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Monday, October 15, 2007

The alien and proper works of God

Martin Luther wrote about the two works of God. One he labled God's alien work, and the other God's proper work.

The proper work of God is that He turns sinners into righteous Christians (Luther 19). God creates righteous, peaceful, patient, merciful, truthful, kind, joyful, wise, healthy people; we are His new creation (Luther 19). God, however, cannot come to this His proper work unless He undertakes a work that is alien and contrary to Himself (Luther 19). God’s alien work is to make men sinners, unrighteous, liars, miserable, foolish, lost (Luther 19).

God’s alien work is performed by His law. God sees us as filthy sinners, and therefore He gave us the law so that we could see ourselves the way God sees us. The law reveals an angry and wrathful God who punishes unrepentant sinners. The Bible shows this angry God in such instances as the Flood, Israel’s forty years of desert wandering, and the rich man who walked away from Jesus because He had been revealed to be a sinner; holy Scripture is replete with many other examples of God’s anger. God’s alien work then leads to the crucifixion and the mortification of our sinful flesh (Luther 19).

The culmination of God’s alien work is the sending of Jesus to suffer on the cross on our behalf (Luther 19). Thus, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians: I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him having been crucified (1 Corinthians 2.2). The Apostle Paul’s verb choice here is rather interesting. We normally think of the crucifixion of Christ as strictly a past event. Paul however uses the Perfect Passive Participle of the verb “to crucify” which means that Jesus’ crucifixion happened in the past, but the event is still influencing the present. The crucifixion of Jesus happened a long time ago, but the forgiveness and redemption that Jesus purchased on the cross is still effective, powerful, and influencing our lives to this very day.

God’s proper work, then, is the resurrection of Christ, justification in the Spirit, and giving life to the new man (Luther 19). The Apostle Paul says: Christ was handed over for our sins and was raised for our justification (Romans 4.25), and remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead (2 Timothy 2.8). “The proper work is to proclaim the gospel, which is God’s grace, through which He freely gives to all men and women peace, righteousness and truth, mitigating all His wrath (Luther 20). This work is called a sweet, friendly gospel, and the one who hears it finds it impossible not to rejoice (Luther 20). This happens whenever the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to our grieving consciences (Luther 20).

Our salvation is always linked to Christ suffering on the cross. St. Paul tells us: For if we died with Christ, we will also live with Him (2 Timothy 2.11). We gain the victory through Christ when we believe, when our hearts become uplifted and hold to the grace promised on account of Christ (Apology 4.80 [16-20]; BKS 176). Christ is grasped as the one who reconciles God’s differences with us (mediator) when we believe the word, which preaches Him as the mediator (Apology 4.81 [28-32]; BKS 176). By faith alone, therefore, we receive the forgiveness of sins when we are comforted and uplifted by the grace promised on account of Christ (Apology 4.81 [32-36]; BKS 176). Therefore we are reconciled to the Father and we receive the forgiveness of sins when we are comforted, holding on to the promise that grace and mercy are promised to us on account of Christ (Apology 4.81 [39-44]; BKS 176).


Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I. “Sermon on St. Thomas’ Day, Ps. 19:1, December 21, 1516” (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, and H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Copyright © 1959 by Fortress Press.

Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 12th Edition © 1998 by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

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