“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)
Since the start of the Reformation some 500 years ago, critics have used Bible passages such as this against Lutheran Christians. They claim that we discount the Christian life while overemphasizing the justification by grace through faith in Jesus. Instead, Lutherans emphasize both being saved by God and serving in God’s name.
It’s true, conservative Lutherans do not have the same emphasis on good works as the Roman Catholic Church. However, this isn’t because we downplay godly living. It’s because the Roman Catholic Church teaches that good works earn the merits of Jesus’ forgiveness. This is not a biblical teaching, so Lutherans reject it.
Instead, Lutherans teach that that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. Good works flow from this forgiveness and acceptance by God. Both are vitally important because Scripture teaches both.
Given human nature, the Lutheran practice of good works is more sustainable. Doing good works to appease God places all the weight for works on our shoulders. Human nature ultimately rebels against such weight. However, when good works flow from God’s grace, it is not a burden to serve God and serve our neighbor. Due to the work of God the Holy Spirit, such good works are sustainable.
(A Second Look devotions are written for the congregations of the Ohio District LCMS.)