Good Works- Part 3

The next place we find the phrase “good works” is in Matthew 26:10. The event is the woman who breaks the alabaster box open and anoints Jesus with it.  This act is called a “good work” by Jesus. Here we learn more Biblical truths concerning good works.

Notice firstly, this “good work” is not seen as a good work by the disciples.  They see it as a waste or as an extravagant measure. This perfume was valued at a year’s wages and could have done much good but she has wasted it on Jesus.  What is deemed to be a “good work” in our eyes may not be a “good work” and what is not deemed as a good work may actually be one.  The lesson here is that the action itself does not make the work “good.” It is easy for us to be deceived about the validity or non-validity of “good works.” That makes it very difficult to base our assurance on “good works.”

Next, Jesus receives that as a “good work” because of her motive. Jesus says she did this work upon or toward Him. The motive of this work was for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ. There was no thought of cost only thought of Him. It was not done to get something in return but done out of love for Him. This love is the fruit of the Spirit and this “good work” flows from that fruit.  That is why Jesus so readily receives it.  It was done out of love for Christ. He was her only motivation.

Thirdly, there was a purpose here that was not her intention.  She simply wanted to honor Christ because the Spirit of God that indwelt her was producing love for Him in her. But God who was working in all of this, intended this to be a anointing for His death.  She meant it to be a purely physically honoring act. But God had another intention. He was magnifying the mission of His Son. He had come to die for his people and to save them from their sins.  God works in us and through us to do His good pleasure.

Finally, this woman is rewarded. Her work is judged to be good by Christ and she is rewarded for it. Although God was doing the work in her, she will receive reward because she was used of God.  She will forever be remembered for her work whenever the Gospel is preached.  Why the gospel? Because that is what this event pictures.  It is about who Christ is, what Christ is going to do on the cross, and what the  Spirit produces in believers. The good news is that “good works” are about the work of the Triune God on our behalf.

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Good Works- Part 2

I listened to a preacher who was preaching on the very text we looked at in the previous post, Matthew 5 about salt and light.  He read the text correctly but he failed to preach the text correctly.  The Bible says, “Ye ARE the salt of the earth” and “Ye ARE the light of the world.” But when he began preaching he said, “You are TO BE the salt of the earth” and “You are TO BE the light of the world.”  Do you see the difference.  He took an indicative (a statement of fact) and made it an imperative (a command).  And that happens far too often.

When this is done, the text is twisted to say something that it never intended to convey. What the preacher was saying to the congregation was that they needed to do a better job of being salt and try harder to be light.  At one point he said it was their JOB.  He also went on to say that they could not offer up a prayer unless they were living in holiness. What he was doing was what many Baptist preachers tend to do: they guilt the congregation to make a greater effort to do better. It is their duty to be saltier salt and brighter light. Of course, he offered the application that you can’t listen to rock and roll music and be salt and light and you can’t dress certain ways or have your hair long and be salt and light.  You see, a command or imperative is law not gospel. So if I get rid of my music and if I dress the way the preacher desires, I will be salt and light. It is no different than what the Pharisees did. They added laws that they were able to keep so they could to achieve salvation. So if I change the radio station I listen to, if I dress differently, and if I get my hair cut……then I will be ok….then I will be salt and light.

Either Jesus said “YOU ARE” or He said “YOU ARE TO BE” Either we are, by the work of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, salt and light or we need to make the effort to be both. Instead of reminding people what they ARE in Christ (salt and light) and encouraging them to nourish their relationship with Christ so that they will be saltier salt and brighter light we tell them to come and ask God to help them do better. Instead of asking them why they profess to be Christians and then are not what Christians are, we tell them get the externals right. Instead of telling them a decrease in their saltiness and light is the indication of a problem between them  and God and maybe they are not even saved, we tell them to roll up their sleeves and do better.

And don’t you know, some came to the alter after that preacher was done, and asked God to help them do better. But they never addressed their relationship with God. They never addressed the effort in making their relationship with God through Christ closer.  Their distant or anemic relationship will stay the same but they will try harder.  And when they fail again. The preacher will lay another guilt trip on them, and they will determine to try even harder next time. The reason people like this kind of preaching is that it is easier to change your music, clothes, and hair length then it is to trust Christ. One you can do on your own but the other you can’t do without the work of the Spirit. Without Christ you can do NOTHING. But with Him you can do ALL THINGS.

If you are saved, you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world. Salt and light are used for specific purposes. If you are not salt and not light at all then you need to be saved because the Spirit is not in you.  If you are not as salty or bright as you should be, you need to address your relationship with Him. The law (commands) is designed to show you the impossibility of sinful humanities ability to keep them and drive us to Christ who did obey and who enables us to obey now.

This same preacher said that he refused to pray at a school function because they had been playing rock and roll music right before they asked him to pray. “How can the same ones who were listening to that music now ask him to pray?” he asked.  Maybe because they are lost and and like darkness more than the light.  “I couldn’t be light to them,” he said.  You begin to see that being light is an effort to make more than an envitable outcome of what we are in Christ.

The danger is that we are always addressing externals and not our relationship with Him. If we can get the people to look right, act right, talk right then all is well. No, that’s not it. If we can get them to Christ and if they will trust in Him as Lord and Savior, then they will be in the light and the light will be in them…. then all will be well.

“Good Works”- Part 1

The phrase “good works” or “good work” occurs 28 times in 27 verses in the New Testament. I want to examine each of these instances in order that we might get a biblical understanding of what good works are, what they do, and why they are important.

The first place this phrase is found in the New Testament is Matthew 5:16, so let’s examine that verse in its context.

“16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

The setting of this verse is inside of the Sermon on the Mount. It comes at the end of the description of God’s people being salt and light. Notice that Jesus declares that they “are” salt and light. He did not say they “ought to be,” “should be,” “could be,” or “strive to be.” They already are, positionally, salt and light. Also, notice the article “the” before each declaration. They are not one of several salts or several lights, they are the salt and the light. They are what God is going to use to reach others. There is assurance here that they are going to be used by God. This seems to be the pattern of God in the New Testament. God’s people are told what they are before they are told what they are to do. In other words, they are to become what they already are.

Verse 16 begins with “Let you light so shine.” The word “shine” is the imperative or command. The apparent problem is that they don’t have light.  The idea here is that they are to reflect the light that is Jesus Christ. We are much like the moon, that has no light of its own but reflects the light of the sun. The moon does not try to reflect, make an effort to reflect, or strive to reflect, it just does. In fact, it can’t help but do it.  The sun shines and the moon has no option but to reflect it.  That is also true of those who are in the light, the light being Christ. We are not to strive to reflect his light, but we are to strive to be as near to the light as we can, therefore reflecting more of Him. It is ultimately Christ who makes us effective.

The next thing we notice is that this reflection is connected to what is termed as “good works.”If the reflection is not them but Christ then the “good works” are not them but Christ, as well. Our “good works” are simply the reflection of Jesus Christ.  “Good works” are not our deeds but Jesus manifesting himself in and through us. The fruits of the spirit are manifestations of who and what God is.

Also, these “good works” are to be seen by others. The emphasis here is that these “good works” are to be contrasted with the surrounding world’s works. There is to be something different and special about Christian “good works.” The word used here for “works” carries a meaning of attractiveness.  What Christ works in us will be attractive to others. Once they are seen, they are designed to bring glory to the Father. In other words, the “good works” are not to reveal their agent but their source. The goal is that people are impressed with the Father who makes His disciples this way rather than by the disciples who behave this way.

There is a tension with this thought. Back in chapter 6, Jesus warns that care should be taken not to do their righteousness before men, so that people would see them. But here is says that these “good works” are to be seen. What is the difference? In one the purpose is good and in other the purpose is bad. One is fleshly and the other is Spiritual. One is us and the other is Christ. One is done by us and the other is done through us. One is our work and the other is the work of God. This clearly shows that the good or bad is not in the external reality of the work but in what this work springs from, flesh or Spirit.

Are there times in which we are more reflective than other times? Yes. But that is not so that you will now try harder but that you will get closer. Our failure in complete obedience should not drive us to despair or to more effort but should drive us to strengthen our fellowship with Him.