Derek Johnson Muses

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Good. Working on it.

So let me say this first: I believe in the Lutheran teachings about good works, that they flow from the heart of faith only, and that we can’t consciously do good works. I believe that, I really do. But I still have a question.

When I started going to St. John, I wasn’t really involved in anything. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I began helping with the tape ministry, welcomers, and serving on worship committee for the sole reason that I was bored and wanted something to do around church. I didn’t really care about the people who were getting the tapes or I was helping into church. Okay, that is not really true. Technically, I do care about people who are shut-in and in the nursing home. I’d have to be a pretty cold guy not too.

But those good works, like a number of my good works were done simply because they were right in front of me and I just didn’t want to be the bad guy. I wanted to be the bad who once in a while did something not as terrible. Does that make my good works a little less good? Well, any way I answer that question, I’ll end up saying that my good works came from me.

That’s really part of the practical problem with the Lutheran doctrine on good works. Said doctrine states that good works flow from faith, that they are the work of the Holy Spirit, and that even if we try, our good works are just filthy rags. Even when we are thinking we do a good work, it becomes soiled because we are always sinking in our sinful motivation. Perhaps my good works out of apathy reflect this to a degree. My problem with this doctrine is, how do you go out after hearing it and do anything for God, if you know that what you do will ultimately just get soiled by your sin? It’s like the problem with inception Arthur points out to Saito in Christopher Nolan ‘s movie: if you tell someone not to think about elephants, they’ll just think about elephants. If you tell a Christian that good works only flow from faith and have nothing to do with himself, won’t the Christian automatically just do good works because he was told that good works don’t come from himself?

I’m not sure how to answer that, other than to say there’s no good or perfect way to live in this fallen, sorrowful world. Trust whatever certainty you have to Christ, and seek His forgiveness and image. The sheep in the parable didn’t know their good works, so I don’t worry if I can’t know mine.

2 responses to “Good. Working on it.

  1. ben r April 13, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Thanks for the insight; “good works for selfish gain” is something I used to combat for awhile. But, I found an imperfect solution, I stopped thinking about my involvement in the “good work.” I started thinking in terms of how Christ would respond if given the opportunity. I sought to remove myself from ministry, and infuse Christ into what I was doing. After being paid to work in a homeless shelter for a year, I realized that once I treated what i was doing as a “job” or a “duty.” And i made it about myself, it became work, and eventually torturous. Whether thats tape ministry, getting sandwhiches for a homeless guy, or counseling someone who probably isn’t going to listen to what you are saying, I had to continually make it less about myself, and more about Christ. Even if our motivations are wrapped in some sort of sin, we have to remember that God can still use that for his glory.

    Also, sometimes things just need to be done. Sometimes I have to help in the childrens area at church, not because its something I am gifted at, but because we always need volunteers. It just needs help.

    • Derek Johnson April 17, 2013 at 9:52 am

      Thanks for your thoughts. It is conflict, and sometimes just doing something good just because it’s not something bad is the lesser of two evils. I’d also add to what I said is that it’s important to always put your neighbor’s need first in mind.

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