41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
The apostle Paul says in scripture that the “love of God compels us” to act for others. Most of those who were selling the indulgences were teaching that indulgences could replace good works and would even be preferable to good works. Luther said that this would be a wrong conclusion for people to make. The works of love are a direct sign of God living and working in our lives, indulgences do not change our actions at all in fact they promote inaction.
It would be a mistake to think that indulgences were “good works”. The church in Luther’s day had come up with an endless list of “good works”. They had to do with pilgrimages and visiting certain churches and saying prayers at old relics of the church. One of the best good works was to make your way up the steps of the Vatican and stopping to kiss each step on the way up. Luther’s comment on these was that they did no one any earthly good, so how could they be a good work? Luther went so far as to define a good work. He said that, “a good work is anything that a believing child of God does out of love for God for his fellowman.” So he said that when a janitor is performing his assigned tasks out of love for God that is as much a good work as the acts of any priest.
When you begin to think of them in this way you understand that good works do not merit God’s presence in our lives but rather good works are proof of God’s presence in our lives. We cannot do a truly good work unless God is living in us! People may do good things but if they do not have a saving relationship with God those things are not good works in the eyes of God.
Dear Lord You have taken up residence in my life and I thank You for that. Now help me to live a life that testifies to Your presence within me. May all my actions in life be a witness to the love that lives in me. Please help me to always act as Your loving child. In Christ, Amen.