The Bible makes it crystal clear that we are not saved by works. The apostle Paul told Titus that it is by God’s mercy that we are saved, “not by works of righteousness which we have done.” To the Ephesians Paul wrote the famous declaration: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is a fundamental truth of biblical theology that we can never be saved by the doing of good works. It is by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21) that we come to Christ’s freely-offered salvation.
However, sad to say, too many Christians stop after reading Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9, and miss the all-important message of verse 10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus
Let’s look together at some more Bible verses that strongly emphasize the importance of Christians doing good works.
James makes it very clear that genuine faith is not simply mental consent to truth. Faith, he says, is active, it is working. If I have the kind of faith that saves (or gets other results), you can see that faith by my works. For example, in Luke 8:43-48 we read of a woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years, and no doctors could cure her. She came up behind Jesus and in faith touched the edge of His cloak and was instantly healed. Jesus told her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (vs. 48). To what did Jesus attribute her healing? He said it was her faith that healed her, a faith that was shown, that was demonstrated by action on her part when she touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak. As James wrote, she showed her faith by her works. But Jesus did not say, “Your works have healed you.” No, what He did say was, “Your faith has healed you.” It was an active faith that was shown by her works. Her works were an evidence of her faith.
They told Jesus that His mothers and brothers were outside. He looked upon those who were seated before Him in the room and were listening to His teaching, and He said — perhaps to the surprise of many — “My mother and brothers are these who hear the Word and do it.” Notice the “and do it.” The apostle James exhorted us not just to listen to God’s Word, but rather to “do what it says.” If we are hearers only, and not doers, we are fooling ourselves, the apostle wrote.
In our summary at the top of this page I mentioned two nonbiblical attitudes I’ve heard Christians say: (1) “I’m not into a ‘works trip’” and (2) “I don’t have a ‘works mentality’.” Both of these comments are contrary to Scripture. We saw in Ephesians 2:8-10 above that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (8-9). But tragically, too many Christians fail to read and obey verse 10: “We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” We don’t do works to get saved or to stay saved, because salvation is by the grace of God. However, now as born-again Christians, as new creations in Christ, we are commanded to obey God and not only to hear His Word, but also to do it, to put it into practice.
As the King James puts it: “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. To speak dismissively of this and similar verses as a “works trip” or a “works mentality” is an insult to God’s Word the Bible.
Once again I emphasize that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works. But when we are saved, we become sons or daughters of God and are called to become actively involved in the furtherance of the kingdom of God on this earth.
Jesus has left earth for heaven, from which He continues to give to His people kingdom work to do, as Jesus said in Mark 13:34 (KJV): “For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work.” And as Matthew 16:27 above says, that same Son of Man, Jesus, will come again in glory and “shall reward every man according to his works.” We will be among the redeemed by grace through faith; our works don’t suffice for salvation. But at His coming, Jesus will make differences in the allocation of His wonderful rewards “according to [our] works.” (for a good example, see the parable in Luke 19:11-19)
At Christ’s Second Coming, He will evaluate the work of His redeemed followers. To those who have faithfully performed the tasks the Lord has assigned, Jesus will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Those who have shirked their duty — perhaps excusing themselves with “I’m not into a ‘works trip’” — His words to them will be “You wicked, lazy servant!” [Christ's exact words]. Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that we could get saved, then lazily kick back and wait for our free flight to heaven. No! To the contrary, for this entire Church Age between Jesus’ first and second comings, He gives ministries (apostle, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers - Ephesians 4:11f, ESV) to equip His people to do “the work of the ministry.”
As we read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we see Jesus giving numerous commands to His followers, commands that He expects us to keep. Christianity is not passive; it is active. And part of His Great Commission includes making Christians into faithful disciples, obeying all His commands.
To the Christian who says, “I love you, Jesus,” the Lord might inquire, “Are you keeping my commands?” To the believer who says he/she is a “disciple” of the Lord, He might ask you, “Are you committed to obeying everything I have commanded you?”
One of the things the apostle Paul “insists on” for the believer is a devotion to good works. Laboring diligently and committedly for the Lord is not just a command of Scripture (it is), not just a Christian duty (it is). It is also “excellent and profitable” that we devote ourselves to good works. Working for the Lord and His glory is one of the most excellent and profitable things we can do. On a personal note, the one sentence in all eternity that I look forward to hearing is “Well done, good and faithful servant!” My fellow Christians, what more could we hope for than to hear Jesus say to us “Well done!” after we have served him faithfully in this life?
Those who minimize the importance of works in the Christian walk may not have carefully read the second and third chapters of The Book of Revelation. Jesus appeared to the apostle John near the end of the first century. The Lord had John send a letter from Him to each of seven contemporary churches. And to each one the Lord said, “I know thy works.” Jesus looks very carefully at, and is fully aware of, the works of His people and of their works collectively in the local churches.
Is our faith important to the Lord? Certainly! Is grace central to the Christian’s life? Absolutely! Without faith and God’s grace we wouldn’t even be saved. But when we do get saved, the Lord also takes notice of our works. Remember, as saved people, as new creations in Christ, we are “created in Christ Jesus to DO GOOD WORKS” (Ephesians 2:10). And as Revelation chapters 2-3 show, Jesus takes full notice of our works and demands that they be good works. In fact, to five of those seven churches, the Lord commanded that they repent.
Pastors and other ordained ministers cannot possibly fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission by themselves. In fact, they are called to do something that will enable the Great Commission to be fulfilled. And that is, they are called to equip and train God’s people, all believers, “for the work of the ministry” (King James). Christian ministry, to which God calls all His people, cannot be fulfilled by the lazy. It is work! We’re not saved to kick back; we’re saved for the Lord’s work in this life, and then to spend eternity with Him after this life.
Our closing Scripture reveals a remarkable benefit of good works. As we live for the Lord, being (as Jesus said) the light of the world and the salt of the earth, and doing good works in the presence of a lost, sinful populace, great spiritual things can happen. As you let your light shine for Christ in this world, living godly and doing good works from the heart for His glory, Jesus says that there will be some who will “see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Be a good worker for your Lord and Savior Jesus. Represent Him well among your family, friends, and coworkers. You might be surprised at the spiritual results you will see. I’ll close with a personal note. Many years ago I was a professional air traffic controller. Each day at work I would try to do my very best to control the airplanes safely, skillfully, and cheerfully. And I tried to live up to the example of Christ’s character before my coworkers. In slow air traffic times such as the late night shift, I would be alert for opportunities to get a word in for the Lord with my coworkers. Long story short: over the course of several years, two of those fellow controllers came to salvation in Jesus Christ. And a third coworker came to Jesus a few years later. I say this to emphasize the importance of just taking one day at a time … living your life for Jesus before others … and working diligently and with integrity in all that you do. You may be delightfully surprised to find that your good works and godly lifestyle may sway others to come to the Lord, at least in part because of the outstanding example of a dedicated Christian that you have been in their sight.
To sum up: we don’t do good works to get saved or to stay saved. We do good works because we are saved and want to live a fruitful life before the Lord and those around us. God will be pleased with that, and after you take your last breath on earth, you’ll hear Jesus say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Come and share your Master’s happiness!”
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©2019, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons &
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Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.