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John 15:1-8

 

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."(ESV)

Sure In Him

Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs

7 March 2014

People who presume that they have accomplished enough good works to be pleasing to God know neither what faith is nor what good works are. Faith is a powerful thing that does what the law commands long before it is commanded. Faith is God's gift and it finds itself surprised by good works (Mt 25:37-39). There is a kind of unconscious intentionality about good works. They are never self-regarding. They are not like the mirror of the wicked queen, who wants to know if she is the "fairest of them all?" Faith never seeks its own affirmation in good works. Good works spring from the root stock of Christ who is the vine and to whom we are attached by faith. In that sense good works are really His. When we are surprised by our own works of service, we should exclaim, "Look at what God has done through us for Christ's sake!" In this way we are truly surprised by joy as C. S. Lewis would put it.

 

Of course, those who preach the divine gifts God grants to faith are accused of forbidding good works. This is like accusing someone who is giving away free gasoline to automobile owners of forbidding driving. Gasoline is the very thing that makes it possible to drive an auto, just as faith is the very thing that receives God's gifts, connects us to Christ and makes it possible for us to do good works. Faith does what is good.

 

Those who think that they are doing works sufficiently pious to merit God's approval also do not know what good works are. Often good works are treated as a laundry list of external actions that we declare to be good, because we are doing them. And we think that when we have made the appropriate "check offs" that we have done everything necessary. We forget that good works also include the life of suffering under the crosses that the Lord lays upon our shoulders. No, then, it is not so simple, for we easily chafe at suffering for the sake of the gospel.

 

We seek good works that are more glittering or glorious than those enjoined by our Lord in His divine will. I might prefer to be the leader of a well-funded and much-praised not-for-profit organization, rather than be a good father to my children or husband to my wife. I might jeopardize my family for the sake of such glittering works. Instead, we find that the best works are those which God has commanded in the fourth commandment. It takes true humility to do them. That humility comes from the One who suffered for us to become the true vine. He understands that humility is the stuff of death, humus the stuff of decay, so that in Him we are only dying to live; our life is made sure only in Him.

 

Augsburg Confession

 

"Our churches also teach that good works should be done, not that we are to rely on them to earn grace but on account of the will of God.  It is by faith alone that grace and forgiveness of sins are received.  When through faith the Holy Spirit is given, the heart is renewed and puts on new affections, so that it is moved to do good works. Just as Ambrose says, 'Faith is the mother of good will and right action.' For human powers without the Spirit are filled with impious desires and are weakened so that good works before God are not able to be accomplished.  Moreover, it is in the power of the devil, who drives poor human beings into various sins, impious opinions, and manifestly wicked acts.  We see this in the philosophers who attempted to lead honest lives. They failed to accomplish this, and instead fell into many great and manifest sins.  Such is the weakness of man when he is without faith and the Holy Spirit and governs himself by his own human strength alone.

 

"Consequently this doctrine concerning faith must not be accused of forbidding good works, but is much rather to be praised for showing how good works may be done.  For without faith no one calls on God, expects anything from God, bears the cross, and instead seeks human supports and trusts them. So every desire and human counsel reigns in the heart, since it is devoid of faith and trust in God. Wherefore, even Christ says, 'Apart from me you can do nothing' (Jn 15:5)."  As the church sings, "Without You, O God, there is nothing in man, nothing untainted.

 

Augsburg Confession, 20.27-39

 

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, You have said "Apart from me you do nothing." Keep us grafted into You who are the true vine, that we who are Your branches may in You offer a life of good works to the world. Keep us in Your life, death, and resurrection by faith, that all that is Yours might also become ours, and in You enough. Amen.

 

In thanksgiving for Jordan and Katie Frisby, who have received the gift of a child, Daniel Kenneth Frisby, that mother and child would be kept safe until Daniel is brought to baptism

 

For the pastors of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, that they might not despair of the truth but proclaim it boldly for the good of those who listen

 

For all those seeking employment, that the Lord would give them the gift of work in keeping with their vocation, that they might serve the world through their labor

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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