The common denominator in all good works is that they are never done for oneself; they are always done solely for the benefit of another — and the greater the benefit to the other and the less the benefit to yourself, the greater the work. Hence Christ’s work as the Savior is above all others; He acted solely for the benefit of others. He had no need to come to earth, to endure contempt and abuse, to die, and to rise again — but we needed Him to for us. Scripture many times commends caring for widows and orphans, and likewise censures in the severest tones taking advantage of them or abusing them. Why? Because they have no helper, no one to watch out for them. To help a widow or an orphan doesn’t really do you any good (in this life, anyway) — but it does them a world of good. It’s a good deed done entirely for someone else and not for yourself. Luther hit upon this, which is why he so tirelessly promoted the doctrine of vocation — serve others in the calling God has given you (father, mother, child, as well as the work you do to eat), rather than making up your own works and then deciding you’re following God. Only works that have His command and promise are good. If you choose your own, what assurance do you have of God’s pleasure in your works? None, and you’ve got an excellent chance of verging on idolatry because you’ve chosen your own service to God rather than doing His will. Works done for the benefit of others and not for yourself, flowing out of faith in Christ, are truly good works.

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