Bible Truth, Christ in Me, Christ Life, Christian Life, Christian Living, Good Works, Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit Guidance, Indwelling Christ, Indwelling Spirit, Kingdom of God, Kingdom Truth, Kingdom Work, Lead into Truth, The Kingdom Within
I laughed a little as I chose the title to this post. I can’t tell you how many times I lost points in math class because I failed to show my work. I didn’t do it on purpose: I’d do the mental steps and write down the answer. If I got it right, what did actually writing out the steps matter? It mattered for many reasons, as any math teacher will tell you. Doing the work and showing the work is important. And so, before I post the final study on the fruit of the Spirit, I want to address something I wrote in last week’s post, specifically; rather than doing “good works” I seek to be about The Father’s business and do only what I see Him doing. I did not mean waiting on God is an excuse to not do anything. In this post, I want to expand on what I mean when I say “good works” and I want to take a look at James 2:26 and Ephesians 2:8-9.
James 2:26 says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For 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.” In times past, I have looked at these two scriptures and wondered if they didn’t contradict one another. Someone might say, “Of course not! It’s obvious!” I can only speak to my own walk with God and, for a long time, it wasn’t obvious to me.
These two scriptures appeared to be expressing opposing thoughts regarding works. That is, of course, even assuming the two Apostles are speaking about the same thing. Perhaps Paul is speaking merely of Jesus’ death and resurrection while James is speaking directly to how we Christians interact with our fellow men. And yet, can the two be separated? Don’t we have a tendency to present God with our good works, almost like a “here’s how Christian I am, aren’t I faithful and good” resume? Our works are the proof of our faith according to James but then no they aren’t according to Paul.
Is your head spinning? I know mine was until my eyes were opened to see that everything comes from God. I took another look at Ephesians 2: 8-9 and saw that everything mentioned there is a gift of God. His grace is a gift. His salvation is a gift. His faith is a gift. When I saw that Galatians 2:20 really says “the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith OF the Son of God” rather than IN the Son of God, it changed James 2:8-9 for me. I do not have to prove that my faith in Jesus is alive by doing good works. Rather, it’s because He is alive in me through His Spirit, and because I live by His faith, that I do good works. The works I do are His works.
Continuing on in Ephesians: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). This is such a beautiful, exciting verse and one that leads me to rest in Jesus. It’s never me. It’s not my works. It’s not doing what I think is good. God has prepared specific good works for me and I walk in them.
This is, of course, easier said than done. First, we must know what these works God has prepared beforehand are and there is a subtle difference between good works and the good works prepared beforehand by God. There is a fact I have found to be often overlooked by pastors and teachers I have listened to. I find there are few in Christendom who fail to attribute the existence of evil in the world to the fall of mankind that resulted in the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden. What I do not hear spoken of often is that the eating of the fruit of the tree resulted in man knowing both good and evil. We humans are capable of great evil as well as great good.
Doing good works has very little to do with whether or not we are following after God. There are people who have no belief in any sort of god at all who have done great good. There are people who believe in a God who have done great good. There are people who are devout followers of Jesus who have done great good. The same is true for doing evil but, for the sake of this post, I am focused on good works.
There are many scriptures that stress the importance of good works like Titus 3:14: “And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.” Romans Chapter 2 stresses the importance of good works especially in verses 6 & 7: “who will render to each one according to his deeds, eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good…” Good works are crucial and they are expected in the life of a Christian.
The point I am attempting to make is that, for the Christian, there is a difference between good works done FOR God and good works done out of the life OF God. There is such a thing as “spiritual burnout”. I am convinced this happens because we are capable of doing great works, the Bible even spells them out for us, and we expend so much energy in doing Christianity that we eventually burn out. The Spirit is promised to be a spring of living water, flowing out to others through us. When the works that we do are the works we see the Father doing, it’s His life in us that enables us to do the works. There is no spiritual burnout when our works flow from the Spirit within us. His fruit is love, joy, peace…
Knowing whether our works are the result of what we think/believe is good or whether they are the result of the life of Christ in us is impossible without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It requires being still, shutting out every other voice, and listening for His because, “…He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak…” (John 16:13). Whatever He speaks we must do and we must do only what He speaks.
God has prepared the way for us to walk in. We are His workmanship: His work is shown in us. We can be confident that He who began a good work in us will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6, emphasis mine). We can trust that He watches over His word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12). We can trust that the good works expected of us are not a call to busyness and exhaustion but rather a promise that His life in us bears fruit. Let us remember we only bear fruit when we abide in Him. It’s His life flowing through us that bears fruit and the Father is the husbandman who prunes us that we may bear more fruit. Let us not fall into the trap of “I ought to be doing this or I should be doing that.” It is God who works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). He wants our lives to bear fruit and we can trust that He will ensure they do so no matter our circumstances or stations in life.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit! (Galatians 5:25)