1. In Biblical and proper use of the term, the outflow and fruit of faith, esp. in outward deeds of believers, performed for love of Christ and God in agreement with the Word and will of God. Every good thing a Christian says and does, every act by which he omits something evil as an evidence of the divine life of faith in his heart, is a good work (Eph 2:10; Tts 2:14; Heb 13:2021). Good works, properly speaking, are not the believer's own performance, but the works of God in and through him; God gives both the incentive and the power for the performance of works that are well-pleasing in His sight (Mt 5:16; Jn 15:5; 2 Co 9:8; Ph 2:1213). It is true, of course, that because of sin the works of believers are not in themselves perfect, neither in their inception nor in their fruition (Ro 7:1819). But these flaws, imperfections, and frailties connected with the good works of the believers have been atoned for by Christ* Jesus, for whose sake God regards these works and those who perform them as perfect (Ro 8:1).
2. In direct contrast to the spiritually good works of believers (iustitia spiritualis) there are fictitious good works of men who have no faith, but whose outward behavior in many cases resembles that of Christians. If these works are an outflow of an attempt to merit righteousness before God, as in the penances of RCm and in all other self-appointed forms of religion, they defeat their own end. Such works are the basis of every false religion. People outside of Christ and without faith and the Holy Spirit are in the power of the devil. He drives them into many kinds of manifest sin (FC SD II 29). One can distinguish a certain form of civil righteousness (iustitia civilis, opera externa), in which certain virtues are connected with outward maintenance of civil authority in the world (e.g., obedience to laws, honesty in business). Man is free to choose such outward manifestations and civil virtues. But they are not necessarily connected with a regenerated heart. They may be the outflow of natural altruism and even of extreme selfishness and as such are not truly good works.
3. That good works merit no reward is evident from passages adduced above. Where the Bible speaks of such rewards it is evident that a reward of mercy is meant. God regards the imperfect good works of believers on account of the perfect obedience of Christ as though they were in themselves good and perfect. In this sense good works will also serve as evidence on the Last Day to prove the presence of faith. Good works are not necessary to salvation, as G. Major* taught, but they are a necessary fruit and proof of faith; the Luth. Ch. has been unjustly accused of setting aside good works and a life of sanctification. See also Majoristic Controversy; Sanctification.
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission
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The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod
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