Why, and How, are Christians To Do Good Works?
The Augsburg Confession and the Apology set forth the reasons thus: It is necessary to do good works commanded by God, not that we may trust to earn grace by them, but because of the will and command of God, likewise to exercise faith, and for the sake of confession and giving of thanks. Urbanus Rhegius, in the booklet De formulis caute loquendi, summarizes the reasons in this way:
I. Because our good works are due obedience commanded by God which we creatures owe the Creator, and they are as it were thanksgiving for the favors of God and sacrifices pleasing to God because of Christ.
II. That our heavenly Father might be glorified thereby.
III. That our faith might be exercised and increased by our good works, so that it may grow and be stirred up.
IV. That our neighbor might be edified by our good works and spurred to imitation and be helped in need.
V. That we might make our calling sure by good works and testify that our faith is neither feigned nor dead.
VI. Though our good works do not merit either justification or salvation, yet they are to be done, since they have promises of this life and of that which is to come. 1 Ti 4:8.
In Loci communes Philipp Melanchthon lists in this order the reasons why good works are to be done:
I. Because it is God’s command, and we are debtors.
II. Lest faith be lost and the Holy Spirit grieved and driven out.
III. To avoid punishments.
IV. Since our works, though they do not fulfill the law of God and not merit eternal life, are nevertheless called by God sacrifices that both please and serve Him for the sake of Christ.
V. Since godliness has promises of this life and of that which is to come.
Luther sets forth the reasons why good works are to be done in such a way that, if they were briefly summarized, the list would be about this:
First, some have regard to God Himself, namely since it is the will of God (1 Th 4:3) and the command of God (1 Jn 4:21). And since He is our Father, it therefore behooves us children to render obedience to the Father (1 Ptr 1:14, 16–17; 1 Jn 3:2–3). And as He loved us and graciously forgave [our] sins, so we also should love the brethren, forgiving them [their] sins (Eph 4:32; 1 Jn 4:11), that God might be glorified through us (Ph 1:1; 1 Ptr 4:11; Mt 5:16). Christ also redeemed us, that, being dead to sins, we might live unto righteousness and serve Him (1 Ptr 2:24; 2 Co 5:15; Tts 2:10; Lk 1:74–75; Gl 5:25). Nor should we grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Th 4:8).
II. Some motivating reasons for good works have regard to the reborn themselves. For since we are dead to sins, we ought therefore no longer walk in sins but live unto righteousness (Ro 6:2, 18; 2 Co 5:17; Eph 5:8, 11). Likewise, that we might have sure testimony that our faith is not false, feigned, or dead, but true and living [faith], which works by love (1 Jn 2:9–10; 3:6, 10; 4:7–8; 2 Ptr 1:8; Mt 7:17; Gl 5:6). And that we might not drive out faith, grieve the Holy Spirit, [and] lose righteousness and salvation (1 Ti 1:19; 5:8; 6:10; 1 Ptr 2:11; 2 Ptr 1:9; 2:20; Ro 8:13; Gl 5:21; Cl 3:6; Eph 4:30). And that we might not draw divine punishments on ourselves (1 Co 6:9–10; 1 Th 4:6; Mt 3:10; 25:30; Lk 6:37; Ps 89:31–32).
III. Some reasons have regard to the neighbor, namely that the neighbor be helped and served by good works (Lk 14:13; 1 Jn 3:16–18). That [our] neighbor might be drawn to godliness by our example (Mt 5:16; 1 Ptr 3:1). That we be not an offense to others (1 Co 10:32; 2 Co 6:3; Ph 2:15; Heb 12:15). That we might stop the mouths of adversaries (1 Ptr 2:12; 3:16; Tts 2:7–8). And it is unimportant in what order the reasons are listed because of which good works are to be done, provided the Scripture basis of this article is retained complete and pure.
Martin Chemnitz and Luther Poellot, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments : An Enchiridion, electronic ed., 98-99 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).