Since we are born in sins, it follows that we shall never pray unless we pray before we feel that we are pure of all sins."

"For a proper understanding of the fact that God hates sinners and loves the righteous, we must distinguish between the sinner who feels his sins and the sinner who does not feel his sins. God does not want the prayer of the sinner who does not feel his sins, because he neither understands nor wants what he is praying for. This sinner lives with trust in his own righteousness and does not feel the uncleanness of his own good works in his heart. This sinner prays for mercy, for forgiveness, but meanwhile, by this means or that he is looking for expiation for his sin in himself. Is not this really an open mockery of God? This sinner is as a beggar, who, when offered money begins to brag about his riches."

"A true sinner, or the truly righteous, are those who feel their sins and the wrath of God and who are afraid before the face of God. These people apply to themselves the threats set forth in the Word of God, and the fearful examples of divine wrath so depress them that they are afraid of the very same punishments because of their sins and good works. When, amid these terrors, the mind has thus been crushed by the hammer of the Law and the judgment of God, this is really the place, time, and occasion to grasp divine wisdom. Then the heart consoles itself and is sure that when God is wrathful against sinners, He is wrathful only against those who are hard and callous. Whenever this sinner is stung and vexed in his conscience because of sins, he simply turns his attention from sin and wraps himself in the bosom of God who is called Grace and Mercy, not doubting at all that He wants to show grace and mercy to miserable and afflicted sinners, just as He wants to show wrath and judgment to hardened sinners."

Here is my plea and I am sorry that I cannot say it better than Luther. I simply beg for someone to take more than a few brief moments to contemplate their life before God before coming to the conclusion so quickly they are right with God. Luther: "This is what we should do. Even though we do not fully understand, we should believe our Creator when He declares something about us. He knows what sort of frame or dust we are, we do not. Just as the vase of a potter may have acquired a crack through a blow or some other way and does not know it has a crack, whereas the potter knows and sees it, so also we do not fully know our faults. Even in the saints there remains this feeling of blasphemy, that they are often indignant when everything they have is called guilty. In the saints there is also this feeling, that they will pray more diligently, believe more fully, and praise God when they see that they have pure hands and feelings and that they are free of sin. But this means to stop being human and to become a god or an angel. Thus the sin that is hidden even in saints struggles against the judgment of God. Though the spirit is ruled by the Word and consents to it, still Paul confesses that there is another law in his flesh warring against the Spirit and the Word."

I only wish, hope, and pray that you will find the true babe in the manger this Christmas season. But you cannot find this God-Child until you allow the Word to bring you ruin, misery, damnation, and helplessness. A trust and a belief in your own good works will prevent this from ever happening. I look back with shame, knowing that what I convinced my mind as being a sincere love for God was nothing but pompous pride and blasphemy. All my religion was about me. All my love for God, love for souls, love for Bible knowledge, was all about what I derived. I called God a liar every day of my life and patted myself on the back for it. And others did, too. And others saw through my hypocrisy, as I see through yours.

I know there are twigs of teaching within this paper that you could focus on to prove you have genuine faith. But only a desperate man reaches for twigs. Meanwhile, there are giant beams falling on your soul ready to crush all spiritual life from you for eternity. I urge you to look squarely at Scripture and Luther's understanding thereof, and make an honest appraisal and inventory. If you continue to pervert sound teaching, like you did with Job's statement, then there is no hope for you; you will continue in your blindness, following the cherished doctrines of demons. I sincerely, from the depths of my heart, pray, desire, hope, and plead with you that this will not be the case with you.

Again I quote Job: "I fear for all my works." I quote Paul: "In me, that is, is my flesh, dwells no good thing." Augustine: "Even our good works need God's pardoning mercy." Luther: "A Christian is unaware of the good works he does, for his gaze is Christ-ward." I urge you to consider David's desire for God to condemn even his good works so that God could be completely just. You can add any phrase, supposed intention of the writer, or anything that appeals to your reason, to what these godly men said. But in so doing, your pervert the truth of God to suit your own evil desires. I beg you not to do this. Please do not hold onto your good works as something valuable; this is a sure sign your focus is not on Christ. Let God do with your works what He wants. Let Him judge. You look only to Christ.

I have done what I can. I always do what I can to turn my neighbor to the truth of the Word, whether you agree with my tactics or not. My only desire is to plant a seed that might grow in some heart. I have given myself to this particular work by the moving of the Spirit. I now humbly present it to Christ, turn my eyes away from it and onto only Christ. I will not seek to allow this work to uplift me, encourage me, make me feel valuable, inspire me, make me feel good about myself, or any such thing. Christ is all these things to me. I also confess other motivations which might have partially prompted me to write this paper. I confess my desire to be acquitted of certain charges, of wanting to be understood, accepted, followed, looked up to, admired, sought out, and any other motivations such as revenge, anger, hatred, malice, bitterness, and the like. I confess the many other motivations within the depths of my heart of which I am unaware, my hidden faults and secret sins. I wrap up all my good motivations and evil; the promptings of the Spirit and those of my spirit, and I give them to Christ. They are lost in Him. For me to take anything of this work back is to lose Christ. May God grant that I would not do this—at least not for any significant length of time.