Article XII: Of good works

This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.

Article XII: Of good works
Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God’s judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

This Article is the sequel to the previous Article on justification. You might even call this Soteriology Week here on 7WD. Woo hoo! Yes, friends, we’re here to talk about salvation again. Today we dig into “good works” a bit.

As I wrote yesterday, we must remember that good works are not what puts us right with God. Getting right with God is what justification accomplishes, and that is God’s free gift to us. Good works flow from true faith. In other words, when we get right with God, we start doing good things.

This one plays itself out in all sorts of ways. In pastoral contexts, people imagine that God is a cosmic scorekeeper, giving you lots of red lights if you swore too much, and perhaps rewarding you with a good parking space for a donation to a homeless person. In that world, you’ll never come out ahead. Fortunately, we don’t have to DO things to get on God’s good side.

Instead, we can bask in the glow of pure grace. We’re not very good at receiving unearned gifts in the US. We always expect that there is some sort of cost to us. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” But with God there actually is such a thing as a free lunch. To be specific, there is such a thing as a free banquet of everlasting life in God’s presence. Wow! Isn’t that cool?

In the moments we manage to grasp that, we will be filled with gratitude more than we can express. We will have an overwhelming desire to do all sorts of great things — to share the faith that is in us, to feed the hungry, to work for justice, to love the unlovable, and to praise God with our whole being. That’s just the start of it.

In fact, if we look around our churches and see decline and fear, we must conclude that there is not a true and lively faith present. When our church gets it right, we will be filled with a life so vast that it will spill outside our walls. When that takes hold, we will thrive — as a church and as individuals inside the church.

As long as we understand that we do good things because of God’s love for us, and not to earn it, we’ll be in good shape.

Here are some questions for pondering or meditation:

  • Do good works bring us closer to God?
  • Can good works take us away from God?
  • How do we obtain a “true and lively” faith?
  • What might our churches be like if we were to “spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith”?
  • Do you suppose non-Christians can discern in us the fruits of our faith? Why or why not?

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Image courtesy of flickr user angelocesare.

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