More than just good works.

I get this question all the time (or some form of it): “If we are rescued by Jesus through grace, and not because of good works we have done, what is the purpose of good works?

Those of us who worry about whether our good works will be enough, are not quite grasping the Gospel nor the purpose of our good works. A few things to point out:

We ARE saved by good works.

Just not our good works.

Jesus lived the life we should have lived but haven’t, and died the death we should die but don’t have to. Those are part of His good works, the fruit of which we get to partake. (In theological terms, we are made right with God — justified — through Jesus’ active righteousness and His passive righteousness. His record of perfect obedience is credited to our account — see Romans 3:21-26, and Romans 4-5. More than that, we share in His life, through union with Christ, which is the anchor for our secure place in God’s love and the primary way He changes us.)

Jesus does much more than get-us-into-heaven-when-we-die, and His is greater than our perfect Example. The life He has He shares with His people, who are being remade into His image (Colossians 3:10). Because God is good and does good, we share in His character and inevitably do good towards others.

What is the place of our good works in relation to His good work?
Consider Romans 15:1-7:

[15:1] We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. [2] Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. [3] For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” [4] For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. [5] May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, [6] that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [7] Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
—Romans 15:1-7, ESV

We “have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak” because we are “not to please ourselves.” These actions do not earn God’s favor. For as J.P. Moreland reminds us, “Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort.” (This is grace-driven effort.)

So we are exhorted to labor and work and toil and grow exhausted in doing good for others because God is pleased to produce His life and goodness in our lives. An orange tree doesn’t have to try really hard to grow fruit at the end of its branches. Healthy trees simply grow good and delicious fruit.

Do you see what happens in that passage above?

We are given a command (DO!), while in the midst of the command we see the example — God’s character and grace (WHO!). When we keep our WHO’s and our DO’s in order, we can then move into doing what God says according to His good pleasure. We take on His character, reproducing His goodness in our lives — fruit for others to enjoy.

Elsewhere we hear Jesus giving this stern warning:

“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
—Matthew 7:18-19, NIV

When we bear fruit through union with Christ we cannot help but do good works.

I am convinced that one reason why good works and Christlike character are described in Scripture as good FRUIT is that they are meant to be consumed by others.

Are others eating of God’s work in our lives? Will they say, “Wow. Taste and see the Lord is good!”


One thought on “More than just good works.

  1. A question I often struggle with (especially given my background, as you know, Jeff). Thanks for posting this. As usual, good stuff (or is it better to say, good fruit!).

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