Imagine for one moment that everyone who knows you was going to judge whether or not you are a Christian. But instead of basing this on your profession of faith, church attendance, or theology, they are going to base their analysis on your deeds.
Not on how kind you are, and not by the sins you refrain from either. They are going to judge you based on outward actions of faith, motivated by love and mercy.
How would you do?
Here’s another question. Could you, with any measure of confidence make this statement: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1Corinthians 11:1)”? This is a question I’ve been asking myself recently. 1John 2:6 says “Whoever says he abides in Him (Christ) ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.”
Rags or Riches?
I’ve realized that as Christians, many of us have an incomplete or unbalanced emphasis in our understanding of works. We quote Isaiah 64:6 “All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment,” and we rightly understand that none of our good deeds before faith could please God because “whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).” We know that our supposed good deeds could not commend us to God for eternal life.
We have all memorized Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Glory to our gracious Savior! This is one of my favorite bible verses.
But do you remember the verse that comes next?
Ephesians 2:10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
God saved us apart from works, and made us vessels for good works so that we would glorify Him.
There is an important distinction between the striving works of an unbeliever, done without faith in an attempt to earn salvation, and between a Christian who obeys Christ’s command to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven (Matthew 5:16).” One offers up filthy rags to God and the other offers their life up as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).”
God’s word teaches that believers have been released from bondage to the law and slavery to sin and set free by the Spirit to live as slaves of righteousness and fulfill the law in loving our neighbor. That’s a packed sentence. I suggest you read Galatians 5, Romans 6, Romans 8:1-11, and Romans 13:8-10 to get a better grasp on that. In Christ we have been set free to serve God, fulfill His purposes, and love people.
How Should We Live?
If our response to being saved by grace apart from works is to say “now I can rest easy and live idly,” there is a huge problem. We know that responding to God’s grace by abounding in sin is absurd (Romans 6:15), but do we realize it is equally absurd to respond to God’s grace by being lazy and complacent?
God’s grace sets us free from vainly working to gain salvation, but it also sets us free to perform the good works that God has prepared for us in Christ! James 1:25 says “The one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” The “law of liberty” refers to the freedom that we have in the gospel. James says the blessed response to this freedom is to be a “doer who acts” and not a hearer only, deceiving ourselves (James 1:22).
James later says we are to “speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty (James 2:12).” As Christians we will not be judged for our sins because Christ has paid our penalty. We will be judged and receive reward based on what we did with the freedom we obtained in the gospel. 2Corinthians 5:9-10 says “…We make it our aim to please Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (see also 1Corinthians 3:11-15).”
So how should we live? “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ… standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).” Like Paul, we should pray for each other that God would “make (us) worthy of His calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power (2Thessalonians 1:12).
Our correct theology, that we will only ever be “unworthy servants (Luke 17:10)” should not stop us from striving to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ, making it our aim to please Him through every good work in obedience to His word.
Indeed “…Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:13-14).” Paul even said we are to “insist” on the doctrine of grace through faith apart from works “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works (see Titus 3:4-8).”
The right response to the free, undeserved gift of forgiveness and eternal life is to pour ourselves out as a living sacrifice in love to God, running with all our might to receive an imperishable reward (1Corinthians 9:24-27).
Thinking on these things should convict even the most passionate Christian. None of us have yet obtained the goal or already been made perfect (Philippians 2:12). Yet, we need to examine ourselves.
Do you make it your aim to please God, or are you constantly living for self? Do you read His word so that you might obey it, or only out of habit or maybe guilt? Have you experienced Christ’s power to free you from sin and lead you in righteousness? Do you love Him? Does His grace motivate you, or does it make you complacent? Does the cross fill you with passion or is it just a story? Just doctrine? Do you love people? Do you care if they are hungry, orphaned, widowed, persecuted, or unsaved?
Is your life headed towards Christ?
Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
If you are not pressing forward towards the Lord Jesus, then you are on the wide road to Hell. Grace, faith, and justification are all unmerited gifts. Works do not add to your salvation. But the bible teaches that works always accompany salvation, and are a necessary indicator of faith. This is a truth God’s word does not soften, and we shouldn’t either.
James 2:14,17,26 “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
Faith without works looks like a dead body when the spirit has departed. Empty. Lifeless. No longer in existence. Dead.
The good news is that if this is you, you have the opportunity to come to Christ. Jesus died to pay the penalty for your sins and was raised from the dead that you might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). You must confess and repent of your sins, putting your trust in Him alone to justify you in God’s sight. God’s Holy Spirit will then dwell in you to guide you in truth and righteousness.
Application for the Christian
We need to repent of our idleness and for those times we’ve used God’s grace as an excuse to be inactive. But we shouldn’t stop there. I hope this message will bring you to a place of great joy in both the freedom and calling that are yours in Christ. Our lives are to be a pursuit of God first, not good works. We must be infused with passion and joy in Him, and from that joy our life can overflow in a wealth of generosity and good deeds (see 2Corinthians 8:2).
If we view good works as drudgery fueled by guilt, we are missing the point entirely! We should be excited to know that our good and gracious God hasn’t just saved us to leave us or let us figure out His will on our own. He has revealed His will to us in His word, and has already prepared good works for us to do. Surely He will see that our lives be used for His glory. We should feel encouraged and glad that God has greater purposes for us than to live for ourselves.
Remember also that “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1Corinthians 13:3).” A day will come when God will uncover the secret motives of our hearts. Let us be people who are propelled to action by hearts that are so thankful to God for His mercy at the cross, and filled with love for Him. Let us be moved by compassion for the lost and hurting like Jesus was, and seek to reach them by all means possible with the gospel.
Finally, as Christians “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24)” so that “in everything (we) may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:10).” Amen!