Summary: One of the most siginificant paradoxes of our faith is that we’re saved by God’s grace alone; yet God created us for good works.
Sermon for 4 Lent Yr B, 30/03/2003
Based on Eph 2:10; Jn 3:21
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Now a certain man died and arrived at the pearly gates. St. Peter said: "You need one thousand points to get in. How many do you have?" "I don’t know," said the man. "Well," said Peter, "tell me all the good things you have done in your life and we’ll see what you have earned." So the man began ticking off everything he could think of. When at length he had finished, St. Peter added up the score and told him that he had accumulated one hundred points. His ego thoroughly deflated, the man hung his head and sighed, "I guess it’s only by the grace of God that I’ll ever get into this place." "That," said Peter, "is worth nine hundred points. Come on in!" 1
Although we have to remember that this is only a joke, nonetheless there is truth in it. We Lutheran Christians--especially us who even name our church Grace!--like to keep the main thing the main thing. WE BELIEVE AND LIVE BY THE BIBLICAL TRUTH THAT WE ARE SAVED BY GOD’S GRACE ALONE. It is not our doing that earns salvation. Thus, most of us Lutheran Christians would disagree with the joke that St. Peter would even give the man one hundred points in earning his salvation. We would argue with Peter and say NO, GRACE ALONE SAVES US. Both our second lesson and gospel today are classic biblical texts that affirm the saving power of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. All of us find great wisdom, comfort and inspiration in this theological and biblical truth.
Yet, as I read and studied our second lesson and gospel passages; something else jumped out at me larger than life. I’m talking about two verses in particular, which complement each other. In Ephesians 2:10 we read: "For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life."
And in John 3:21 we read: "But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that THEIR DEEDS HAVE BEEN DONE IN GOD."
This is one of THE MOST PROFOUND PARADOXES OF OUR FAITH. YES GRACE SAVES US! NO QUESTION ABOUT THAT! However, both of these verses from Ephesians and John teach us that OUR RESPONSE TO SALVATION BY GRACE ALONE IS DOING GOOD WORKS! Paul says we have been created in Christ for doing good works and that God has planned such good works before we even do them. In other words, God has planned out our destiny before we even realized it; and our destiny involves doing good works. In our gospel, we learn that doing the truth is seen by others, and as such the deeds bear witness to the activity of God at work in and through us. The image our gospel uses here is the comparison of light with darkness. Light shows up; light reveals to those who have eyes to see it. Light reveals or shows someone or something for what it truly is. BECAUSE DOING WHAT IS TRUE DOES NOT HIDE OR AVOID THE LIGHT, PEOPLE WILL BE ABLE TO SEE CLEARLY THAT GOOD DEEDS HAVE BEEN DONE IN GOD.
Martin Luther himself picked up on the important place of our response to what God has done for us in his explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism, when he said: “Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, SERVE AND OBEY HIM (i.e. God).” Serving and obeying God obviously refers here to an active faith; a faith that responds to saving grace by doing good works. This ability to recognize someone or something for who and what it is I believe is a powerful witness to the world. For example, I’m convinced that even some atheists and agnostics have a difficult go of it trying to deny the validity of the good works of say a Mother Teresa or an Albert Schweitzer. Good works DO REVEAL TO THE WORLD GOD’S SAVING ACTIVITY IN AND THROUGH US. If that’s the case, then we’ve got a lot of good work ahead of us to do! But again to emphasize—NOT BECAUSE WE’RE SAVED BY WORKS, BUT BECAUSE WE’RE SAVED BY GRACE AND WILL TRULY WANT TO DO SOMETHING IN HUMBLE GRATITIUDE TO EXPRESS THE REALITY OF WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US; BECAUSE WE’RE DESIGNED, WE’RE CREATED FOR GOD WORKS BY GOD WE WILL DO THEM. A PERSON OR A THING USUALLY DOES WHAT THEY ARE DESIGNED TO DO—OTHERWISE THEY MISS OUT ON LIFE’S MEANING AND PURPOSE.
Once there was a rooster who crowed at sun-up each morning without fail. One day, the barnyard dog said to the rooster, “I guess you think your crowing raises the sun into the sky everyday. Well, I’ve got news for you. The sun will come up whether you crow or not.”