Glorifying our Father through good deeds
- Psalm 24:1-10
- Matthew 5:1-18
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This is the last sermon in our series about Good Works. In this series we heard the Word of God telling us that one can be lost in spite of being good. The Word also taught us that good works can indeed destroy the purposes of grace if understood wrongly. Then we heard that God saves us in Christ Jesus Christ to do good works – we are saved by grace alone, but grace is never alone. Then the Bible taught us that a major purpose for good works is to look after one another as fellow-believers. An expression of good works id further a way in which we become partners in the Gospel as we support the work of others called to proclaim the Word in places where they have not heard the Gospel. We also learned from the Word of God that it is important to do good to our enemy, just as God showed mercy to us when we were still his enemy. Last time we learned that investing in one another as part of good works is to take hold of the true life. Today the Holy Spirit will teach us the overarching purpose of doing good.
Doing good – something different to different people
The concept of good works to a Pharisee implied to live a holy life – yes, according to the Law of God, even if it meant that one has to make 613 laws out of the 10 God commanded – with as purpose, somewhere in the mix, at least to be seen by your fellows as a good person. So important was doing good to a Pharisee that he would stop when he were walking on the street when it was time for the morning of afternoon prayer. Right there on the street corner everyone cold see how pious he really was. In a way he were doing what Jesus told his disciples to do:
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19, NIV)
When Jesus got stuck into them in Matthew 23 He said:
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. (Matthew 23:5–7, NIV)
And in verse 24:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:23–24, NIV)
Little wonder then that our Lord told his disciples:
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20, NIV)
In a way the good works of the Pharisee was extremely selfish: it was about him, his good goods, and what people thought of him. But was missing was justice, mercy and faithfulness. They of course would argue the point, but that is what is was in the eyes of God.
Good works without Christ, and not done for his glory, may attract applause and commendation of this world, but they are useless and repugnant in the eyes of God.
The Roman Catholic
I am referring here to official Catholic teaching; individual Catholics might see things otherwise.
The matter here is once again the important things Christ Himself touched on: mercy, justice and faithfulness. Catholic teaching has it that man cannot save himself and that all sinners indeed need the grace of God in Jesus Christ to be saved. But to gain the righteousness God demands one has to do good works. These good works are only possible if because of the work of Christ. But here’s where we differ from them: righteousness to the Catholic is infused, not imputed. This is the difference: imputed righteousness is a righteousness accounted to us because of the complete righteousness of Jesus Christ as mediator between us and God, and becomes ours. not be works, but by faith. Infused righteousness is something God gives man based on what Christ has done, giving man now the power to do good works which he has to work out in order to be saved. In a way then, man completes what Christ has begun. Without these good works all is lost and man might not attain eternal life, and as such has to spend some time in purgatory. What is helpful is the use of the sacraments, like baptism and eucharist for they strengthen man to continue in good works.
The evangelical protestant
To a protestant good works might have connotations of earning ones salvation, and sometimes good works are not valued. I trust that this series changed your mind if you were that way inclined.
Up to now the Bible taught us that were are saved, not be good works but by grace alone. We cannot earn our salvation, neither is there anything we do or can do to gain the righteousness required to be saved. Our righteousness is imputed, or reckoned, or accounted to us by faith and faith alone. All of this is because possible because Christ came between us and God and made atonement for us. “God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might receive the righteousness of God.” (2Corinthians 5:21) And we also understood from the Bible that “… we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepares in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) Our good works is therefore not things we consider good, but things God deems good based in the righteousness of Christ.
Doing good to the glory of the Father
When Jesus called his first disciples to Him and began to teach them on the mountain, He called them “blessed”.
What does blessed mean? The Greek word is sometimes translated as “happy,” but the word happy is based on the old Anglo Saxon word hap, which means chance, as in “whatever happens”. In this sense happy can just be another word for lucky.
The Greek word is used to describe a person who is especially favoured by God and who is therefore in some sense happy or fortunate because of it. In a sense then Jesus is describing a complete new group of people who through Him and what He came to do, would be really blessed. They are blessed not be what they do, but by what they are.
Our world might have it the other way round. “Blessed are the rich, for they have it all and have it all now; blessed are the happy, for they are content with themselves and don’t need others; blessed are the arrogant, for people defer to them; blessed are those who fight for the good things in life, for they will get them; blessed are the sophisticated, for they will have a good time.” (Montgomery Boice)
But because of Christ those He calls to be his followers are truly blessed: although poor, they have the kingdom of heaven; although mourning, they will be comforted; although meek, they will inherit the earth; because they are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, they will be filled; because the are merciful, they will receive mercy; because they are pure in heart, they will see God; because they are peacemakers, they are called sons of God; because they are persecuted because of righteousness they will receive the kingdom of heaven.
Nowhere in this sermon of the Lord, when addressing his disciples does He commend them for their blessedness; He merely states to those whom He called that they are indeed be favoured – even if things may get tough for them following their Lord.
The Law fulfilled, not abolished
How do we do good works? What is our measure? What is our standard? When can works be called “good”?
Our Lord wanted his disciples to understand that what the Pharisees did with the Law was not God’s intention with the Law – they failed miserably. On the other hand to be called “blessed” or “favoured”, having received grace for the merciful God does not mean that Christians can do or live as they wish: their standard for living remains the Law. Jesus declared:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17, NIV)
What does this mean? Firstly, that everyone of the Ten Commandments, broken by us was lived out to its full sense by Christ. He was sinless and He met the righteousness of God. Faith unites us with Him so that what He did by faith we did – and it is only based on this that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us. Secondly, Christ bore the full penalty of us by falling short of the glory of God for breaking the Law. In these two ways He fulfilled the Law. He did not come to do away with it. It is therefore wrong to think that grace replaced the law and that because of it we are not under the law anymore. We are not under the Law in the sense that the Law condemns anymore, but it does not take away that redeemed sinners still need to live by the standard of the Law to glorify the Father. For this reason Christ addressed issues like murder, adultery, divorce, love for the neighbour, and prayer in the sermon on the mount.
Salt and light
When our Lord continues his sermon after all the pronouncements of blessedness He teaches the disciples what they are, not what they ought to be. Being called into the Kingdom of God make them people who act and live for the glory of God who saved them. As such saved people are by nature different: they act like salt and light.
Why salt? Because the world Christians live in is corrupt in every way: man’s sinful nature drives him to hate God and his fellow man. People blaspheme God and his Son. His name is not honoured, his word count for nothing; little wonder then that men fabricates his own gods for his own pleasure. The result is dishonesty in marriage, disrespect for parents and those in authority; our world is full of theft, murder, lies and envy. In short, to use the Lord’s words, there is a general lack of justice, mercy and faithfulness. Our world is a dark place, and it is getting darker all the time.
Why salt? Salt was used in Old Testament times when people made agreements with one another. The idea was that partners did not lie to one another – they were faithful, their contract was built on righteousness and they will be faithful to their word.
What Christ has in mind with the figure of salt is that his disciples check the moral corruption of the world, so that it does not quickly perish in its own moral rottenness. There is the fresh demand for abortion, for the redefinition of marriage, for euthanasia and other forms of moral corruption. Now is the time for the church to stand firm. Someone said, “The world would prefer that we were honey instead of salt.” This is true. The church is called the pillar and foundation of the truth, not because of the calibre of its people, but because of the Word, which is infallible and the faithful Word of the living God.
Salt is not food, and is this way the church are not to provide food, but called to prevent the food from getting rotten.
Why light? Because this word is a dark place. Our Lord is the light that shines in the darkness and He made us to be lights. He made us like cities on a mountain, and like a lantern on a lampstand. It is visible, it gives direction and hope. It almost seems like Christians work like salt, not always visible, but surely; and in the same time very visible like a light tower on the dark sea shore to guide ships away from the rocks, and other times bringing them safely into the harbour.
Should the church stop being salt and light it becomes worthless, good only enough to be trodden on and be ridiculed by the world.
No, God has put us up like a light in bright display to hold out the light of salvation to a corrupt world. If we do this in faithfulness to our Saviour, always understanding that we received his righteousness to be saved from sin so that we will not come in judgment of the Father, then, and then alone, do we understand something of letting our lights shine before the men that they may see our good deeds – and praise our Father in heaven.
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 11 May 2014