Saved Unto True Good Works (Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity)
Saved unto True Good Works – [Read Matthew 22:34-40]
Nobody plants an apple tree to watch it die or a vegetable garden to watch it shrivel. The fruit on the branch doesn’t give life to the tree, but a lack of fruit does indicate a dead or dying tree.
Many people, even unbelievers or greatly evil people, can do what are called “good deeds”. But the True good works – the works God is looking for – are the fruits of a true love for the One True God and love for what He’s created and redeemed, your neighbor.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then says, “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 22:37-40]
All of God’s Word, all the Scriptures, all God’s commands, and all true good works, hang on these two commands: Love God; love your neighbor. In other words, a good deed not done for the love of the true God is not a good deed at all. The true good works are the fruits of this love for God and for His creatures.
Love God. Love your neighbor. The two great commands. Some live a moral life, failing to understand that their whole moral life is sin because they haven’t done it in a sincere love for the true God. Others – and this might be more prevalent – others misconstrue these two great commands, “love God, love your neighbor”, to mean that as long as they have love for others, they can disregard all those yucky commands in God’s Word that they don’t like – because God really only cares that I love others.
This, of course, is false. How can I claim to love God with all my heart when I don’t have a love in my heart for what my God commands? How can I claim to love God with all my mind while fighting against God’s commands will all my intellect?
To love the true God means to embrace all the Word and Commands of that true God as my most valuable possession in life. And loving my neighbor means keeping God’s commands, not neglecting them. Scripture says it, “By this we know that we love the children of God (our Christian neighbor), when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” [1 John 5:2-3].
Love God. Love your neighbor. On these two depend all the commandments. “And His commandments are not burdensome” [1 John 5:3] – the true good works flow freely from a true love.
Yet it remains that the fruit does not give life to the tree, but the tree to the fruit. Make the root healthy, and then the fruit will grow. The true good works of love for God and love for neighbor do not make the Christian and do not produce eternal life and salvation. Instead, God makes the Christian and gives him eternal life and salvation. This life and salvation, like a living root, produces the love and the works.
So, if you would be a fruitful tree that produces the works of love – the obedience to God’s commands – what should you do? Receive in yourself that which bestows life and salvation to the root. Receive what God gives. Receive His Word preached. Receive His Word read. Receive absolution for confessed sins. Receive the Body and Blood of Christ given on the cross, given to you here in this meal. Receive. Make the root healthy. Then the tree will produce freely. Let God give life to your roots by receiving His gifts of salvation unto that end.
But I want to switch gears here for a moment, brothers and sisters, and ask a question – a question that I think some of you have in yourselves – and I want to talk about one specific good work, good fruit, that we perhaps haven’t talked about often enough.
Here’s the question: How do I get out of the doldrums? In other words, what if my heart just isn’t in it? I receive God’s Word, I receive the Sacrament, I love God, I love Christ, but my heart is half-hearted, stuck in the mud, not going anywhere. What do I do?
It’s true that good works are the result of an already existing love, yet it’s also true that the heart tends to follow after actions. Your physical heart pumps faster only after your arms and legs start moving. In the same way, your heart of love for God jumps to life when you become active for God’s commands. In other words, don’t wait for your heart to be in it. Instead, first do what you ought to do, and your heart of love for God will follow and grow. The heart tends to follow your actions.
Our Lord Jesus taught us this very lesson in regards to one specific action. Jesus said that our heart follows our giving. Our heart follows our treasure. Wherever our treasure goes – wherever we give it - our heart follows it there. Here’s what Jesus said:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” [Matthew 6:19-21]
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Not, “where your heart is, there your treasure will go”, but instead, “where your treasure goes, there your heart will go.” Our treasure in life – our wealth, our budget, and our extra – has heartstrings attached to it. Wherever we send it, our heart goes there with it.
“I know I love God, but I just can’t get my heart into it.” Our Lord has taught us that as we give of our treasure in life to His Kingdom and to His purposes, our heart will follow. Thereby our heart grows for Him. “I know I ought to love my neighbor, but my heart just isn’t moved for them.” As you give to the purpose of aiding your neighbor in need, your heart will follow your money to them. Your heart for them will grow by the giving.
As it is, by nature, our heart is anchored to this world and life. And there are many good ways we spend our treasure in life, in big ways, that we don’t find strange at all. We don’t find it strange at all to spend our thousands on vacations, our tens-of-thousands on vacation homes or on an extra car, or to spend our hundreds on big ticket items for our homes. We don’t find is strange to spend hefty wealth on a new TV or new furniture or carpet in our house just because we’re tired of the old. If it’s in our budget and we can afford it, this is very normal to do.
Yet, it’s become abnormal to spend in the same way for God’s Kingdom and for God’s house and for God’s purposes. We instead give to God as an afterthought or an extra. Afterthought giving carries to God only the afterthought of our heart. Where our treasure doesn’t go, our heart doesn’t go either.
The true fruit of love for God is the first-fruits, not the last-fruits or the second-hand fruits. The woman who gave two mites did so because that what was all she had. It wasn’t sanctified spare change. The true good work and the fruit of love for the true God is a heart that spends on God’s house in the same way that it spends on its own life and its own house – even in big ways.
Giving is one of the many ways that love for God shows itself in a concrete, tangible way. Love God. Love your neighbor. But most of all remember this, brothers and sisters: Love for God begins only with God’s love for you. “We love because He first loved us” [1 John 4:19]. We now must talk about the One Man who truly did love God His Father with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, and who loved His neighbor as Himself.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God and your Savior, loved God in obedience even unto death on the cross. He is the only one who has loved fully. And Jesus Christ truly loved His neighbor as Himself – You are His neighbor, and He gave His life for you – each one of you.
Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God. His death takes away your sin – including your sin of not loving with all your heart. When Jesus died, the Innocent One was dying for the Guilty Many. By His atoning death on the cross, your sin and my sin is forgiven – your lack of love and my lack of love is forgiven. Yet by that free forgiveness, our love now begins to grow.
Ultimately, all true good works in you are the fruit of Jesus Christ’s good work on the cross. Now Jesus is risen and lives. His life and work is alive and working in you. Let’s live in faith. Let’s live trusting our sins are forgiven, and trusting that God, through Christ, will continue to feed our roots and will produce good works among His people. He has saved us unto these true good works. Amen.