Created for Good Works: A Sermon
A pastor suggested that I post an actual sermon for analysis, in light of our discussion of sanctification. This would be an example I would offer as to how one can “preach good works” or “preach sanctification” and keep Law/Gospel properly distinguished. What do you think? The preacher’s name doesn’t matter, or should not matter.
We are God’s Workmanship
The Scriptures nowhere teach that the reason people go to heaven, or
the reason God loves people is because of what they do for God. There
are many ways to twist and distort verses that talk about good works to
make it seem that way, but it is false and misleading dream that by our
good works we gain heaven! It is also false and misleading to believe
that it is because of something in us, or about us, or because of us,
that God chooses to make us His own.
We are God’s workmanship. That means that we are the clay, and God
is the potter, as the Scriptures say. It means that we are a new
creation in Christ, as St. Paul says elsewhere.
Sometimes you can remodel a house and fix a room, or install new
cabinet fronts to old kitchen cabinets, and it looks great! But that’s
not what God does. God is not a remodeler. God is a rebuilder, from the
He created us and gave us our body, souls, eyes, ears, reason and
all our senses, and He still preserves them. He does that for everyone,
both Christians and non-Christians. He does this purely out of His
goodness and mercy as the Heavenly Father, there is nothing worthy or
of any merit in us that causes us to do this.
From the moment we are born, we are involved in a life-long struggle
with sin. It clings to the bodies God has given to us, because we are
born of flesh, sinful human flesh. There was only one person in the
history of the world who was not born into sin, and that was our Lord
Jesus Christ. He was born supernaturally, of a virgin, by the direct
action of the Holy Spirit upon the Virgin Mary. All others born of
flesh naturally share in the same judgment pronounced on all human
flesh. The Bible says very plainly: "The soul that sins shall die, and,
We are by nature children of wrath, we are, the Bible says, as we are
born into this world actually enemies of God!"
Nothing is hidden from God’s sight. He knows all things. He knows
about all the excuses you and I make to justify ourselves before
others, or in our own eyes. He knows about each and every time we have
ever violated and trampled His holy law. He knows everything about you
and me. He knows those things we would want nobody else ever to know,
the thoughts, the things we have done. He knows your sinful condition
better even than you do, or I do. We gaze into the mirror of God’s
perfect law, that perfect, holy reality, and we can do nothing but beg
for mercy and say with that man in the temple Jesus spoke about, “Lord,
be merciful to me a sinner.” With David we cry out, “I said I will
confess my sins unto the Lord” and “Create in me a new heart O God.”
And God hears our cries for mercy.
So, God is our creator, yes, but what is more, he is our redeemer and the one who makes us holy. How? In Christ.
We are God’s workmanship. . . He is the master builder. Right in the
midst of our old sinful flesh, our stinking rotten sinful humanity,
comes the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ, true God of God and light of
light. Into this fallen world, he sets up His shop. He pitches the tent
of His humanity among us and through that human flesh that He assumed
as perfect God, he lived perfectly, fulfilling everything thing that we
could not, living in our place, actively obeying the Heavenly Father,
doing all things well. Then He presented Himself for torture and
beating, whipping and punishment, on the cross, by which He paid the
price for the entire world’s sins. By that death which atoned for all
sins, which made things right with God, He has won for us the
righteousness which God gives to us as a gift. He imputes, He gives, He
bestows, God clothes us with Christ’s own holiness, won by His blood,
the blood that cleanses us from all sins. And how precisely does that
blood shed then come to us now? Through Word and Baptism and Supper. To
each of us God comes in great power and showers on us the gift of
forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness there is also life and
We are God’s workmanship! We always will be. We always are.
Throughout our life we are struggling against the old sinful nature. We
never reach a point where we can say, “There, we are done. We are
finished. We have arrived.” No, the good news of the Gospel is good
news from the moment of birth to the moment of our death, because each
and every moment of our lives is lived entirely as a result of God’s
ongoing workmanship within us, by grace, through faith, for the sake of
Christ alone, delivered and made ours through the sure and certain
external word of the Gospel and the Gospel sacraments. Therefore . .
.Paul continues . . .
Created in Christ Jesus for good works
In Holy Baptism, we are created in Christ Jesus, what a joyful and
wonderful truth! We are created in the holy, perfect, innocent Son of
God, the one whose sufferings and death won for us eternal salvation
and a life right here and now that is lived through Him and for Him . .
.a life of good works. A key concept here is the truth St. Paul wrote
about in another place in the Bible, “If anyone is in Christ, that
person is a new creation!” We are created in Christ Jesus.
In Christ Jesus. That’s what Christian life is all about. Our
pastors told us earlier in this sermon series that it is not about you,
it is all about Jesus. That is so important for us to hear. We are
created IN Christ Jesus. In Him, in His holy wounds we find perfect
peace and healing. We are created in him . . .for good works. When you
think about it, that’s kind of a no brainer, isn’t it? What else would
we be created for? But there is so much confusion on this point, even
among Christians, perhaps especially among Christians.
Some people think that Christianity is a perfect philosophy that
will help us figure out all of life’s mysteries. Not so! There will be
a lot of things we can never understand. Other people think that
Christianity is a moral code for living. Not quite. Of course the
values and morals of Christianity are right, good, perfect and noble.
But non-Christians can live very moral lives. I’m sure we could find
among non-Christians many people who from all outward appearances live
very good and noble lives, perhaps even better than you and me, so
Christianity is not about morality, first and foremost.
So, we have to be very careful when talking about good works that we
not leave ourselves or anyone else with the impression that only
Christians can be “good” and “decent” people in the eyes of world.
The key to understanding good works is the first part of the phrase,
“Created in Christ Jesus” – that is where we begin, continue and end
this discussion. In Christ, for you see, our lives of Christian
holiness, or sanctification, as we traditionally call is, is still . .
.all about Jesus. But, oh, how we want it to be about us, don’t we? I
want to say, “Come on God, I’m a fairly decent person. I can do great
things for you!” But then reality comes crashing in again as God
reminds me of all the times I have failed and continue to fail. That is
why we rejoice to hear that the life of good works to which we are
called is a life that is in Christ Jesus. For only in Christ is a work
Let me say that again. Only in Christ Jesus is a work truly good! It
may appear good to people around us, and from a human perspective, it
may actually be good. But, what makes a work good in the view of God?
Only that work that is done by one who is in Christ Jesus. Do you
remember what the prophet Isaiah had to say about all those things we
think we do that are righteous? He says that in comparison to the
holiness of God, even the very best things we think we can do, under
our own power, by our own choice, are still nothing but filthy rags!
Wow, that’s discouraging, or is it?
In Christ, I am a new creation, but I am always in Christ. When he
grabbed me and claimed me and made me His own in Holy Baptism, he
washed me clean of my sin. He said, “Paul, from this day forward you
are crucified with Christ. You are no longer living, but Christ lives
in you and the life you now are living in the flesh, you are living by
faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself up for you.” And
you say the same thing!
Therefore any works I do which are good, are works done in Christ.
So you see, it still is all about Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The
life of sanctification is really all about life IN CHRIST. Now just
about life, not about what I think is right, or what feels right, or
what seems right and good and proper, but life IN CHRIST.
So, we come to the third point of Paul’s statement, and the last and
final explanation of what we mean by “Be what you have become in
Which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them
We understand that we have been created in Christ for good works, in
fact, that is a given, a reality of life in Christ. In Christ we are
good, therefore, works done in him are good. Ok, so far so good. But
what works? How do we know what to do? Do we just let our conscience be
our guide? Well, yes, but also no. We can’t go very long if we rely
simply on our feelings or opinions or hunches. Thanks be to God, we do
not have to do that.
God has prepared works for us beforehand, that we should walk in
them. What works? When was this done? How do we know which works to
God has provided the answers in His Word. We are to walk in those
things pleasing to God. And what are those? They are best summarized in
the Ten Commandments. Life in Christ is about honoring God above all
else, cherishing and using His name rightly, honoring the Word of God
and worshipping Him only, obeying parents and others in authority, not
hurting or harming our neighbor in any way, keeping pure and undefiled
the marriage bed, loving and honoring our spouse and honoring God’s
gift of sexuality within marriage, not stealing nor doing anything to
harm our neighbor’s property or livelihood, not coveting anything that
belongs to our neighbor.
Do we sit around trying to dream up great things for God? Well, no.
Rather, we set our hands to what is before us. Some people have a
really unfortunate view of the Christian life. They think that there
are “church” things that are really holy and special and good, and then
there are just regular old, day-in and day-out things that aren’t
really special and don’t really count for much. Well, maybe not in the
eyes of the world, but in the eyes of God, the humble Christian man or
woman who goes about his or her duty in life, serving and loving the
neighbor is doing more good works than all the monks in all the
monasteries in the world can ever do.
I’m really concerned about this. Let me explain. When I was serving
a parish in Iowa I preached a sermon about living out our lives for
Christ in the place in life we find ourselves, in our various callings,
or vocations, in the station in life we are put. I told the
congregation that a mother or father who changes a baby’s diapers, a
child who obeys his or her parents, a man who goes out every morning at
4:30 and and again in the evening at 5:00 to milk the cows is
performing a wonderful, glorious work for God, because these things are
done in Christ, as one who is in Christ by grace. I had people in tears
afterwards telling me that they had never heard such things. They had
been led to believe that only if they were on church property doing
"church" things were those really good works. It is a new monasticism
friends, this attitude that "doing things for God" happens when they
are "church things" — at church, and so forth.
We are so tempted to believe that it is only the “best” and the
“brightest” and the “glitziest” works that really count. Oh, if only I
could be a pastor, then I could really serve God. Well, not in anyway
to diminish the office of the holy ministry, but how tragic that
perspective is! We are called to do the works God has set before us,
had prepared beforehand for us to do, and those works are clearly
outlined in His Word, in the Ten Commandments and anywhere else the
Scriptures give us direction and encouragement.
We do good works because we are created to do good works because we
are created in Christ. Life in Christ means a life lived to his honor
and to his glory, doing those things He wants us to do, not because by
doing them we are earning our way into his good graces, or earning
brownie points, or building up frequent flyer miles for heaven, no,
rather, it is our duty to serve and praise, thank and obey Him. How do
we praise and thank our God for the wonderful salvation and new life He
gives? We serve and obey Him, according to His Word, in those works
prepared for us beforehand, those works which we do because we have
been created in Christ as God’s workmanship.
Are Christians to be concerned about doing good works? Yes, they
are. Why? Because this is who they have become in Christ. As St. Paul
says in Galatians 2, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives
in me, and the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who
loved me and gave Himself up for me."
Dear child of God, baptized and cleansed, you are His workmanship.
By grace, you have been saved, as a gift from God, this is not anything
you have done. There is no room, or reason, for boasting. When we were
dead in our trespasses and sins, God made us alive together with
Christ. We were buried with Christ, by baptism, into death, and as
Christ was raised, so we also were raised to a new life, raised with
Christ. Therefore, we are God’s workmanship. We are created in Christ
Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should
walk in them. Enjoy the walk!
To Him be all glory, forever and ever, who with the Father and the
Holy Spirit, lives and reigns to all eternity, One God, forever and