Beloved. As we are now in the second half of the Church Year, our focus is on the doctrine which Jesus entrusted to His Church. The first half of the Church Year focused more on the events of our Lord’s life; that’s when we had all the festivals like Christmas and Easter. Now, until the end of the Church Year, we will hear more of what Jesus taught. We don’t waste any time. We get right into serious, heavy duty doctrine in today’s Gospel. Here Jesus tells us about heaven and hell, suffering, Scripture and much more. One of the “much more” is what the Christian life is like, or that whole question of faith and works. And this theme of the Christian’s life of faith and works is also picked up in today’s epistle.
We meet in today’s Gospel the rich man and Lazarus. To be sure, the rich man may have been outwardly a decent person and may even have observed his temple obligations. But we see very clearly that this rich man showed no mercy to the poor beggar, Lazarus. And we even find out that he ended up in hell, where he was in torment. What does this teach us? –That our faith is shown in our works. Where there is faith, there will be the good works—the striving from the heart to do the law/ the will of God as He commanded us in the holy Ten Commandments. Where there is no faith or a sham or pretend faith, the good works—truly good works from the heart, out of love for the Lord—will not follow. Here we must keep this truth before us: we are not saved because of our good works; rather, we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, which shows itself in striving to do the Lord’s will out of love of Him and thanksgiving toward Him. Where there are no true good works, neither is there that saving faith.
So what is that relation between faith and works? That’s what we hear in today’s epistle: God is love. Whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. Where there is love of God—true faith—there are also good works, works of love. –Because God, who is love, dwells within us. And if He is dwelling in us, how can we not live a life of love; a life in which out of love and thankfulness to the Lord we do His will in living a life of good works/ holiness? After all, the holy God Himself is in us. Remember what we heard Jesus say in the Gospel a few weeks ago [Jn. 14.23]: If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him.
Whoever remains/ lives in this love/ shows God has come into his heart and set up His abode there and is leading him into a life of truly good works flowing from the heart. Those good works, that striving to live according to the holy Ten Commandments, is all motivated, led and empowered by God dwelling within us. And how is it that God has come to dwell in our hearts and to make us His temples? –Because in grace He has come to us. For most of us, He came already in the water and word of Holy Baptism and created in us that faith that loves Him and so He dwells in the heart. To others, He came later in life through the word and created that faith and so dwells in the heart.
Since God is dwelling within the heart of the Christian—what our theologians call the mystical union—this will be obvious in the life of a Christian. What will make/ be the characteristic of the Christian’s life? –Love! Because why? God is love. The very God who is love itself dwells in us. Love is the very nature of God and the essence of all of His actions. He acts in pure love toward us. After all—aren’t each of our sins and our sinfulness a rebellion against God and His holiness? Don’t each of them earn us damnation in hell? But what does God’s love do? He rescues and saves us from our sin. In love for us sinners, the Father sends the Son into this world of sin; in love for His Father and in love of us the Son endures the worst that sin, devil and world and throw at Him and takes our sins upon Himself and suffers the price/ penalty for them all on the cross and by His holy suffering and death reconciles us sinners to the holy God; and in love He sends the Holy Spirit to create faith in Him and His work to receive these heavenly and spiritual gifts and blessings He won for us.
And here we so clearly see that God is love and what love really is. Love is emptying self on behalf of the other; it is willing the good of the other. If you look at the world’s notion of love, it is so often centered on self. But true love is centered on the other. God’s love is centered on us—He completely emptied Himself/ gave Himself for us; and the Christian’s love is centered on the other: on God and the neighbor and service to them even while denying self.
Whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. As we remain in love, that is, as we by faith hold to and receive God’s love for us in Jesus, we are remaining in God and He is remaining in us. We need constantly to be reminded of and to receive God’s love for us—that’s remaining in His love. That’s why we come to church—to be reminded and to receive once again in word, absolution and Sacrament the love of God for us. We receive in our ears the love of God as we hear His word and take the absolution to heart; we receive in our mouths the love of God as we receive Jesus’ very body and blood. That is living and remaining in love. And this goes on throughout the week as we study and ponder Scripture and go to Him in prayer. As we remain in God’s love for us, we receive by faith again and again God’s love, that faith and love grow and are strengthened and so we remain in God and He in us. Love’s saving power has united us to Him.
What blessed results follow! Because love’s saving power on the heart has united us to Him, it also quiets the troubled heart. St. John writes: In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. There is no fear in love, but complete love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who continues to be afraid has not been brought to the goal in love. The glorious thing is that Spirit-worked faith embraces God’s love. That’s God’s goal. He wants us to cling to His love. God’s love for us has a purpose/ a goal; and it is to save us. When we come to Him in faith and receive, welcome, cling to His love, He comes and dwells in us; we become His temples. A wonderful thing happens here: when we experience and by faith we embrace the love of God for us, that love of God will work a greater fervency and a greater strength to our faith; and as that faith holds to God’s love even more firmly, God’s love and the experience of it will make that faith stronger and the glorious cycle continues. That’s remaining in God and His love and He remains in us.
And the goal of God’s love for us? – So that we may have confidence on the day of judgment. Faith that holds to God’s love brings us a glorious peace of conscience. It’s not that faith is such a great work from our end; instead, faith is God’s gift to us, something He works in us by the Holy Spirit. True, saving faith has a glorious and comforting object that it clings to: God’s love—and in particular His love for sinners in Jesus. Even standing before the judgment throne of God on the Last Day, we need not fear His wrath and condemnation. Our confidence and trust is in God’s love for us sinners as He showed it so fully and completely in Jesus and His saving work. Even now with all the sin that rises up to accuse and condemn us, with our conscience troubled by past sin, even by the sins we daily fight against but still see ourselves committing, do not let your heart be troubled. Embrace with the arms of faith God’s love for us. Embrace with the arms of faith that concrete expression of God’s love for you—Jesus—who brought us the forgiveness of our sin and peace and reconciliation with God. In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus.
Dear Christian, Jesus, of whom the Father said [Mt. 3.17]: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, was in the same world we are and surrounded by the same evils we are and even greater than we can imagine. He relied on and remained in the Father’s love and now He is ascended into heaven in glory. Jesus has freed us from those evils! What a glorious peace of heart we can now have as in this world we are just like Jesus resting in the Father’s love in the midst of those evils.
There is no fear in love, but complete love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who continues to be afraid has not been brought to the goal in love. In the midst of this world and the evils in it, we need not fear. Let God’s love for us calm our fears and troubled hearts. The perfect/ complete love that drives out fear, is God’s love for us. Because of His love for us, we need not fear anything. That’s because His love for us is a saving love and in Jesus it is perfect/ complete. The thing is, God’s love is not just a love that He has for us and is unable to act on it; it’s not like an incomplete wish. Because He is the almighty God, He can and He has carried out His perfect love for us sinners—He has in Jesus brought us forgiveness of sin and eternal life; He has crushed and destroyed all our spiritual enemies. As He has now brought us to faith—faith that looks to and relies on His love for us in Jesus and receives all His gifts—that is why we need not fear: There is no fear in love, but complete love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. In other words, faith in God’s love/ in Jesus and His saving work/ His righteousness saves us from the fear of our enemies. Now God only wants us to learn to despise fear. The one who continues to be afraid has not been brought to the goal in love.
This is the love of God that saves us and by faith we remain in that love and as we do so we [remain] in God and God in [us]. This love of God for us first, which we cling to in faith, leads us, then, into love not only of God but of our neighbor. St. John writes: We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For how can anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, love God, whom he has not seen? This then is the command we have from him: The one who loves God should also love his brother. All our love of God and other people ultimately comes from God first. Because we have been loved by God, we can now love Him. This is most closely connected with faith and cannot be separated from faith. When by faith we receive the forgiveness of sins and all the blessings Jesus won for us on the cross, then we are certain that we have a good and gracious God who loves us and is gracious to us. Without faith in Jesus and His work, we can never be certain what God’s thoughts toward us are. But now since He loved us first, we know His thoughts and intentions toward us and can love Him knowing who He is and what He has done for us. And now loving Him means that we turn away from serving sin and self. It means that we love His will and want to do His commandments. The good that we do and the sin that we avoid are all the result of faith in the forgiveness of sin; it is all the result of remaining and continuing in God’s love. The heart, which has faith in the love of God for us first, loves God; and where there is a heart that loves God, there God is dwelling and set up His temple; and where there is God in the heart, there is also love of the other person and a life full of good works. So, yes, good works do not save us. They are simply the evidence of a heart filled with faith where the holy Triune God lives and acts. INJ Amen