have apparent power, none of us could fight against the flesh and its cravings, although we have all been ordered to do so. In fact, we could not even think about battling them. We would let our mind go into evils of every kind. We would be held back from actually doing evils only by the laws of justice that have been passed in the world and the penalties they prescribe. Inside we would be like tigers, leopards, or snakes that utterly fail to reflect on the cruelty that their hearts enjoy.
Clearly then, because we are rational in a way that animals are not, we have to resist evils using the powers and abilities the Lord gives us, although as far as we can tell, those powers and abilities appear to be our own. The Lord gives us all this illusion in order to regenerate us, attribute goodness to us, forge a partnership with us, and save us.
It is damaging for us to take credit for things we do for the sake of our salvation. Hidden within our credit-taking there are evil attitudes of which we are unaware at the time: denial that God flows in and works in us; confidence in our own power in regard to salvation; faith in ourselves and not in God; [the delusion that] we justify and save ourselves by our own strength; contempt for divine grace and mercy; rejection of reformation and regeneration by divine means; and especially disregard for the merit and justice of the Lord God our Savior, which we then claim as our own. In our taking credit there is also a continual focus on our own reward and perception of it as our first and last goal, a stifling and an extinction of love for the Lord and love for our neighbor, and total ignorance and unawareness of the pleasure involved in heavenly love (which takes no credit), while all we feel is our love for ourselves.
People who put their own reward as the first priority and salvation as the second, and therefore seek salvation as a reward, turn the proper arrangement upside down. They drown their inner desires in self-absorption and physically pollute them with evils belonging to their flesh. For this reason, goodness that we do to earn merit looks to the angels like a rust-colored plant disease, while goodness that we do not do to earn merit looks a rich purplish-red.
As Long as We Believe That Everything Good Comes from the Lord, We Do Not Take Credit for the Things We Do As We Practice Goodwill
The Lord teaches in Luke that we are not supposed to do good for the purpose of getting a reward:
If you benefit people who benefit you, what grace do you have? Rather, love and benefit your enemies, and lend [to people] expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be large, and you will be children of the Highest, since he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:33—36)
It is also taught in John that we cannot do anything truly good except from the Lord:
Live in me and I [shall live] in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it lives in the vine, neither can you unless you live in me, because without me you cannot do anything. (John 15:4, 5)
We cannot receive anything unless it is given to us from heaven. (John 3:27)
On the other hand, if people think about going to heaven and decide that they should therefore do what is good, this is not the same as making rewards their main goal or taking credit for their good deeds. People who love their neighbor as themselves and love God above all else have these thoughts because they have faith in the Lord's words that their reward will be great in heaven (Matthew 5:11, 12; 6:1; 10:41, 42; Luke 6:23, 35; 14:12, 13, 14; John 4:36); that people who do good things are going to possess as an inheritance a kingdom prepared since the founding of the world (Matthew 25:34); and that all are paid back for what they have done (Matthew 16:27; John 5:29; Revelation 14:13; 20:12, 13; Jeremiah 25:14; 32:19; Hosea 4:9; Zechariah 1:6; and elsewhere). What these people have is not confidence in a reward because they deserve it; they have faith in the promise of grace.
The pleasure of doing good to their neighbor is their reward. The angels in heaven feel this pleasure. It is a spiritual pleasure that is eternal. It immeasurably surpasses every earthly pleasure. People who have this pleasure do not want to hear about getting credit—they love doing good and feel joy in it. It depresses them if someone thinks they are doing it to get something in return. They are like people who benefit their friends for friendship's sake; who benefit their siblings for their siblings' sake; who benefit their spouse and children for their spouse's and children's sake; who benefit their country for their country's sake—people whose actions are based on friendship and love. People who do these good things state with conviction that they did not do it for themselves; they did it for the others.
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