It’s a new year. What does this mean? Well, in a worldly sense, it means it’s time to make all sorts of resolutions about your life and how you’ll live it during the next 365 days. “I’m going to lose weight.” “I’m going to devote more time to my wife, or children, or the whole family.” “I’m going to take up photography, or knitting, or bird watching, or bicycling.” “I’m going to spend time in the word of God every day.”
It is a good thing to seek to do better in your life. If you feel like you’ve let yourself go physically over the last year (or several), committing to a regimen of right eating and exercise is a salutary thing to do. If you’ve noticed that you and your spouse are just going through the motions, or the kids don’t act like you’re a big part of their lives anymore, it’s a very good thing to seek to build up those relationships through quality time spent building memories and experiences together. If you find your prayer life as nonexistent and your knowledge of God’s Word even worse, it’s quite commendable to resolve to keep to a schedule of personal or family devotion during the next 52 weeks.
But when you fail to keep the lofty goals which you’ve set (and I think this is a safe assumption to make), please don’t despair! Even though God wants you to nurture your relationships with your family, and take care of your body (His gift to you after all), and continue to come to Him and hear His word in your devotional time and the church service, He doesn’t expect you to do these things to be saved! His relationship with you is sealed in your baptism, where He gave you the fruits of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.
Remember that all these good works are those prepared beforehand by the Lord for you to do in serving your neighbor. You work out so that you can be healthy enough to care for others. You study God’s word so that you can be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in you. You work on your family relationships so that you can gently lead your wife and children in a Christian way. But God has taken care of the salvation part – we’re saved by grace through faith, not by works! He is pleased by the Good Works that believers do – but not because they earn His favor. Rather, He loves the fact that they do them in faith – they work their works believing in Jesus’ salvation!
Here’s a word from our Lutheran Confessions on Good Works:
First, there is no controversy among our theologians about the following points in this article: it is God’s will, order, and command that believers should walk in good works. Truly good works are not those that everyone does himself from a good intention, or which are done according to human traditions, but those that God Himself has prescribed and commanded in His Word. Also, truly good works are done not by our own natural powers, but in this way: when a person is reconciled with God through faith and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Or, as Paul says, a person is “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, p. 547)