EXHORTATION TO TRULY GOOD WORKS.
[The following sermon is taken from volume VII:217-230
of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids,
MI). It was originally published in 1909 in English by The Luther Press
(Minneapolis, MN), as Luther's Epistle Sermons, vol. 2. This e-text
was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher, it is in the public domain and
it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]
1. We have been hearing of the glorious message of Christ's resurrection,
how that resurrection took place and how we must believe, for our own blessing,
comfort and salvation. Now, that we may be sincerely thankful to God for
this inestimable blessing, and that our attitude toward the doctrine of
the resurrection may be one to truly honor and glorify it, we must hear
also, and practice, the apostles' teaching of its essential fruits, and
must manifest them in our lives. Therefore, we will select Paul's admonition
to the Colossians (ch. 3), which has to do with this topic particularly.
Observe here, Paul exhorts Christians to be incited by the resurrection
of Christ unto works truly good and becoming; the text declares unto us
the supreme blessing and happiness the resurrection brings within our reach--remission
of sins and salvation from eternal death. Lest, however, our wanton, indolent
nature deceive itself by imagining the work is instantaneously wrought
in ourselves, and that simply to receive the message is to exhaust the
blessing, Paul always adds the injunction to examine our hearts to ascertain
whether we rightly apprehend the resurrection truth.
HOW WE ARE RISEN WITH CHRIST.
2. By no means are we simply to assent to the words of the doctrine.
Christ does not design that we be able merely to accept and speak intelligently
of it, but that its influence be manifest in our lives. How is a dead man
profited, however much life may be preached to him, if that preaching does
not make him live? Or of what use is it to preach righteousness to a sinner
if he remain in sin? or to an erring, factious individual if he forsake
not his error and his darkness? Even so, it is not only useless but detrimental,
even pernicious in effect, to listen to the glorious, comforting and saving
doctrine of the resurrection if the heart has no experience of its truth;
if it means naught but a sound in the ears, a transitory word upon the
tongue, with no more effect upon the hearer than as if he had never heard.
According to Paul in the text, this nobly-wrought and precious resurrection
of Christ essentially must be, not an idle tale of fancy, futile as a dead
hewn-stone or painted-paper image, but a powerful energy working in us
a resurrection through faith--an experience he calls being risen with Christ;
in other words, it is dying unto sin, being snatched from the power of
death and hell and having life and happiness in Christ. In the second chapter
(verse 12), the apostle puts it plainly, "buried with him in baptism, wherein
ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised
him from the dead."
3. If, Paul says, ye have apprehended by faith the resurrection of Christ
and have received its power and consolation, and so are risen with him,
that resurrection will surely be manifest in you; you will feel its power,
will be conscious of its working within. The doctrine will be something
more than words; it will be truth and life. For them who do not thus apprehend
the resurrection, Christ is not yet risen, although his rising is none
the less a fact; for there is not within them the power represented by
the words "being risen with Christ," the power which renders them truly
dead and truly risen men.
So Paul's intent is to make us aware that before we can become Christians,
this power must operate within us; otherwise, though we may boast and fancy
ourselves believing Christians, it will not be true. The test is, are we
risen in Christ--is his resurrection effective in us? Is it merely a doctrine
of words, or one of life and operating power?
4. Now, what is the process of the life and death mentioned? How can
we be dead and at the same time risen? If we are Christians we must have
suffered death; yet the very fact that we are Christians implies that we
live. How is this paradox to be explained? Indeed, certain false teachers
of the apostles' time understood and explained the words in a narrow sense
making them mean that the resurrection of the dead is a thing of the past
according to Paul's words in Second Timothy 1, 10, and that there is no
future resurrection from temporal death. The believer in Christ, they said,
is already risen to life; in all Christians the resurrection is accomplished
in this earthly life. They sought to prove their position by Paul's own
words, thus assailing the article of the resurrection.
5. But we will ignore these teachers as being condemned by Paul, and
interpret the words as he meant them, his remarks both preceding and following
making it clear and unquestionable that he refers to the spiritual resurrection.
This fact is certain: If we are, at the last day, to rise bodily, in our
flesh and blood, to eternal life, we must have had a previous spiritual
resurrection here on earth. Paul's words in Romans 8, 11 are: "But if the
Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that
raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal
bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you." In other words: God having
quickened, justified and saved you spiritually, he will not forget the
body, the building or tabernacle of the living spirit; the spirit being
in this life risen from sin and death, the tabernacle, or the corruptible
flesh-and-blood garment, must also be raised; it must emerge from the dust
of earth, since it is the dwelling-place of the saved and risen spirit,
that the two may be reunited unto life eternal.
6. The apostle, then, is not in this text referring to the future resurrection
of the body, but to the spiritual rising which entails the former. He regards
as one fact the resurrection of the Lord Christ, who brought his body again
from the grave and entered into life eternal, and the resurrection of ourselves,
who, by virtue of his rising, shall likewise be raised: first, the soul,
from a trivial and guilty life shall rise into a true, divine and happy
existence; and second, from this sinful and mortal body shall rise out
of the grave an immortal, glorious one.
So Paul terms believing Christians both "dead" and "alive." They are
spiritually dead in this life and also spiritually alive. Nevertheless,
this sinful temporal life must yet come to an end in physical death, for
the destruction of the sin and death inherent therein, that body and spirit
may live forever. Therefore he says:
"If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that
are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God."
7. In other words: Seek and strive after what is above--the things divine,
heavenly and eternal; not the terrestrial, perishable, worldly. Make manifest
the fact that you are now spiritually raised and by the same power will
later be raised bodily.
8. But does this mean that we, as Christians, are no more to eat and
drink, to till the ground, to attend to domestic or public duties, or to
engage in any kind of labor? Are we to live utterly idle, practically dead?
Is that what you mean, Paul, when you say we are not to seek the things
of earth, though all these are essentially incident to life? What can you
say to the fact that Christ the Lord is, himself, with us on earth? for
he said before his ascension to heaven (Mt 28, 20): "Lo, I am with you
always, even unto the end of the world"; and also the baptism which he
commands, the sacrament and the office of Gospel ministry whereby he governs
his Church here--these are things of earth.
9. Paul, however, explains in the succeeding verse what he means by
"things that are upon the earth" and "things that are above." He is not
telling us to despise earthly objects. He does not refer to God's created
things, all which are good, as God himself considered them; nor has he
reference to the Christian who, in his earthly life, must deal with the
things of creation. He has in mind the individual without knowledge of
God; who knows no more, and aims no further, than reason teaches, that
reason received from parents at physical birth; who is an unbeliever, ignorant
of God and the future life and caring not for them; who follows only natural
understanding and human desire and seeks merely personal benefit, honor,
pride and pleasure. The apostle calls that a worldly life where the Word
of God is lacking, or at least is disregarded, and where the devil has
rule, impelling to all vices.
Paul would say: Ye must be dead to a worldly life of this sort, a life
striven after by the heathen, who disregard God's Word and suffer the devil
to have his way with them. Ye must prove the resurrection of Christ in
you to be something more than vain words. Ye must show there is a living
power manifest in you because ye are risen, a power which makes you lead
a different life, one in obedience to the Word and will of God, and called
the divine, heavenly life. Where this change does not take place, it is
a sign ye are not yet Christians but are deceiving yourselves with vain
10. Under the phrase "things that are upon the earth"--worldly things--Paul
includes not only gross, outward vices, sins censurable in the eyes of
the world, but also greater immoralities; everything, in fact, not in accordance
with the pure Word of God, faith and true Christian character.
SPIRITUAL AND CARNAL WORLDLINESS.
11. In order to a better understanding of the text, we shall adopt Paul's
customary classification of life as spiritual and carnal. Life on earth
is characterized as of the spirit, or spiritual; and of the flesh, or carnal.
But the spiritual life may be worldly. The worldly spiritual life is represented
by the vices of false and self-devised doctrine wherein the soul lives
without the Word of God, in unbelief and in contempt of God; or, still
worse, abuses the Word of God and the name of Christ in false doctrine,
making them a cover and ornament for wicked fraud, using them falsely under
a show of truth, under pretense of Christian love.
This is worldly conduct of the spiritual kind. It is always the worst,
ever the most injurious, since it is not only personal sin, but deceives
others into like transgression. Paul refers, in the epistle lesson for
Easter, to this evil as the "old leaven" and the "leaven of wickedness."
And in Second Corinthians 7, 1, he makes the same classification of spiritual
and carnal sin, saying, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of
flesh and spirit." By defilement of the spirit he means those secret, subtle
vices wherewith man pollutes and corrupts his inner life in the sight of
God; his sins not being manifest to the world, but deceiving human reason
12. If we would be Christians we must, first of all, be dead to conduct
of this sort. We must not receive nor tolerate the worldly doctrine and
corrupt inventions originating with ourselves, whether in the nature of
reason, philosophy or law, theories ignoring the Word of God or else falsely
passing under its name. For such are wholly of the world; under their influence
man has no regard to God's will and seeks not his kingdom and eternal life.
They are meant merely to further the individual's own honor, pride, renown,
wisdom, holiness or something else. Though boast is made of the Gospel
and of faith in Christ, yet it is not serious, and the individual continues
without power and without fruit.
13. If we are risen with Christ through faith, we must set our affections
upon things not earthly, corruptible, perishable, but upon things above--the
heavenly, divine, eternal; in other words, upon doctrine right, pure and
true, and whatever is pleasing to God, that his honor and Christ's kingdom
may be preserved. Thus shall we guard ourselves against abuse of God's
name, against false worship and false trust and that presumption of self-
holiness which pollutes and defrauds the spirit.
14. Under carnal worldliness Paul includes the gross vices, enumerating
in particular here, fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, and so on,
things which reason knows to be wicked and condemns as such. The spiritual
sins take reason captive and deceive it, leaving it powerless to guard
against them. They are termed spiritual sins not simply because of their
spirit-polluting character, for all vices pollute the spirit, the carnal
vices among them; but because they are too subtle for flesh and blood to
discern. The sins of the flesh, however, are called carnal, or body-polluting,
because committed by the body, in its members.
Now, as we are to be dead unto spiritual sins, so are we to be dead
unto carnal sins, or at least to make continual progress toward that end,
striving ever to turn away from all such earthly things and to look toward
the heavenly and divine. He who continues to seek carnal things and to
be occupied with them, has not as yet with Christ died unto the world.
Not having died, he is not risen; the resurrection of Christ effects nothing
in him. Christ is dead unto him and he unto Christ.
15. Paul's admonition is particularly necessary at the present time.
We see a large and constantly-increasing number who, despite their boast
of the Gospel and their certain knowledge of the polluting and condemning
power of spiritual and carnal sins, continue in their evil course, forgetful
of God's wrath, or endeavoring to trust in false security. Indeed, it is
a very common thing for men to do just as they please and yet pretend innocence
and seek to avoid censure. Some would represent themselves guileless as
lambs and blameless; no act of theirs may be regarded evil or even wrong.
They pretend great virtue and Christian love. Yet they carry on their insidious,
malicious frauds, imposing falsehoods upon men. They ingeniously contrive
to make their conduct appear good, imagining that to pass as faultless
before men and to escape public censure means to deceive God also. But
they will learn how God looks upon the matter. Paul tells us (Gal 6, 7)
God will not, like men, be mocked. To conceal and palliate will not avail.
Nothing will answer but dying to vice and then striving after what is virtuous,
divine and becoming the Christian character.
16. Paul enumerates some gross and unpardonable vices--fornication,
or unchastity, and covetousness. He speaks also of these in Ephesians 5,
3-5 and in First Thessalonians 4, 3-7, as we have heard in the epistle
lessons for the second and third Sundays in Lent. He enjoins Christians
to guard against these sins, to be utterly dead to them. For they are sensual,
acknowledged such even among the gentiles; while we strive after the perfect
purity becoming souls who belong to Christ and in heaven. It is incumbent
upon the Christian to preserve his body modest, and holy or chaste; to
refrain from polluting himself by fornication and other unchastity, after
the manner of the world.
17. Similarly does the apostle forbid covetousness, to which he gives
the infamous name of idolatry in the effort to make it more hideous in
the Christian's eyes, to induce him to shun it as an abominable vice intensely
hated of God. It is a vice calculated to turn a man wholly from faith and
from divine worship, until he regards not, nor seeks after, God and his
Word and heavenly treasures, but follows only after the treasures of earth
and seeks a god that will give him enough of earthly good.
18. Much might be said on this topic were we to consider it relative
to all orders and trades in succession. For plainly the world, particularly
in our day, is completely submerged in the vice of covetousness. It is
impossible to enumerate the subtle arts it can invent, and the good and
beautiful things it knows how to pass off whereunder it masks itself as
a thing not to be considered sinful, but rather extremely virtuous and
indicative of uprightness. And so idolatry ever does. While before God
it is the worst abomination, before the world its appearance and reputation
are superior. So far from being recognized as sin, it is considered supreme
holiness and divine worship.
The very worship of Mammon wears an imposing mask. It must not be called
covetousness or dishonest striving after property, but must be known as
upright, legitimate endeavor to obtain a livelihood, a seeking to acquire
property honestly. It ingeniously clothes itself with the Word
of God, saying God commands man to seek his bread by labor, by his own
exertions, and that every man is bound to provide for his own household.
No civil government, no, nor a preacher even, can censure covetousness
under that guise unless it be betrayed in gross robbing and stealing.
19. Let every man know that his covetousness will be laid to the charge
of his own conscience, that he will have to answer for it, for God will
not be deceived. It is evident the vice is gaining ground. With its false
appearance and ostentation, and its world-wide prevalence, it is commonly
accepted as legal. Without censure or restraint, men are engrossed in coveting
and accumulating to the utmost. Those having position and power think they
have the right to acquire by violence as much as they can, daily making
assessments and imposts, and new oppressions and impositions upon the poor.
And the common rabble seek gain by raising prices, by extortion, fraud,
and so on. Yet all desire not to be charged with wrong-doing; they would
not they should be called unchristian on account of their conduct. Indeed,
such excess of covetousness obtains that the public robbing and stealing,
and the faithlessness and fraud, of the meanest hirelings, servants and
maids everywhere can no longer be restrained.
20. But who would care to recount the full extent of this vice in all
dealings and interests of the world between man and man? Enough has been
said to induce every one who aims to be a Christian to examine his own
heart and, if he find himself guilty of such vice, to refrain; if not,
to know how to guard against it. Every individual can readily perceive
for himself what is consistent with Christian character in this respect,
what can be allowed with a good conscience; for he has Christ's rule of
dealing as we would be dealt with, which insures equality and justice.
Where unfairness exists, covetousness must obtain to some extent.
21. If you will not desist from the vice of covetousness, then know
you are not a Christian, not a believer, but, as Paul calls you, a base,
detestable idolater, having no part in God's kingdom; for you are living
wholly to the world and without intent to rise with Christ. You will receive
no blessing from the joy-inspiring and gracious revelation that Christ
died and rose for sinners. You cannot say, "Therefore he died for me, I
trust." Truly, Christ died for you, but if you continue in your wickedness,
using this revelation as a cloak for your mean covetousness, do not--such
is the declaration of the text--by any means apply that comforting promise
to yourself. Although Christ indeed died and rose for all, yet unto you
he is not risen; you have not apprehended his resurrection by faith. You
have seen the smoke but have not felt the fire; you have heard the words
but have received nothing of their power.
THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST.
22. If you would be able honestly to boast of this revelation as unto
you, if you would have the comfort of knowing that Christ, through his
death and resurrection, has blessed you, you must not continue in your
old sinful life, but put on a new character. For Christ died and rose for
the very purpose of effecting your eventual death with him and your participation
in his resurrection: in other words, he died that you might be made a new
man, beginning even now, a man like unto himself in heaven, a man having
no covetous desire or ambition for advantage over a neighbor, a man satisfied
with what God grants him as the result of his labor, and kind and beneficent
to the needy.
23. In his desire to arouse Christians to the necessity of guarding
against such vices as he mentions, Paul strengthens his admonition, in
conclusion, by grave threats and visions of divine wrath, saying, "for
which things' sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience";
that is, upon the unbelieving world, which regards not the Word of God,
does not fear or believe in it nor strive to obey it, and yet is unwilling
to be charged with idolatry and other unchristian principles, desiring
rather to be considered righteous and God's own people.
In the last quoted clause Paul also implies that worldly conduct, the
life of worldly lusts such as covetousness and other vices, is inconsistent
and impossible with faith, and that the power of Christ's resurrection
cannot reach it. For this reason he terms them "sons of disobedience,"
who have not faith and who, by their unchristian conduct, bring God's wrath
upon themselves and are cast out from the kingdom of God. God seriously
passes sentence against such conduct, declaring he will reveal his wrath
against it in bodily punishment in this world and eternal punishment in
the world hereafter. Elsewhere Paul says practically the same thing (Eph
5, 6): "For because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons
of disobedience." See also Rom 1, 18.
24. Such is the admonition of Paul unto all who would be called Christians.
He reminds them whereunto the Gospel of Christ calls them and what his
resurrection should work in them-- death to all life and doctrine not in
harmony with God's Word and God's will--and that if they believe in the
risen and living Christ, they, as risen with him, should seek after the
same heavenly life where he sits at the right hand of God, a life where
is no sin nor worldly error, but eternal life and imperishable treasures
to be possessed and enjoyed with Christ forever.
25. But the revelation of Christ's resurrection can be apprehended by
nothing but faith. The things Paul here tells us of life and glory for
Christians in the risen Christ are not apparent to the world; in fact,
Christians themselves do not perceive them by external sense. Notice, he
says, "Ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God." The world does
not understand the Christian life and has no word of praise for it; it
is hostile to the faith and cannot tolerate the fact that you believe in
Christ and refuse to join hands with it in love for worldly lusts. A hidden
life indeed is the Christian's; not only hidden to the world, but, so far
as external perception goes, to the Christian himself. Nevertheless, it
is a life sure and in safe keeping, and in the hereafter its glory shall
be manifest to all the world. For Paul says:
"When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye
also with him be manifested in glory."
26. Here is comfort for Christians in this earthly life where, though
they receive the doctrine of Christ and apprehend him by faith, their resurrection
seems to the world and to their own perceptions untrue; where they must
contend with sin and infirmities and moreover are subject to much affliction
and adversity; and where consequently they are extremely sensible of death
and terror when they would experience joy and life. In this verse Paul
comforts them, showing them where to seek and surely apprehend their life.
27. Be of good cheer, he would say, for ye are dead to the worldly life.
This life ye must renounce, but in so doing ye make a precious exchange.
Dying unto the world is a blessed experience, for which ye will obtain
a life far more glorious. Ye are now, through Christ's death, redeemed
from sin and from death eternal and are made imperishable. Upon you is
conferred everlasting glory. But this risen life ye cannot yet perceive
in yourselves; ye have it in Christ, through faith.
Christ is spoken of as "our life." Though the life is still unrevealed
to you, it is certain, insured to you beyond the power of any to deprive
you of it. By faith in Christ's life, then, are ye to be preserved and
to obtain victory over the terrors and torments of sin, death and the devil,
until that life shall be revealed in you and made manifest to men.
In Christ ye surely possess eternal life. Nothing is lacking to a perfect
realization except that the veil whereby it is hidden so long as we are
in mortal flesh and blood, is yet to be removed. Then will eternal life
be revealed. Then all worldly, terrestrial things, all sin and death, will
be abolished. In every Christian shall be manifest only glory. Christians,
then, believing in Christ, and knowing him risen, should comfort themselves
with the expectation of living with him in eternal glory; the inevitable
condition is that they have first, in the world, died with him.
28. Paul does not forget to recognize the earthly environment of Christians
and saints, for he says: "Put to death therefore your members which are
upon the earth." Though acknowledging Christians dead with Christ unto
worldly things and possessing life in Christ, he yet tells them to mortify
their members on earth, and enumerates the sins of fornication, covetousness,
This is truly a strange idea, that it should be necessary for men who
have died and risen with Christ and hence have been made really holy, to
mortify worldly inclinations in their bodily members. The apostle refers
to this subject in Romans 7: 5, 8, 23, and elsewhere, frequently explaining
how, in the saints, there continue to remain various lusts of original
sin, which constantly rise in the effort to break out, even gross external
vices. These have to be resisted. They are strong enough utterly to enslave
a man, to subject him to the deepest guilt, as Paul complains (Rom 7, 23);
and they will surely do it unless the individual, by faith and the aid
of the Holy Spirit, oppose and conquer them.
29. Therefore, saints must, by a vigorous and unceasing warfare, subdue
their sinful lusts if they would not lose God's grace and their faith.
Paul says in Romans 8, 13: "If ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but
if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live."
In order, then, to retain the Spirit and the incipient divine life, the
Christian must contend against himself.
This cannot be accomplished by the monastic hypocrisies wherewith some
expect to resist sin. For the pollution of sin is not merely something
adhering to the clothing, or to the skin externally, and easily washed
off. It is not something to be discharged from the body by fasting and
castigation. No, it penetrates the flesh and blood and is diffused rough
the whole man. Positive mortification is necessary or it will destroy one.
And this is how to mortify sin: It must be perceived with serious displeasure
and repented of; and through faith Christ's forgiveness must be sought
and found. Thus shall sinful inclinations be resisted, defeated and restrained
from triumphing over you. More has been said on this topic elsewhere.