Home > Gesimatide > Septuagesima 2014 “How Much Work Do I Have To Do to Get Into Heaven?”

Septuagesima 2014 “How Much Work Do I Have To Do to Get Into Heaven?”

workers-in-the-vineyardSeptuagesima.  St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois.  St. Matthew 20:1-16.  [1 Cor. 9:24-10:5] February 16, 2014.

“How much work do I have to do to get to heaven?”



How much work do we have to do to go to heaven?


Everyone knows the answer to this question, right?  What does God say?


Do I have to give my life for Christ, die as a martyr to get into heaven?  Or can I get by with less than that?  That’s pretty hard.  Do you know for sure if you’d be able to die rather than deny Jesus?


How much money do I have to give for the sake of the Gospel and to the poor to get into heaven?  Is it enough if I give what I think I can afford?  Or do I have to give more?  10 percent?  All my money?


How often do I have to go to church to get into heaven?  I’m not talking about how often we should go.  I’m talking about, bare minimum, how often do I have to go in order to avoid hell?  Can I still get into heaven if I never go to church?  Is 3 times a year enough?  Once a month?  Does it have to be every Sunday?  Do I have to go on Wednesdays during Lent too?  And how often do we have to go to Bible class?


Jesus told the parable of the workers in the vineyard after someone had asked him a question like these.  It was a young man who had “great possessions”; he asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  Jesus said, “If you want eternal life, keep God’s commandments.”


And the young man responded, “I’ve kept the ten commandments.  What else do I need to do?”


Oh foolish young man, we say.  You haven’t kept the ten commandments!  No one can keep the ten commandments!  That’s why you need to believe in Jesus.  Then you will be saved even though you haven’t kept the ten commandments.


Jesus doesn’t say that, though.  Jesus doesn’t say, “If you would be perfect, believe in Me.”  He says, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  And the rich young man goes away sorrowful, because he is unwilling to part with his great possessions.


If Jesus had said, “Believe in Me, and you don’t have to do any works at all.  You can have eternal life and your possessions,” the young man wouldn’t have had to go away sad.


Why didn’t Jesus say that?  Isn’t that the answer?  You don’t get to heaven by going to church every Sunday, or giving ten percent, but by faith in Jesus alone?


That is the answer.  And yet Jesus didn’t say that.  He said, “Sell everything you have.”  And then after the rich man left he told the disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  And his disciples said, “Then who can be saved?”


What does this mean?

It means that when we say that you are saved by faith in Jesus alone, apart from any works, that doesn’t mean that salvation is easy.  The reformation wasn’t Martin Luther telling people salvation was easy when the pope had made it hard.


Humanly speaking, salvation is impossible.  The disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”


How much work do I have to do to get into heaven? No amount of work is enough.  Sell everything and give your body to be burned.  It’s still not enough.


But what is impossible with man is possible with God.


We are not able to do enough to get into heaven.  Apart from God’s grace, we are no different than the rich young man.  We may think we want eternal life, but there is always something we aren’t willing to give up.  A thing we love more than eternal life.


But then God’s grace comes.  What is impossible for us is possible for Him.  He calls us like He called the rich young man, like He called the 12 disciples, “Come, follow me.”  That call does include leaving something, but leaving it in exchange for something better.  For the rich young man it was, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  For Peter it was “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  For Abraham it was, “Leave your father’s house and country, and go to the land I will show you, and I will make you a great nation.”


God hires us and puts us to work in His vineyard.  He tells us our wages—eternal life.  Not that our work will earn eternal life.  We are called to eternal life, and eternal life comes to us with the call to work in His vineyard.


Peter was called to eternal life, and he was also called to be a fisher of men, an apostle.  Being an apostle is a lot of work.  There was a lot of preaching and prayer, study of the Scriptures, and suffering.


Yet He left everything and followed Jesus.


You were called to eternal life.  When you were baptized, you were placed into His vineyard.  He promised you eternal life, and He put you to work.  And every time the call to repentance goes out, He brings people into His vineyard to work.


What kind of work?  No longer the work of the old Adam, where you go do your job because you have to or because you want to get something for yourself.  It’s work that’s given to you to do where the LORD places you.  It’s His work.  You’re working at bringing forth the fruit of His vineyard that He planted.


If you are a husband or a wife, that calling is His creation, and there in that calling His work is love.  The husband is to give up his life for his wife, die that she may live.  The wife is to submit to her husband, to give up her will and entrust herself to her husband.  Parents give up their lives for their children.  Children obey their parents.  Employees serve their employers and not themselves; employers serve their employees and customers instead of looking out for their own interests.

The work we are called to is usually not different from what people do who are not in the Lord’s vineyard.  What makes the work different is that Christians have been called to eternal life.  That is the wage we have been promised—not a raise from our boss or affection from our spouse or kids.


And since we have been promised eternal life not because of what we do but by grace, we can cast ourselves into the work.  Not because the work earns eternal life if we do it well enough, but because He has promised us eternal life and told us to go work in His vineyard until the day is over and the time for our wages has come.


Lent begins in a few weeks.  Lent is a season of labor.  First and foremost we look at Christ’s labor during Lent—His labor of love, His passion.  Jesus goes to work in His Father’s vineyard.  By the sweat of His face He labors—for what?  To redeem us from the curse and bring us to the banquet, the party, the rest of heaven.


And how hard does Jesus work?  Jesus labors with all His strength.  He gives all He has.  He gives His happiness, His honor, His prayers, His righteous life, His favor with the Father, His sweat, His tears.  His body to be torn, pierced, put to shame.  His blood to pour out upon the earth until His life is drained from Him.  His soul to be tormented and endure the just anger of God against all human beings’ rebellion, laziness, self-serving.


And when Jesus does this, He doesn’t have a whip driving Him along.  The whip that drives Him is love.  He serves willingly because of love for sinners, for us.


Such love does not drive us to serve selflessly, does it?  Not even for the people we love most.  That is the kind of love we owe God and our neighbor.  Love that drives us to serve God willingly, and to serve every human being willingly.  But that kind of love we don’t have.  It begins in us when we see the love with which Christ has loved us.  But it is never complete in us in this world.


That’s why we’re in trouble whenever we start looking at other people and comparing  our life and our work to theirs.  Even if you had done what Jesus did—were born without sin and loved and served God completely your entire life, you would only be doing your duty.  You would only be doing what you should do.  That’s what the Small Catechism teaches us in the explanation of the 1st article of the creed: I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, my eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.  He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children…He daily and richly provides me with all that I need to support this body and life…All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.  For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.  This is most certainly true.


We ought to love God with all our heart and all our strength and all our life and serve Him with everything we have.  We owe Him that, yet we don’t do it, and we can’t.


But He freely gives us eternal life.  He freely gives us a place in His vineyard to work.  And then He blesses us and honors that work.  Peter gave up his nets and left everything to follow Jesus.  But what was that compared to what Jesus left for Peter?


So if we labor and sweat our whole lives as Christians, what is that?  Have we earned something?  No.  We owed God far more.


And what we owed was paid by the labor and sweat and tears of Jesus.  He fulfilled the law for us.  He received the wrath of God against your sins.


As Lent comes, it is good to seek renewal.  To discipline our bodies, perhaps—although this isn’t something limited to Lent.  We always need that—to keep our body in obedience so that we don’t fall into sin and turn away from Christ and begin to think that God owes us.  So that we don’t pursue our lusts and quit working in the vineyard.  It’s especially good to hear God’s Word more often, because it’s God’s Word alone that gives us the true knowledge of our sins and faith in our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.


But having done everything, having worked and suffered and studied Scripture and disciplined our flesh, having attended church and worked diligently in our callings, the wage of eternal life is not earned.  It is a gift, won by the labor of Jesus Christ out of great love for you.  This labor and this love is like a great ocean compared to our labor and our love.  Looking on it, we don’t even remember the little raindrop of our love, our suffering, our work.  But the more we see and throw ourselves into the vast expanse of His love and work, which our our salvation, the more His love and labor will come from us.


Let all who have not been working in the Lord’s vineyard but serving themselves take heart and come to Him, seeing how freely He wants to give the wage of eternal life, even to those who come an hour before quitting time.  And let those who have served Him long and faithfully rejoice that they got to bear something of the day’s heat in service
to Him who took away all of the heat of God’s anger and all of the shame of sin by His labor for us.


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.





The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


Soli Deo Gloria


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