For Lord’s Day, January 5, 2014
In Sabbath Class last week, we in part studied chapter 16 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “Of Good Works”. I pointed out that too many Protestant Evangelicals today live out the Roman Catholic caricature; that is, sinful living and neglect of good works will be the result of teaching justification by faith alone. The Reformers answered this accusation saying that saving faith is never alone, but will naturally be accompanied by good works.
Good works are the fruit of faith’s roots.
As part of my devotions this week, I noticed an emphasis on good works as essential for God’s people in Paul’s letter to Titus. When I preached through this letter a while back, we noticed in the opening verses that Paul makes it clear he is outlining an equal concern both for correct belief and correct behavior. The phrase, “good works” occurs five times:
- A lack of good works is evidence that some are simply not truly Christians: They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus 1:16). A related theme by Paul is a concern to not blaspheme God with a bad witness by a lack of Christian integrity (See 2:5 and 8, for example).
- Following the example of older men, the young men are to be, In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: … (Titus 2:7). Good works are not something our young people are exempt from until they “mature”; rather, they are equally to be examples of such.
- As we saw in Ephesians 2:8-10 last week, good works are what God has eternally purposed to save us to be about: [Christ] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14). Notice, not only are we saved to do good works; if we are saved, we should be good work zealots (more literally in the Greek).
- So Paul closes his letter with this concern: … let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful. (Titus 3:14)
- Thus, just before these last words on Christian good works, Paul insists on pastors regularly emphasizing good works to be done by true believers: This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. (Titus 3:8)
Now, we must emphatically insist that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone without any of our own works as meriting eternal life with God. However, if we are truly saved in Christ, we will be eager to do good works as a witness to His work in our lives. As James writes,
- Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my [good] works. (James 2:17-18)
- Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13)
Beloved, good works are good. They do not save. But without good works, and without a zeal for them, no one should think he or she is saved. So let me heed Paul’s command to pastors, and affirm that you be careful to maintain good works. And may you return the favor and pass it on to all the brethren: And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: (Hebrews 10:24)
Or, to put it another way, as we have often quoted Paul elsewhere, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).