God’s Word for You
Luke 16:29b Is believing a good work?
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, November 1, 2018
‘Let them listen to them.’”
Here we have further reminded that the means of grace are the only means available to mankind for receiving the grace of God and for escaping from the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18). The means of grace, the gospel in word and sacrament, are the marks of the Christian Church. Where the gospel is preached, and the sacraments are offered (these are the means of grace), there is the true, holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints. But since Abraham says here, “Listen,” does this believing become a work of obedience? Is faith a work done by man for his own merit?
- Faith is not a work we do in order to merit salvation, but a matter of hearing and believing the word of Christ.
First: Faith is not a good work. Paul teaches this in many places, but especially in Ephesians 2: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our faith is a gift given by God: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14). Our Confession says: “Faith does not justify or save because it is a good work in itself, but only because it accepts the promised mercy” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession 4:56).
Second: Faith is the channel through which God sends his righteousness and the merits of Jesus Christ to everyone who believes. Paul says: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). Faith, then, is like the I.V. tube through which the doctor sends medicine into a patient’s body. The tube can be torn out, but if it is, the medicine will not flow. So it is with faith. It can be rejected, but if it is, the medicine of the gospel will not flow. Likewise, through the gospel and the sacraments, our Confession says, “the Holy Spirit is given, and the Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel. That is to say, it is not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ that God justifies those who believe that they are received into favor for Christ’s sake. Galatians 3:14: ‘That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.’” (Augsburg Confession, 5:2-3).
This is also taught in the Lord’s Prayer. In the Small Catechism, Dr. Luther explains the Second Petition this way:
Your kingdom come.
What does this mean?
God’s kingdom certainly comes by itself even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.
How does God’s kingdom come?
God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and lead a godly life now on earth and forever in heaven.
Finally, the Scriptures show the way God accomplishes this in many passages. He does so by opening the hearts and minds of people through his powerful word. When Jesus walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). In the same way, when Paul instructed Lydia at the river outside of Philippi, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). God is the one who works, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). God is the one who will “grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). God is the one who removes the stony heart “and gives them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees” (Ezekiel 11:19-20). Our Confession says: “To be born anew, to receive inwardly a new heart, mind, and spirit, is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. He opens the intellect and the heart to understand the Scriptures and to heed the word” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration 2:26).
Praise God for working in us through his means, where and when it pleases him. We put our trust completely in him, like survivors trusting in the seaworthiness of a lifeboat. The worthiness of Christ will never let us down, will always hold us up, and will bring us safely home to everlasting life.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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