I recently heard about an example of Christian love in action.
A sister in Christ was visiting a friend who had troubles in her kitchen. It seems that her stove was falling apart–the timer wasn’t working, and no heat emanated from the oven. The visiting sister, who is handy with this sort of task, reflected on whether she could and should help with this situation. With the prompting of the Lord and the grateful cooperation of the friend, the stove project was launched. After removing the troublesome parts, they went to a local appliance store, verified that the parts were broken, and got new ones. Returning to the kitchen, the parts were installed and the stove warmed to life. The accomplishment was just in time to start the Christmas baking–the total elapsed tome for the repair job was about two hours. (Why don’t my repair projects go that smoothly?)
The helper has been encouraging this friend, who has professed faith in Christ; the husband (working overtime) and the family were grateful for this Christian love in action–a timely “Christmas gift.”
Reflecting on this theme of good works, we are wise to ask, what is the role of good works for Christians?
Paul wrote to Titus of the dynamic effect of God’s saving grace: “For the GRACE OF GOD that brings salvation has appeared to all men, TEACHING US that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, ZEALOUS FOR GOOD WORKS” (Titus 2:12-14). So good actions are the fruit, not the root of salvation.
In our concern to defend the grace of God we may make the mistake of de-emphasizing good works. Of course we want to keep grace preeminent; we glory in God’s unmerited favor to us. As Paul wrote, “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.” (Eph 2:8,9). Yet we are redeemed to express God’s life through practical demonstrations of His goodness. Paul went on to add, ” For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”(Eph 2:10).
The epistle of Titus has profound statements of God’s grace in salvation (1:2,3; 2:11-14;3:4-7). Yet, instead of ignoring the importance of good deeds, Titus was to continually affirm this responsibility to fellow believers (Titus 2:7,14; 3:8,14). For example, wives were to show their GOOD CHARACTER through practical ministry in their home (Titus 2:5). False teachers, however, were void of God’s goodness: “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him . . . disqualified for every good work.” (Titus 1:16).
Having the assurance of our acceptance in Christ, we are to heed the apostle’s counsel: “This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain GOOD WORKS. These things are good and profitable to men” (Titus 3:8).
Around the holidays, society usually benefits from extra works of benevolence by humanitarian and religious groups. (We welcome all positive behavior, although works of kindness rarely make the news.)
At this point we are wise to stop and consider, are all works of benevolence acceptable to God? Do they meet His criteria for approval? God’s Word instructs us of several qualifications for relatively “good” works to be actually “good” and honorable for God’s purposes. (These principles are not given to cause us to be introspective or more determined; they are to guide us in the practical demonstration of God’s love, through the indwelling life of Christ [Gal 2:20]).
1) Good works should be motivated by genuine love.
As the “love chapter” testifies, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3; cf. Eph 5:2). Motives are important because God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7).
2. Good works should be inspired by a desire to glorify God.
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”(1 Cor 10:31; cf. Col 3:17). If benevolent deeds are used in an effort to gain personal recognition, they are misdirected. As our Creator and Redeemer, God is the standard and source of true goodness.
3. Good works should be voluntary.
Religious or ethical laws may cause “good” activities to be performed, but this falls short of God’s New Testament plan. The apostle John reminds us that Christ’s commands are “not burdensome” (1 John 5:3) because Christ’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matt 11:30). In this economy of grace we “have been delivered from the law, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom 7:6).
J. F. Strombeck noted, “In all these [passages about service] the appeal is for voluntary compliance. . . It is clear that Christ does not seek a forced, slavish, or coercive service. He desires a voluntary and joyous labor of love that issues from the heart.” (Disciplined by Grace, p.83).
4. Good works should be joyful.
“Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness . . . For the LORD is good” (Psalm 100:1,2,5). Joy is not an added condition, but an evidence that the believer’s good works are energized by the Holy Spirit, Whose fruit is joy (Gal 5:22).
Paul’s focus was to be faithful to his calling–as he put it, “so that I may finish my race with JOY, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
Sometimes we quench the Spirit and refuse to redeem the time with actions of love (1 Thess 5:19; Eph 5:16). We then need the reminder, “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
So at conversion we realized that our good works could not earn God’s favor; we repented and trusted in Christ’s finished work by grace through faith. Having this new life we now are zealous for good works with a new motive (love) and a new energy source (Christ in us). Apart from His grace, relatively good works are more like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), stained by pride and self-interest. But by His grace–through abiding in Christ–our good works will be displays of His fruit (John 15:8).
If we are convicted by these Scriptural qualifications that some of our “good” works are from self-oriented motives, then we can look to Him to transform our standards of goodness to be expressions of His true Goodness. That recipe brings delight to all who taste the results.
January 6, 2000 Vol.3 #1
Capitalization in Scripture quotes is my added emphasis.
See also chapter 11 in Classic Christianity by Bob George, “Living by a Higher Law.”