Saturday, August 16, 2008

God doesn't need your good works - He produces them

The words of Paul that I shared in a post earlier this week from Titus 3:4-7 included these words: "He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done..."

That's something to cling on to and never forget! Our good works - our righteous deeds - play absolutely no part in getting us saved, (and if they play no part in getting us saved, they play no part in keeping us saved either - it's all by God's mercy and grace).

I suppose some could take this to mean that good works, or righteous deeds, are therefore irrelevant in the life of a Christian. Perhaps Paul had that thought in mind as he followed up those words about the wonderful gift of salvation in verses 4-7 with the words of verse 8:
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.
In similar fashion, Paul also talks about good works in Ephesians 2:10, again, immediately after talking about how "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).

He says:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
I said all of the above to establish that "good works" are indeed a part of the life of the Christian. But unfortunately the error that legalists have made is to make "good works" out to be the root of the Christian life. That is, legalists say that good works are necessary to maintain salvation. In their eyes, the work of Christ is superseded by our good works that we do 'for' Him. But look at the two passages I just shared (and there are plenty more passages along this line) and notice two things. First, notice the purpose of good works. Second, notice the source of good works.

In the passage from Titus, Paul says that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. Why? Because these things are good and profitable to people. You're not going to score any points with God, especially in regards to maintaining your right standing before Him, through any effort of your own! No amount of good works will help to maintain your acceptance by Him. It's all by His grace. Your good works are simply an outflow of His working in you, as the passage from Ephesians implies. You are God's workmanship (you are not your own workmanship). He Himself - His very life in you - is the very source of your good deeds. The good works that He works in and through you are good and profitable to people!

"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing," wrote the writer of Hebrews. Why? Was is so legalists could turn Sunday mornings and evenings, and Wednesday evenings, and whenever the church doors are open, into "service times" at a "building" that Christians should attend to maintain their good spiritual standing before God and man? It sure has been made out to be that way today, hasn't it? But rather, the real reason for the "good habit" of meeting together was simply to encourage one another and to spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). It's pretty simply, really.

(By the way, have you ever looked at the surrounding context of Hebrews 10:24-25? Did the writer simply suddenly decide to add those two sentences out of the blue? What exactly was the "hope we profess" (vs. 23), that the writer had been writing about? I think it's worth spending some time with in order to understand how he led up to those words, and I encourage you to look at it on your own).

Good works are a fruit of our life in Christ. They are most certainly not the root by which our righteousness is established or maintained! Christ is the Vine. We are the branches of the vine. The LIFE is in the Vine, and the fruit grows not as the branches struggle and strive to produce fruit for the Vine, but as the LIFE of the vine flows into the branches as the branches abide - rest - in the Vine. The branches have no life in and of themselves to produce anything anyway! "Abide in Me," Jesus says, "and you will bear fruit."

In Christ, we have become one spirit with God (1 Cor 6:17). We have become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). It is God who works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose (Phil 2:13). All my evangelical life I've heard things like, "God's depending upon you to do His will." "God's counting on you to complete His work." Hold on a second! He's not depending upon us! He doesn't need us! He loves us and desires us, but AS IF He needed anything! We are jars of clay, fully dependent upon Him!


  1. Hey, if I didn't know better, I'd think you'd been eavesdropping on my thoughts!
    Seriously, Joel, you are confirming what God is speaking to our spirits.
    I think you are tuned to the same signal...thanks for being receptive. God is so good like that.
    Fitly joined that right?

  2. Wonderful words, brother. The main reason we meet together is to encourage each other in the faith. In what faith? In the faith of the grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!! Why do we confuse this simple thing? We meet together to remind each other of Who exactly we're trusting in and Who exactly He is. There is one faith. That is the faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross and in His resurrection. We remind each other constantly.

    I wish the Church wouldn't complicate things and make it difficult. I just wish we could all get together and encourage each other in the grace of God and in His love for us. If we did that, would there really be any need to talk about right living, rules and principles? God Himself is our Life.

  3. RJW,

    Funny how God does that, eh? :) Using His body to confirm His truth to His body. LOL. Thanks for sharing what He's been confirming in you.


    Yep I sometimes get very discouraged about how "meeting together" has been so twisted and has been made so complicated. What we need is to share grace, love, etc, and to encourage one another in it, helping one another to be established and grounded in it, and then walking in its natural outcome.


    I can relate to your Hebrews experience. It used to seem like such a hard book to understand, but I've come to see how it gives some of the best explanations of grace and the New Covenant!

  4. Joel,
    Amen! God produces the good works inside us...through giving us the desire in our HEARTS to do good. Our works our the FRUIT...the result of a loving relationship with Him. But we do not DO works in order to gain His love...but because we love Him and He loves us.

    ~Amy :)

  5. Great post Joel.

    I do have one nit to pick, though.

    I don't know if anyone but denominations that believe you can loose your salvation believe that works MAINTAIN it.

    I think for me, legalism was used to keep God happy.

    From the pulpit, we were told that God would get His 10% one way or the other - to the dollar.

    But isn't that almost like a superstitious belief? It's almost like we have to keep the volcano god happy or he will grow angry with us and heap molten lava on our heads?

    This belief make Him a tit-for-tat, quid pro quo God. That's heresy!

    I was told that I could never do enough. It was all about performance.

    But it ultimately came down to the fact that I was really doing it to keep the pastor happy. I didn't want him to think less of me if I quit giving, or if I quit coming to EVERY service, or if I quit 1 of my NUMEROUS activities.

    Never again.

  6. Hi John,

    I think you're probably right, if I'm reading you correctly, that the more common mode of legalism is based more upon teaching works as a means of keeping God happy than actually maintaining salvation.

    I do think there are extreme cases, and I've heard them personally, of legalists who do actually preach outrightly that if you don't maintain a holy lifestyle, you lose your salvation. In those cases works are taught as the means by which salvation is maintained.

    In less extreme cases, although probably more widespread and still very serious, I think there are many Christians who live with at least somewhat of a fear, if only from time to time, that their lack of good works, and/or their sins, will keep them out of heaven.

    But back to what you're saying, that's really the kind of legalism that I myself was under as well. The activity-based, tithing-based, God-isn't-pleased-with-your-performance-based type of legalism. I was under that type of teaching and I think I heaped a lot of it on myself as well. I always felt I was falling short to one degree or another, and if I did happen to find some sort of 'success' in my Christian performance, it was short-lived and was quickly replaced by self-doubt and condemnation.

    Thankfully I've been freed from all that, and continue to grow in my freedom. As with you, I could never, ever go back to that old bondage. Never again!