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Posts Tagged ‘good works’

Good works, anyone?

We recognize that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are central and essential to our salvation. Were Christ not made sin in our stead, the wrath of God would justly come upon us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Were Christ not resurrected, we would remain in our sin (1 Corinthians 15:17). The resurrection reveals that the death of Christ was sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath.

The death of Christ, though, not only affects our standing with God. It also affects our living in the world. In Titus 2:14, Paul makes this declaration: “[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” [ESV].

Paul writes that Christ “gave himself for us,” revealing that his death was “voluntary, exhaustive, and substitutionary,” as D. Edmond Hiebert points out. Christ’s death was voluntary in that he lay down his life (John 10:18), exhaustive in that he gave of himself completely (John 6:51), and substitutionary in that he died in the place of believers (Galatians 1:4). Christ came to earth “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Paul presents a two-fold purpose for the death of Christ in Titus 2:14. The first purpose is negative: “to redeem us from all lawlessness.” Sinners are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:17), being in rebellion to the law of God. Christ has delivered those who believe in him from that slavery, having freed them to be able to live unto righteousness. Stephen Charnock [1628-1680] maintains, “All our works before repentance are dead works (Hebrews 6:1). And these works have no true beauty in them, with whatsoever gloss they may appear to a natural eye. A dead body may have something of the features and beauty of a living, but it is but the beauty of a carcass, not of a man. . . . Since man, therefore, is spiritually dead, he cannot perform a living service. As a natural death causes incapacitate for natural actions, so a spiritual death must incapacitate for spiritual actions.”

Paul writes to Titus that the second purpose for the death of Christ is positive: “to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Those who are redeemed have been freed from the guilt of sin and are thereby the unique people of Christ. Concerning the Greek word which is translated as his own possession in the ESV, William Barclay writes, “It means reserved for; and it was specially used for that part of the spoils of a battle or a campaign which the king who had conquered set apart specially for himself. Through the work of Jesus Christ, the Christian becomes fit to be the special possession of God.” God has saved us primarily for his purpose, not for our pleasure.

As “his own possession,” Christians do not grudgingly perform good works out of a sense of obligation or coercion; they zealously perform good works because they are now God’s own possession. Peter understood this distinctive relationship between Christ and believers and between belief and good works: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Likewise, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

It is not that we lead godly lives because we are supposed to do so and we grudgingly comply. We have been liberated by the death of Christ from the power of sin and are now able to do what before we could not have done. As followers of our crucified and resurrected Lord, may our lives be characterized as being “zealous for good works.”

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Proverbs 22:1 reminds us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” Character matters. How a Christian lives, particularly among unbelievers, is an issue of no little concern.

Think about how a person handles his finances. That person is building a reputation among unbelievers. Let’s say that a Christian has gotten into some financial difficulties through foolish spending. He sees the problems he has created and works to overcome them. He sees his debt as a matter to be resolved, so he cuts back on his spending, perhaps drastically so, and pays his creditors. He will build a reputation as an honest person who sees his mistakes and accepts responsibility for them.

On the other hand, let’s say that this Christian sees his debts as a non-issue in the overall scheme of things. When told that he needs to contact his creditors and work out a plan to pay his debts, he responds with, “It’s not that important. They have already soaked me so much with interest charges that they made enough to cover what I owe. They’ll eventually write it off.” Not only is that person a thief, he is providing evidence that he may actually not be a true Christian if he does not repent of such an evil attitude (“The wicked borrows but does not pay back” [Psalm 37:21a]). Unfortunately, there are some men who serve as pastors of Baptist churches who have that very attitude.

The Bible instructs us “to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1). We often think that good works are spiritual duties, but good works encompasses all deeds which a Christian should do as he lives in this fallen world. Christians should benefit their fellow citizens whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Paul insists that Christians are to be consciously engaged in performing good works among their fellow citizens: “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (Titus 3:8).

Unfortunately, we too often think that such works are to be attention-getting endeavors, perhaps leading a food drive or building a house for someone in need. News of the deed is published in the local newspaper, “to the glory of God,” of course! While there is certainly nothing wrong with such deeds, we need to recognize that it is the relatively simple deeds that really glorify God. Returning to our earlier illustration, one’s personal finances ranks up there in importance.

Why is that? Why is how we handle our money so important? Money serves as a universal language and a universal concern. For instance, money is at the forefront of why elections are won or lost. We saw that with the infamous behavior of President Clinton and the infamous public response to it. Because Mr. Clinton was credited with the relative prosperity that the United States was enjoying during the 1990’s, his sexual sin proved no serious long-term threat to his popularity.

Those who are careless with their personal finances—who exhibit unconcern about outstanding bills and obligations and complain about what they cannot afford while heedlessly spending money on non-essentials—inhibit the spread of the gospel, regardless of all their talk of personal evangelism.

How we handle money may seem boringly “unspiritual,” but it is a part of the essential “good works” in our lives among unbelievers. May we adorn the gospel of Christ by being good stewards, by paying our debts on time, by living frugally, and by exhibiting generosity.

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