In my last post I explained what a Christian is and why being a Christian is not as simple as just receiving God’s grace. I explained that we cannot earn our salvation through good works because we are all sinners. When we confess our sins, and accept Jesus Christ as our saviour we receive God’s grace.
The Holy Spirit transforms us. From this moment, we strive for a life of honour, humility and integrity – Acts 20:35, 2 Corinthians 9:8, Hebrews 13:18. We become followers of Christ, soldiers ‘equipped for every good work’ – 2 Timothy 3:17.
we are not saved by good works, but we do good works because we are saved.
So what are good works anyway?
So what are ‘good works’ anyway?
The short answer is:
Every single (good) thing we do as Christians.
If you’re a sincere God-loving grace filled Christian out there sharing the gospel, telling everyone about God’s amazing grace… then you’re probably already doing good works.
When was the last time you sat your wife down and gave her shoulder rub? Or sat her down and did the dishes/cook/hang out the washing for her?
That time you shouted your mate a pie because he ‘accidentally’ left his wallet in his tool bag?
Every time you get up and go to work, help out your neighbour, change your oil, say thank you, tie your kids shoelaces…
… All good works.
Not just that. The very fabric of our being changes at salvation, so that our very existence, essentially, becomes a good work – Romans 12:1.
We live, for Christ.
Good works are Christ focused, first and foremost. It’s all in our attitude and the way we go about doing it. Are we doing it to glorify ourselves? Or are we doing it to glorify Christ?
I like to think of good works as being split into three basic categories…
- Things that are acceptable to do.
- Things that are good to do.
- Things that we ought to do.
The problem is most Christians very good at doing 1 and 2, but not so great at doing 3.
1. Things that are acceptable to do.
This is everything we do in our life that is not, in and of itself, commanded of us – 1 Corinthians 10:23. This is anything that is not sinful or idolatrous, nor is it a direct commandment of the Lord. These things are morally and spiritually neutral. Think of everyday activities, this is a big category. Going to work, shaving, pumping iron, eating food, playing with your kids, hanging out with mates, .
Anything you do in your daily life that you choose to do, that you probably don’t associate with being a ‘work’ in the Christian sense falls into this category. But they are still important and still count as works. As such they always need to be understood in the light of scripture – 1 Timothy 4:4 & 4:8.
The choices we make in this category encompass the totality of our life as a living sacrifice to Christ – Romans 12:1. The way we conduct ourselves on a daily basis. Everything we do, we can, and should, offer up to Christ.
We need to keep in mind that everything we do is subject to the righteous judgement of God. It is up to us to study the word of God, and ask ourselves if there are things we do that are the best example of modelling Christs behaviour. Have I committed every component of my life to Christ, or just the stuff I think is important? Do I strive for excellence, or ‘yep that’ll do’? When we offer ourselves completely to Christ, are we offering the fatted lamb, or the bare minimum?
It’s our responsibility to understand our own motivations. Christ warned us that we need to be ‘at least as righteous as the pharisees‘, but the mistake the pharisees made was having only the appearance of righteousness, in order to boast about how great and religious they were – Matthew 6:1-18.
Whatever we choose to do, let it always be done with humility, for the sake of excellence, not reward.
2. Things that are good to do
These are the things that most honest bible believing Christians understand to be good works. Except that they’re not described as good works, because good works are nasty. Today Christians doing these things are ‘showing love’, because it’s all about love! But they are also works. Showing love to others is a form of good works.
These are things which the Bible tells us are good works.
Doing these things demonstrates the fruit of the spirit, but is not essential to salvation, necessarily.
Things like, giving to the poor, tithing, offering a mate a lift to work. Chipping in at Church. Being a good citizen in general. Obviously heaps of non-Christians do these things as well, but Christians especially, have a responsibility to fulfill the law; that is, to the love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbour as yourself. To do this, is to glorify Christ, and give praise to God.
As I said before, these are the activities and the attitudes that Christ expects of us, and that are in many cases a natural result of the change that the Holy Spirit produces in us when we confess our sins.
Be careful though.
Just because it doesn’t come naturally does not mean it’s not important. If the word of God tells you it’s good, then it’s good, even if you don’t particularly feel like it.
Often times, there are things that fall into the ‘good to do’ category that require a little more gusto. They are inconvenient… like paying tax, or offering a new Christian brother a lift to church, or engaging them in conversation (and actually being interested in getting to know them). This is the category where we tend to judge ourselves the most harshly, but also tend to make up the best (worst) excuses.
It’s the third category however, that is the most critical of all, and unsurprisingly the one that requires the most from us.
3. Things that we ought to do
So it’s been pretty peachy up to this point, but it’s time to nut up or shut up.
This is the stuff that separates the men from the boys, and the Christians from the non-Christians.
This is the no-free-ticket list.
We are men of God, and our faith in him calls us to a life of humility and repentance, we don’t get a choice in that. By definition we are Christians based on certain unconditional characteristics and actions (Ephesians 6:11, and a bunch of other scriptures… like heaps).
Lets just be clear one last time (it won’t be the last time), I’m not saying these things are what save you, or even that you have to do them in order to be saved… however,
You can’t pour water out of a bottle without air getting in. The transforming nature of salvation and the change it produces render some acts inseparable from a life lived honouring and serving Christ.
There’s the ten commandments of course. But they are like a good summary, a cheat sheet.
The most obvious one is this, preach the gospel. The words of Christ himself:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20
Evangelism is not a ‘gift of the spirit’, it’s a commandment of all followers of Christ. To love our neighbour as ourselves, is to share a deep and honest concern for their eternal future. Christ exhorts us to teach others to obey the commandments – Matthew 5:17.
Speaking of love.
Love underpins the entire gospel – Matthew 22:34-40. But true love is not some effeminate, passive positivity. True love demands extreme courage, suffrage, isolation and even persecution. To stand up for truth, not just because you love God, but because you love a brother, is one of the hardest requirements of Christianity, and also one of the most crucial, and unavoidable.
When you see a brother in Christ living in his sin, it is not judgemental or hateful to show it to him, and to rebuke him, it is a most courageous act of hard love – Matthew 18:15-22. To say it is judgmental to correct a fellow Christian living in sin, is a pathetic excuse to avoid the hard truth, a sad human effort to garner other’s approval and perpetuate surface level relationships.
Soft love is as nutritious as a hollow bread stick, it’s not really love at all. What good is salvation if no one knows what they are saved from?
Now I’m not a saint. This is the guilty charging the guilty here. It’s through Christ alone that we are saved. However, my imperfections as a follower of Christ, do abrogate my responsibility to see out the Great Commission.
It’s the ought to do category that’s copped a bad rap. It’s the most difficult, the most misunderstood, the most confronting. Legions of spineless unbiblical cronies have tried to downplay our responsibility as Christian men of valour, to see that the word of God is heard, and proclaim the message of salvation.
Christ came to take away the sin of the world – John 1:29, and it’s our job, our responsibility to both warn the lost of the consequences of sin, and to point them to the hope they have in Christ Jesus.
Always remember, the guiding principle of all good works, not just the last category, is hard love. Not the kind of love that most people think of. The love of God is not some shallow social interaction. The goal of hard love is not to minimize discomfort, it is to stand boldly on the truth of the Word of God, with the hope that none should perish.
If you’ve given your life to the Lord, you’re probably already doing some good works. They’re not nasty, and they are not to be avoided.
Good works are the best and most reliable evidence of our salvation (Matthew 7:16).
They are the inevitable expression of the presence of the Holy Spirit in us.
They are tough, in some cases extremely difficult.
They require courage, conviction, integrity, honour and humility.
Good works are everything we do, they are who we are in Christ. They are Christ in us.