WHAT ABOUT GOOD WORKS?
It is not uncommon today to hear much preaching that discourages good works. Under the banner of “good works” people will throw in prayer, fasting, witnessing, alms giving, and reading your Bible too much, etc. It is amazing how much of what people call good works are actually affirmed and required of us in the Bible.
The Bible however does speak out against works - but it’s not the kind that many are talking about in their sermons. The Apostle Paul called them “dead works”, not “good works”! Notice that the adjective “good” means good and the adjective “dead” means dead. The term “works” in the New Testament is always preceded by either “good” or “dead”, except for where it is simply “works”. Works is a negative reference and refers to the rituals of the sacrificial system. So the terms “good” and “dead” are in the Bible for a reason. The term “dead works” is always a reference to trusting and putting one’s faith in the sacrificial system of the law instead of faith in Christ. That includes all the outward rituals of cleansings, washings, religious day observances, physical circumcision, etc. These of themselves cannot save a person. That’s why they are called “dead works”! In fact Paul says these “types and shadows” were predictive of Christ’s coming and were actually nailed to the cross because in effect they accomplished their prophetic purpose and are no longer needed after the cross. But what about good works then?
“Good works” on the other hand are just that - “good”. They are affirmed. They are to accompany true salvation. Titus 2:14 says we much be “zealous of good works”. Titus 3:1 says we must “be ready to every good work”! Paul’s often referred to salvation passage in Ephesians 2:8 “for by grace are ye saved through faith” is often cherry picked and not continued to verse 10. That verse says “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”. In fact the Apostle John writes in Revelation 3:2 “I have not found thy works perfect before God”. Jesus Christ is so concerned about “good works” that He wants you to perfect them! Jesus also said in Matthew 5:16 “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”. Shockingly this is so different from all the preaching out there that condemns “good works”. So if “good works” are good and required of us after being born again, then why all the preaching against them? Good question! Let’s see what could be behind this.
There are two reasons why “good works” now become “bad” in the eyes of the preacher. The first is the desire to expose the rituals of Romanism and its sacramental system, or any other religious ritual (Judaism or Islam, etc.) that attempts to replace simple faith in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. Their intentions are good but their terminology is bad. They should be identifying these works as “bad” or better yet, as Paul does -“dead works”. We get what they mean when they say “good works” can’t save you, but they should be using Bible terminology like “dead works”. So in this way a good intention has muddied the very concept of “good works”. “Good works” can be done by people prior to salvation as in the case of Cornelius but they still need the blood of Jesus Christ to forgive their past sins and then must be born again. Jesus showed that when he said “if ye then being evil (need salvation) know how to give good gifts unto your children”. But once a person is saved James 2:17 says “even so faith, if it hath not works is dead, being alone”. The second reason why “good works” are preached against so much is because of a theological system that rubs up the wrong way against “good works”. That system is the concept called “Calvinism”. Why does Calvinism degrade “good works” into “dead works” so much? Their idea of salvation is often called “monergism”. This is the idea that salvation is only one sided, and that man can have no involvement whatsoever, even after salvation. Because Calvinism teaches a one sided salvation before and after salvation, therefore it is natural for them to downplay “good works” because it threatens their idea of “faith alone”, even though James says faith can’t remain alone after conversion but must be accompanied by works to show that it is real. Furthermore, since salvation becomes a “paid in full and up front deal” (no need to endure to the end and bring forth fruit worthy of repentance) then “good works” would also be seen as a threat to this type of salvation. Anything you do, which is called synergism (God working with man) is not approved, even though the Bible says in Phil. 2:12 that you should “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Jesus also said in Luke 13:34 “strive to enter in at the strait gate”. Paul after his conversion said in Acts 9:6: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Mary said whatever Jesus tells you to do “do it” at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. This idea that we can’t do anything is not Biblical. But these are some of the reasons why “good works” are looked down upon.
Earlier in this article we said that the Bible affirms “good works” so let’s take a look at some of these verses to prove this. After reading these next few verses stringed together for convenience, tell me if you can still preach against “good works”. We are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph. 2:10) , and should be “well reported of for good works” (1Tim. 5:10), and should be “rich in good works” (1 Tim. 6:18), and that “the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17), and “showing thyself a pattern of good works” (Titus 2:7), and should be “a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14), and we should “be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:14), and we should “provoke unto love and unto good works” (Heb. 10:24), “that they may see your good works” (1 Peter 2:12). “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt.5:16). The bottom line is that you must have “good works” or you are a fraud! “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 2:14).
Let me say this: people call Bible reading, praying, turning your back on sinful things and the like- “good works”, which they actually mean “bad works” and condemn them. But the Bible exhorts the true believer to “pray without ceasing”, “meditate on his law day and night”, “when ye fast”, “could you not tarry for one hour”, “flee fornication”, “abstain from every appearance of evil”, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness”, “if thine right eye offend thee, pluck it out”, “touch not the unclean thing”, “come out from among them”, “be not drunk on wine”, etc., etc. Why would you want to teach people not to follow these exhortations? “Whosoever therefore shall break one of the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.5:19).
How interesting that those who preach against “good works” usually turn to the Apostle Paul’s list of ceremonial duties in Colossians and Galatians to support their “anti-good works” preaching. These ceremonial observances have nothing to do with those admonitions in the New Testament spoken of earlier. The sad fact is that these people are confuting (mixing up) “dead works” with “good works”! Let’s look at two more verses to see how the New Testament addresses “good works”. In Acts 9:36 it says “now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this women was full of good works and alms deeds which she did”. Nothing here suggesting these were “dead works” or “bad works”! Nothing here about injuring her salvation neither! Peter would have rebuked her instantly! Also, in Acts 10:4 Cornelius’ “prayers and alms are come up as a memorial before God”. Again, no rebuke here neither! The sobering truth is that “good works” are good, not bad! Perhaps it is time to have a closer look at your theology if you have been preaching against what God requires and is pleased with. Let me close with a warning: The Bible says in Isaiah 5:20 “woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter”!
CORNWALL HOLINESS CHURCH
824 ALICE ST.
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