Question: What Good are Good Works?

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Ephesians 2:10)

Hmmm, apparently Christian works can be a sensitive subject..  Go figure!

I’ve run across several bloggers and other Christian writers (a journey begun several weeks ago alongside my friend Graeme at with a myriad of opinions on the subject–and the pendulum swinging widely in both directions.  Though as I read, many of these differing viewpoint may be closer than they first appear.  Personally, I often see a similarly drawn conclusion emerging simply from differing points of origin.  In other words, a strongly held stance may sound in conflict to your own, but only because it’s coming from someone on a different journey than your own.

For example: Peter speaks a powerful truth when he writes:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises….”   (2 Peter 1:3-4a)

And James speaks just as powerfully:

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”  (James 2:17-18)

But who, if either, speaks the greater truth?   If we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” [or deeds], what good are these ‘good works’?  And, to whom?

When you read further on in 2 Peter 1, you run across words such as: “may participate”, “make every effort”, “confirm”, “do”.  These are action words, done as a response to one’s acceptance of God’s salvation by Christ “through these” [vs.4] ‘great and precious promises’ [vs. 3] given to us by His ‘glory and goodness’ [vs. 4].

Let me be perfectly clear: I don’t mean that any ‘works’ I perform through acts of discipleship or sanctification will bring me any closer to, or within any more favor of God than I am at the moment of my reconciliation.  We are instantly sanctified to God, in Christ, at the moment we accept His salvation. 

As Jerry Bridges writes in his book, The Discipline of Grace:

“We should relate all these disciplines back to the grace of God so that the practice of them does not cause us to think we are in a performance relationship with Him…”

I also understand that God may not, by his own choosing, even see these acts because he now only sees Christ in me.  But I am called into an active, outward proclamation or embodiment of sanctification—towards an increasing manifestation of Christ-like behavior (Both Paul and Peter word it as an ‘ever increasing measure’).

But, to whom are we proclaiming?

The Holman Bible Dictionary defines ‘sanctification’ this way:

The process of being made holy resulting in a changed life-style for the believer. The English word sanctification comes from the Latin santificatio, meaning the act/process of making holy, consecrated.  In the Greek New Testament, the root hag– is the basis of hagiasmos, “holiness,” “consecration,” “sanctification”; hagiosyne, “holiness”…..The hag– words in the Septuagint mostly translated the Hebrew qadosh, “separate, contrasting with the profane.” Thus, God is separate; things and people dedicated to Him and to His use are separate. The moral implications of this word came into focus with the prophets and became a major emphasis in the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, days (Sabbath) and festivals (Passover) were sanctified, inanimate objects (tables, lampstands) were sanctified, livestock, and of course the priests and Levites, were sanctified–All set aside as holy and separate for the Lord. Within the New Testament however, Christ’s crucifixion makes possible the moving of the sinner himself from the profane to the holy (that is, to sanctification) so that the believer can become a part of the temple where God dwells and is worshiped.  The Book of Hebrews also greatly emphasizes the ethical aspect of sanctification; something to be pursued as an essential aspect of the believer’s life

As David Platt writes in Radical:

“Being a part of a community of faith involves being exposed to the life of Christ in others.  Just as we are identified with Christ and his church in baptism, we now share life in Christ with one another.  So to whom can you deliberately, intentionally, and sacrificially show the life of Christ in this way?  This is foundational in making disciples, and we will multiply the gospel only when we allow others to get close enough to us to see the life of Christ in action.”  (pp. 98)

As Platt goes on to say: “The faith in Christ that saves us from our sins involves an internal transformation that has external implications.”  (pp. 110)

Again, let me be clear here: It is not MY works, done BECAUSE of Christ, FOR God.
It is works FROM God, done BY Christ, THROUGH me, FOR a fallen world.

The work of Christ on the cross set us apart, holy and fully sanctified, in the eyes of the Lord our God.  Anything we choose to do from there on, as an act of worship, or ministry, or discipleship, shows our sanctification–our set-apartness–freely given by God, through Christ, to a fallen world.

My friend Rick Alvey from iLife Journey gave me a great quote by Dallas Willard from his book, The Great Omission:

“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”

One thought on “Question: What Good are Good Works?”

  1. Jesus put things in a kingdom of God perspective. God’s kingdom was being established, and it meant shalom, wholeness – and as Luke 4:16-21 makes clear, this had physical, social and spiritual dimensions.

    If we are following Jesus and obeying the things he commanded us (Matthew 28:18-20), we will be doing the same things where we can.

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