There's much talk about "works" these days among Christians, especially as it relates to one's salvation, so I thought it might be good to discuss just what "works" are and what the Bible has to say about them. Is it necessary for a Christian to do good works? And what works does God consider to be good and what works does He consider to be worthless?
First of all, what are works?
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
In the above passage Jesus makes the ever important connection between being His follower (and hence indwelt by the Holy Spirit) and works. In context, He is telling His followers not to hide the light of the Holy Spirit from the world... but to let it shine so everyone can see your good works. What are these works? Things we do because we are followers of Jesus. Things we do prompted by His Spirit within us.
Apparently, when God called us and saved us, He did so, not only because of His great love for us, but because He wanted us to do certain good works while we are here on earth.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
Good works can be anything from praying, fasting, helping the poor, comforting a friend, loving an enemy, giving gifts, ministering to other Christians, preaching, teaching, volunteering to help the needy, walking in integrity, faithfulness, giving of your time, talents, and money selflessly, etc. etc. Basically, I believe, that good works are anything that brings God glory and helps others.
Are we saved by works?
No. You can spend your life in the service of others, deny yourself all worldly pleasures, but if you don't have a relationship with Jesus and His Spirit living inside of you, you won't end up in heaven.
However. As most of you know who follow me, I believe the Scripture is very clear that if we are truly saved, there will be some fruit in our lives, some evidence of the Holy Spirit living inside of us which will manifest itself in a change over the years in our character for the good and in some works.
To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work. Titus 1:15-16
But someone may say, “You claim to have faith and I have good works; show me your alleged faith without the works if you can, and I will show you my faith by my works that is, by what I do.” You believe that God is one; you do well to believe that. The demons also believe that, and shudder and bristle[in awe-filled terror—they have seen His wrath! James 2:18-19
So, yes, I would say that it is necessary for a Christian to do good works, if anything because if they are truly saved, they won't be able to help Not doing them.
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
Are all good works good? Or does God accept some works over others?
This is really the main point I wanted to make today. Only recently have I really thought deeply about this. I see so many Christians dashing here and there, volunteering for this and that, most in an effort to do good works, which in and of itself, isn't bad, but very often these things they are doing, they are doing in the flesh and not in the Spirit.
What does it mean to be doing something in the flesh?
- God did not initiate it. God did not ask you to do it. He did not lead you to do it.
- You're doing it because you feel guilty. Perhaps your church or pastor made you feel obligated.
- You're doing it to make yourself feel better about yourself.
- You're doing so others can see how good and caring you are
- You're doing it to win God's favor and get His blessing
- You're doing it because everyone else is doing it
- You're doing it so you can socialize with others, make friends, be seen
What does it mean to be doing something in the Spirit?
- God initiated it. His Spirit prompted you and led you to do this particular thing
- You sole motivation in doing this work is to please God, bring glory to Him, and love others.
- You look forward to doing it. It fits your God-given talents and skills. You get excited about doing it.
- You feel no pressure from others or from God.
- You don't care what others think of you doing this, whether good or bad.
- Though you may feel nervous at times or out of your league, you feel at peace and know, in faith, this is what God wants you to do.
God never tries to fit a square peg into a round hole. He has created you for certain works that fit your talents, desires, and personality. For example, if you don't enjoy small children, He won't lead you to volunteer for Children's ministry. If you're a serious introvert, He won't ask you to be the church greeter. Yes, He may put you in a place that stretches you a bit, a place that maybe you don't feel completely comfortable, but that's because He wants you to rely on Him and grow in your faith. And as you do, you'll love doing what He has called you to do!
So, what's the big deal whether the work is done in the flesh or by the Spirit? At least it's a good work!
Yes, but not according to God. The reason behind the work is even more important than the work itself
For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:13-14
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Galatians 5:17-18
And here's the clincher. Any works we do in the flesh will be completely burned up when we get to heaven. They will count for nothing.
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.1 Corinthians 3:12-15
Then how do we find out what works God wants us to do?
We have to be led by the Holy Spirit. Easy peasy, right? No. But this is the entire crux of the matter. God doesn't NEED you to do good works. He can find someone else or do them Himself. So, what does He want from you? He wants you!
Christianity is not a set of rules, a list of good works to preform, a doctrine, creed, belief system, way of life, or moral social club. Christianity is a relationship. God is not after converts. He is after sons and daughters. He wants a relationship with you. That is the sole reason He created man in the first place. He wants a family. But family demands relationship and relationship demands time spent together, conversation, closeness. And because God exists outside our physical world, He accomplishes that through His Holy Spirit who takes residence within us when we trust on Jesus for our salvation.
So, we need to cultivate a listening ear for the Holy Spirit, and in doing so, we will be led by Him minute by minute. Remember the verse above from Romans. If you are led by the Spirit of God, you are sons of God.
This post has gotten a little long so I'll post next Monday some ideas on how to hear from the Holy Spirit, things that have worked in my life. Until then, be blessed!