When you are taking a walk, cleaning your house, taking out the trash, eating lunch, changing a baby’s diaper, sleeping, working at your profession or replacing a lightbulb in your closet, you are engaging in everyday things that often seem to have no significance. Even as a Christian, much of your life revolves around these insignificant things. You may start to feel that your only activities of real significance come when you are engaged in “spiritual” things like singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, reading Scripture, witnessing to your neighbors, praying or participating in worship services. The rest of life’s ordinary things are sometimes enjoyable, at times boring, and often just plain hard work—but are they “good works” that please God? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of your everyday life counted for something?
In the years leading up to the time of the Reformation, the Church taught that good works were crucial. A person seeking salvation did good works so that God would consider that person righteous enough to enter purgatory. From there, it took the prayers of people still living on earth, and of the saints in heaven, to eventually prevail upon God to usher the person into the splendors of heaven. But only truly spiritual good works had merit with God. The rest of life—the normal, ordinary things of life—did not have eternal significance.
Then Martin Luther came upon the scene and rediscovered the truth from Romans 1:17 that “the righteous will live by faith,” and that righteousness is a gift of God received through faith in Jesus Christ. Luther came to the realization that the good works he had been doing as a monk to earn God’s favor (whipping himself, beating his body, living life in a monastery, etc.) were not good works at all, but were what is described in Isaiah 64:6 as “filthy rags.” Luther came to the conclusion that the good works that Christians can do are not directed toward God at all but toward our neighbors. Luther stated, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”
Luther spoke about good works in the context of vocation. Vocation is everything that describes your place in this world. Vocation is your role as a mother, father, daughter, son, brother, sister, carpenter, farmer, doctor, homemaker, pastor, teacher, consumer, golfer, hiker, hunter, swimmer, church member, citizen…
Vocation is the means by which we express the goodness of God to our neighbors. It is the means by which we serve our neighbors. Just as God serves us through the Word and sacraments, we now love and serve our neighbors through “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
As a child of God going about the routine tasks of life, even those that need to be done every day, you can rejoice in this: God considers all those things you do that contribute to the greater good of your family, your neighborhood, your church, your business, your country, or your world as good works with which he is pleased!
Roy Heggland serves the CLB as Associate for Biblical Stewardship.