Not many  years ago I had the habit of judging the  “soundness” of an article or  sermon by whether or not  it mentioned baptism.  I  couldn’t really  enjoy a sermon if  it  didn’t mention baptism, and I wouldn’t  give out a tract  that  didn’t  include the  mention of baptism. I can remember listening to preachers with some  apprehension at  first, not  sure whether or not I should be  enjoying the  message—but then settling back and relaxing after they had mentioned baptism.

There are  people who feel much the same  way about works. They  know that the grace of God is a Biblical topic, yet they are  uneasy when they hear it  discussed. They can’t relax until they hear “works” included. Then they are on familiar ground. Just this past week I have seen two articles expressing this feeling. Part of this may be  due to the  mistaken notion  that to stand on the ground of salvation by grace alone is to exclude works from the Christian’s life. In any  case, it is quite  legitimate to inquire about the  relationship of grace  to works. So let’s take a brief look at works, as  related to grace.

                                                   Grace Produces Works.

            The works  we are considering now are not the  “works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves” (Titus 3:5), but the “good works, which  God afore prepared” (Eph. 2:10). From the point of view of a  human observer, these two sets of works  might be the same. Both categories  of  works might include  such things as  praying, giving to the needy, witnessing, etc. The  difference in the works lies not in what is  done, but  who does it. The first  works mentioned above are done by ourselves-and for our own  benefit, that we might find approval with God and eventual salvation.

The second set of works are  performed by God in us. “I have been  crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). “It is God who worketh in you to will and to work, for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). This is  entirely consonant  with Paul’s  exhortation to us to do our part”; Present …your  members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:13). God is the  workman; we are the tools in His hands. When considered in this  context, the various exhortations to good works carry no  connotation at all of  self merit. Whatever works we may  perform (or do not  perform) contribute nothing at  all  to our  salvation.

                                                  The Meaning of Works

            If works do not serve to make us  approved in the  eyes of God, the  why are we urged  to “be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8)?  Why so much mention of good works in the New Testament if they do not  enhance our standing before God? Here is  where the  book of James  is valuable. The theme of this book is the testing (“trial” or proving” -1:3) of our faith. The entire letter develops the theme by applying various tests under differing sets of  circumstances. To make this book really  effective, just  put  yourself in each situation.  In chapter 1: How do you pray—believing or doubting? How do you face temptation to  sin-yielding or enduring? How do you react to the word of God-conforming to it, or turning from it? Likewise right on through all five chapters. If your works don’t measure  up, then it is certain that your faith is not the faith that saves—but like that of the demons. The works mentioned here have nothing to do with making one  righteous before God, for  “Christ Jesus…was made unto us Righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30). God have  pity on the  person who has a righteousness  of his own!

A question might be raised about James’ mention of  Abraham. It should be  sufficient to not that the  incident  spoken of by  James comes  many years after Abraham had already been reckoned righteous, by grace, apart  for works. (Rom. 4:3 Gen. 15:6). The offering of  Isaac simply  shows his faith to be  genuine.

Deficient Works

What should I  do if  I find my works don’t  measure up to God’s standards? Should I try harder to do the  things I  know I should? No, that is not the place to begin. We have already seen that we are instruments in God’s hands, and our responsibility  is to “present ourselves”—make ourselves available to Him. The real defect, then,  is not in our works, but in our  attitude toward Him!  We have  resisted the Holy  Spirit’s leading. We have not had our  affections set  wholly on the  Lover of our souls. The desires of our  hearts have not been for Him alone. And we repent—not a repentance that is  related  to works, but  repentance of an evil heart-attitude toward our  Lord. The works? They simply were  a  “symptom,” and indication  of the  real ill within us.

Let us not think that our works are  unimportant, just because they do not  recommend  us  to God. We know very well that a useless tool is  often  discarded. Paul speaks of this very possibility in his  own case: “Lest…after I have  preached to others, I  myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27, NASB). In the  same letter (3:10-15) he  strongly warns that at the  judgment seat of Christ, some works will be  burned, with loss to the  Christian who performed them (but  not jeopardizing  his  salvation). What makes the difference between the  works that perish and  those that  abide? The ones that  perish are our works, performed in human strength out of wisdom—though perhaps for noble purposes. The ones that endure are God’s works, wrought in us through the  Spirit.

In many homes I have  seen a plaque: “Only one life, ‘twill soon be  past, only  what’s done for Christ will last.” This isn’t necessarily  true,  for the  wood, hay and stubble may be  done  for  Christ. The verse needs to be  rewritten: Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; Only what’s done by  Christ  will last.”

“I have been  crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me.” He in me will produce the works of gold, sliver, and  precious  stones, unto the  eternal glory of God. These are the works of  grace. Is this the kind your life is  bringing  forth?

Gordon Linscott,  in  ‘Word and Work,” Volume LX, No. 6, June, 1966, P. 194-196.     

         Gordon Linscott was  Editor from 1962-1975.