For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Good works are not the exception for the believer, they are required. The text is pretty clear that we can never be saved by our good works (v. 9a). We can never impress God with our innate goodness or our generosity to others. God does not take our life and place it on a scale to see if the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff in our life. God is not finding ways to see if we are qualified to secure space in heaven. In fact, the demonstrative statement of the Scriptures is that God levels the playing field, so our acceptance has nothing to do with our performance. God will not be accepting resumes to see if we are talented enough to be part of the team. While some of us like to hide from people, God calls us to live in front of them.
Good works is part of the outworking of God’s saving work in us. God does not save us to let us determine our own fate. He is not simply a generous and sympathetic philanthropist who has the resources to get us out from a bad situation so we can live-out what we determine as a normal life. We are saved by His grace as a gift. God begins His work by saving us and continues working in us to form Christ in us; His desire is to transform us into the image of His Son (2 Cor. 3:17-18; Gal. 4:19). He will continue to cultivate Christ in us until the day we step into heaven or until He returns (Phil. 1:3-6). One of the clearest evidences that we have been “born again” or “saved” is that we are diligent to do the “good works” that He has prepared for us to do in our day to day lives.
Good works is an expression of His grace to other believers and a lost world. God does not need a hobby. He is not trying to think of things to do to pass the time because He is bored. His actions are intentional, and they always have a divine agenda behind it. He has called us out of the world to be in relationship with Him, but also to be His messengers back into a dark and lost world so others will know this grace that we celebrated this past Easter weekend. Jesus said that others will know we are his disciples by the love that we show one another (John 13:34-35). But “good works” are also important to reflect the presence of Christ to those who do not know Him (Colossians 4:2-6). We may not adopt a “social gospel” mentality, but clearly the gospel should be impacting our world by engaging them with wisdom, grace, and compassion.
Good works is an outworking of genuine faith. The danger for many of us is that the culmination of “good works” is often measured by being a good citizen, not making enemies, and not doing anything to upset the apple cart. Certainly, when we do wrong things, we deserve to be punished just like anyone else. Often Christians get a bad rap because we act badly, and we deserve some push-back from unbelievers. Some people think they are acting in faith when they are just inventing ways to be annoying. It is not like we need people who are not good citizens, but “good works” are works that are generated by faith and help people see that we serve a personal God (Matt. 5:14-16).
Good works is not an option for believers, but neither should we be treating them like a spiritual checklist of what it means to be a “good” Christian. Our “works” are an expression of His grace because of the “good work” that Jesus did in sacrificing Himself so we can find life. We ought to imitate the Savior out of a love for Him and the work of His grace in us. Our current world dilemma is a great time to live out our faith.
Pastor Brad Little