There are two types of righteousness in the Christian faith. Martin Luther labeled these two as passive and active. Passive is the righteousness that we receive from God. We do nothing to receive it. Active righteousness is our good works, overflowing from a thankful heart, a new heart created in us by God through a new will empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.
Now, I get that good works is a frightening phrase for those of you who have been beat up by the concept of working your way into God’s favor. But this is not that. And when you realize that our good works don’t fit into the category of passive righteousness—the means by which we have once-and-for-all earned God’s acceptance—then you see you aren’t doing good works as some kind of payment to God. You are doing them because you belong to God. That new heart and God’s Spirit within you are working in tandem to make us more like our Father. As Luther put it, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbors does.”
That may not be a knowledge explosion for you, it may not set you back on your heels, but I grew up with a checklist of things I needed to be doing better in order to appease God.
I’ll be kinder—check.
I’ll give more—check.
I’ll go to church more often—check.
So, the idea that works aren’t currency is mind-boggling for me. To think that what we label “good works” is just another name for responding to the passive love from God we’ve received, letting it pour over onto the lives of those around us, like a big, beautiful exploding volcano of joy, an ocean of mercy, a world of love, by the power of God’s Spirit within us, takes the pressure off.
I no longer feel as though I’d better love or else, it’s I get to love in my daily life by taking advantage of opportunities that God set up in advance for me, and empowers me to do. And by get to love, I don’t mean that I’ve neurotically convinced myself it’s a great thing. It means that I’ve been loved so hard that I really, really want to love others like my God loves me.