Friday, July 20, 2007

So What About Good Works?

In a previous post I wrote about the Freedom we have in Christ and how many believers, myself included, seem to be trapped in a way of living and thinking that would probably be viewed as a "works based" salvation. In short, we bind ourselves up with rules and lists of proper behaviors, attitudes, and actions and somehow we think that if we can just do everything on that list, then God will be obliged to act a certain way toward us, or love us more, or answer our prayers. While I believe this is true, that doesn't mean that what we do doesn't count. For a great message on this topic, click here and listen to pastor Bill's message titled "Why Good Works are Important."

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:8-10).

It has always struck me how many believers know the first part of this passage, but never read on to the second part. Grace saves us, no doubt, and grace sustains us. We were hopelessly lost, separated forever from our Creator, when Christ stepped into our world to save us...that is called grace. Grace only requires 1 thing from us; faith. Faith in Jesus Christ, which is the only pathway to God. However, we weren't saved so we could sit around until we die and then go to heaven. No, we were saved FOR something; for a purpose. What is that purpose? To do good works. There's no getting around it. God DOES care about our behaviors. What we do with our time, our money, our gifts, matters. Faith and Good Works are inseparable. They're like tea and sugar, italian food and garlic, baseball and steroids (oops, did I just say that?).

"You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,' and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." (James 2:20-24)

So how do we reconcile the two? I think many Christians make this too complicated. Faith and Works are inseparable, but they are a "paradox." The Bible has other paradoxes; (a seemingly contradictory statement that still may be true). A great book I've read on a difficult to understand Christian paradox is called The Grace and Truth Paradox by Randy Alcorn. Still, this is not too complicated. Let me see if I can boil this down;

1. We are saved by grace, through faith
2. Good Works prove our faith (and can be evaluated as good fruit)
3. Good Works do NOT earn God's approval or love, nor do they save us
4. They will know we are Christians by our "love"
5. Love is a verb, not a noun.

In John 15 Jesus summarizes things pretty well;
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other." (John 15:9-17)

Last word: so, how do we reconcile the two? How do you live in freedom while also knowing the need to do good works, and doing them? I cannot answer this question for you except to do what I endeavor to do;

"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Phil 2:12-13)

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