The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)
One day a man was heard to say, "I'm hoping good works will save me." This person certainly is not alone in his wish. Millions harbor the same desire to be saved without any commitment or change in lifestyle. Spending any time with Scripture will show this is certainly wishful thinking. God called us to live for Him through dying to self (Romans 6:1-11).
What part do "good works" play in God's plan of salvation? What are good works? How much stress ought we to place on good works? What place do they occupy in salvation from sin? These are questions preachers discuss with a variety of answers.
Jesus said we MUST do good works toward other men if we will be saved (Matthew 25:31-46). Yet Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote to the Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
In this lesson we will study the good WORKS that save and those that do not save. The Bible says that God has “prepared beforehand” the good works that must be done by those who are saved by grace through faith. These good works are to be extensions of our faith and not in place of it (Ephesians 2:10).
Work never has been a popular word. In the world around us there are those who shun it like the plague. In the religious world, especially so-called Protestantism, there are pastors or evangelists who insist that works be of no value at all in regard to salvation. They contend that one cannot be saved from past sins or eternally in heaven by any kind of work.
There was a Baptist preacher (Sam Morris) whose radio program originated from a very high-powered radio station in Mexico. He was widely known for his crusades against alcohol abuse. He wrote a tract dealing with the security of the believer. In his tract he said that "All the churches a person may attend, all the Bible he may read, and all the works he may do will not in anyway help in going to heaven."
Morris was a strong advocate of the idea that "once you are saved, you are forever saved." He stressed this by coming to the following conclusion: "And all the sins one may commit from idolatry to murder will not endanger his soul." Mr. Morris' conclusion is the actual consequence of that heresy. Can any of you deny that Mr. Morris came to the logical conclusion of the doctrine which affirms that if a believer is truly saved, he can never be lost regardless of what happens? Morris, and others like him, holds such a view of salvation basically because they deny that the works God has given man to do have anything at all to do with salvation.
Works are important! But someone will ask, "Did not Paul just say that salvation is 'not of works'?" Certainly he did - no question about that. What kind of works did Paul have in mind? In our study of the Bible we must always consider the context in which a thing is said. In order to be sure we fully understand a thing we must also understand the passage in harmony with all other verses on that same thought. That means when you read something in the Bible, read the whole setting in which it was written.
Paul said that salvation is by grace, but it comes through faith. When he said, "not of works," he also added, "lest anyone should boast." If a person could do everything absolutely perfectly, flawlessly, throughout life, that individual would put the Almighty in debt for salvation. Listen to Paul again. "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt" (Romans 4:5). You may be sure that if you were able to work perfectly everything God has ordered you would merit salvation. At the end of the way you could turn in a perfect score and God would then reward you for your works. Such would give one a basis for boasting.
But the minute one mistake is made in life, the first sin one commits, there is no way he can ever be saved unless God forgives that sin. Forgiveness is not a matter of perfect works - it is a matter of grace - a gift freely given by the Father in heaven that has been offended. Because works are not perfect in any mere mortal, grace was offered. Solomon wrote, "For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). The only thing one who is accountable for sins can do is appeal to God's mercy and grace. And then, salvation is the gift of God.
But loved ones, this expression, "not of works," does not eliminate obedience to Christ. Jesus plainly stated, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who DOES the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). The stress here is on DOING the will of the Father in heaven. And this doing is the WORK God requires. God’s gift is salvation by His grace, but faith is the condition He calls us to meet in order to be saved by His grace.
Those who claim salvation by faith ONLY are imperfect, incomplete, and inadequate. By inspiration, James wrote, "Do you not see that faith was working together with his works and by works faith was made perfect?" (James 2:21). Also, "You see then that a man is justified by works and not by faith only" (James 2:24). And Paul then added, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith WORKING through love" (Galatians 5:6). This is an interesting verse.
There were two ethnic groups that made up the membership of the churches of Galatia and elsewhere in the first century. They were Jews and Gentiles. They were often identified as either "the circumcision" or the "uncircumcision." Paul is simply saying, "Regardless of who you are, the important matter in your life is that you obey your Lord implicitly and completely." In Christ we find that obedience through love is the test of faith. Again, we can safely conclude that the expression "not of works" (Eph. 2:9) certainly does not eliminate obedience from the heart (Rom. 6:17). Paul was not excluding works of obedience to God when he said, "not of works."
But going on to the next reference to works, the "good works" (Eph. 2:10) are the reason why God's workmanship - His new creation - came into being. The ones saved by grace through faith are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for (or unto) good works. This places a responsibility upon every person who has been truly saved by grace through faith.
God does not save sinners by His grace just so they can look nice, feel good, be happy, live in fine homes, and worship in beautiful temples or edifices. He does not create something for simple admiration. His creation is designed to be productive and active. His creation is far more than a work of art to be admired. It is to be filled with profits for Himself. And that is only achieved through the works He Himself ordained for His creation.
Far too many of us fail to think seriously about the good works we are to do (cf. James 1:26-27). The time has come that anything anyone thinks needs to be done can be labeled a "good work," and God is supposed to be as pleased as He can be. We ask, "What are good works?" By many they are considered to be kind deeds done to others. What would this include? How far should this go? If I go to the grocery store and a lady in front of me drops her grocery list and I pick it up for her, have I earned heaven? What if I help a child across the parking lot? Will that earn me heaven?
What if I offer to carry someone's case of beer and cigarettes to the car? Will that earn me heaven? What if I go to a crack den and offer to hold the spoons and mix the drugs? Will that earn me heaven? What if I offer to feed the fish while an assassin goes across the country to execute someone? Will that earn me heaven since it is a good deed? What if I offer to sweep up for free at a brothel? Will that good deed earn me heaven? What if I volunteer to keep the supplies ready for Satanists to worship Satan? Will that good deed earn me heaven?
The Point: "Good deeds" are terribly subjective. Everyone will have their own definitions. There won't be any standard. What if I hold the coats while a Christian is executed in China? Will that good deed earn me heaven? Paul certainly did not think so. In Acts 7:58, Saul (who was later called Paul) held the coats of those who executed Stephen for preaching the Gospel. In the next chapter he hunted down Christians and had them jailed. Of the entire ordeal he later said he was the chief sinner of all men (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul by no means felt good deeds were going to save him.
They won't save us either. If so, there was no point in Jesus coming to this earth to die for our sins. God could have had a prophet tell us that good deeds will save us and saved millions of martyrs for the Cross. There would have been no need to spend the blood and pain of men getting the Bible into our hands. There would have been no reason to start the church because anyone could do good works without the church.
If we will be saved by good works (which we can boast about) then we will be lost by bad works. So, do we get merits for good works and demerits for bad works? Does that mean if you help ten old ladies across the street then you can push two down the steps? Won't it just be a mathematical equation? And who decides what bad works are? And what if some decide they are good while others decide they are bad? How do we solve that dilemma? Why didn't God just give us an exhaustive list? It all becomes very messy. It won't matter though as it is not true anyway. Praise the Lord.
Let's think together a little more deeply about this. The good works God wants from man were ordained even beforehand. Who has the right to change anything God has ordained? If God has ordained it, commanded it, ordered it, what right do men have to alter it?
There are numerous examples in both the Old and New Testaments of those who presumed to enhance something God ordained, only to learn too late the enormity of their mistake. Nadab and Abihu were two young priests, sons of the venerable Aaron. The scripture describes their blunder. "Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord" (Leviticus 10:1-2).
Fire was ordained - but the profane fire was not. There was probably no difference in the physical properties of the ordained fire and the profane fire - but there was a world of difference in the results. Anytime anyone dares to offer God a service that He has not commanded they engage in that which is profane. God's works are sacrosanct and inviolate. We must keep them that way. Paul wrote Timothy, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
If we all accept the revealed word of God as the sole source of the doctrine we teach and believe, for every practice in which we engage, for the reproof, correction, and instruction we need spiritually, then we are duty bound to look to that same revelation for authority for our "good works." That simply means that a work is not "good" if God does not ordain it. We can devise a million things and label them good but unless some biblical basis can be found for them, they are profane - not good as God Almighty sees it.
Let's make an imaginary leap into the future. We are standing before God. Christ is seated at His right hand. This is the judgment day. Very near us, we hear many feverishly saying, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name?" You recognize that don't you? It's Matthew 7:22. The frenzied cries continue until we hear the Lord hush them by replying, "I never knew you; depart from Me you who practice lawlessness!" (verse 23.)
How will we feel on the judgment day if we have come up on the short end of His law? There will be no appealing the sentence. There is but one safe and sensible course of life to follow - "Do all you do, in word or deed in the name of the Lord" (Colossians 3:17). When you turn in your record at the end, there will be no boasting, no pride, nothing in your hand of your own devising to bring. However, there will be your simple obedient faith that has led you throughout life in a pathway God Himself has outlined long before any of us were even born.
Loved ones, it is by faith working through love that we do the Will of God (Gal. 5:6). We urge every rational believer today to study His word, obey His word, practice and teach His word, and recoil from every man-made device and doctrine (cf. John 12:48; Heb. 5:8-9).