We Must be Born to do Good Works

Lent 2 Monday

John 3:3

“Jesus answered and said to him: “Truly, truly, I say to you: Unless someone is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.””

These words make very insignificant good works or the other part of doctrine, namely, preaching about good works. Christ here does not reject good works, because works are also good, but they are to remain within their scope, in their place, for–compared to the article of doctrine I am talking about (faith and rebirth)–they are very insignificant in that they do not bring us to heaven. They also do not enable men to see the kingdom of heaven or to enter into the eternal
life, for which one must be born anew. No one belong to the church unless he is born anew. Now, these words are plain and clear, and Nicodemus is also good enough and is not lacking in good works: He humbles himself and comes to the Lord Christ…Still, the Lord says to him: This humility and holiness is worth nothing and that he does not come to heaven unless he is born anew. Now, those who believe this and consider it to be true can easily respond to the righteousness and holy thoughts of Muslims and papists and all people where one ties himself with ropes, another puts on religious gear, a third one goes on pilgrimages. The answer would be in each case: Even if you say long prayers and fast or build simple houses, these works will not get you into heaven. Likewise, putting on religious gear will also not accomplish this. Rather, this is what does it: You must be born again. This means: Now you are dead with all your works, existence, and life; you are condemned and worthless with this holy and Pharisaical righteousness…Consider this example: A child that will be born in two years is now nothing. The young woman who is to bear and give birth to the child is still a virgin. The child that is to be born of her is nothing; it cannot do anything. For that which does not first have life cannot do anything, as everyone must confess. This is also how here all the works, no matter how precious and good they may be, are nothing at all when they take place before the rebirth. These works are nothing but sin and death…By teaching this, we do not condemn good works, but we want the people to be prepared and born anew first; then they can do good works. We would like to have such people who do honestly good works. One must preach about the kind of people who are able to do good works…The papists and our opponents, the monks, do not understand this; this is why they scream that we forbid good works, which is a lie. For we preach most excellently about good works and say that good works can only be done by those who are born anew and who are born and created for good works, Ephesians 2:10. We only forbid that some want to do good works while they are not yet the kind of people to do them because they are not yet born to
do them. For good works are to be done, but they are done only by those who are born as new men and by those who shall and can do good works. If a carpenter is to build a house, his person must be there first. For what is he to build when he is not born yet? Accordingly, judge here likewise concerning all good works…I can easily don religious gear, but ask first whether you have been born anew; then ask about the works you are to do…This is our teaching: The works
of all men are nothing and are done in vain unless one is born anew first.

St. Louis ed., 7:1851-1854.

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