Lutherans like to say that our good works are for our neighbor, but there is more to be said here, even if the answer to the above question seems obvious.
Think about this: what is the fulfillment of the first table of the law (describing the believer’s duties before God), if it is not good works? Yes, the first commandment includes trust in God, which we associate with faith, which we distinguish from the works of the law – but it also includes the fear and love of God. Although our fulfillment of the first table of the law does not benefit God in anyway, it certainly is of benefit to all of God’s people.
Our good works are about God because we want to obey God. And God desires works not because they are of benefit to Him, but benefit His people. His people benefit from seeing others faithfully fulfilling the first table of the law.
Let me give an example.
My five children who accompany me to worship certainly benefit when they see others faithfully coming to sit at their Lord’s feet week after week. And they benefit when they see persons not taking God’s name in vain, but rather faithfully praying, praising, proclaiming and singing his Name and deeds. And of course they benefit hearing those very words that they say – words testifying to the One True God who alone is light, love and life.
Are they always paying attention? No. Might they doubt the sincerity of those around them? Sure – but less so those they know better. When they are paying attention, they will be convicted according to their old man, and encouraged according to their new man.
When I said this, someone else added the following wisdom:
“Notice the first person plural nature of the Lord’s Prayer. We do works in love for God and love for the neighbor but I don’t think we can ever separate the two and say that anything is done purely out of love for God without regard to the neighbor.”
Or vice versa, I would add. In sum, faith is busy in good works the world does not necessarily see as such, and while we cannot use them to secure our justification, they often place us exactly where we need to be.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/luschei/804828847