In our Bible class yesterday at church, we discussed James 2.14-26:
“14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” a and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
We also looked at Ephesians 2.8-10:
“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The thrust of what our teacher was saying is that we are saved only by grace, but our salvation, our faith, is evidenced by “good works” which God has prepared for us to do.
For whatever reason, during the class, the Holy Spirit was bringing to my mind the warning passage in Matthew 7:21-23:
“21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ”
How are the connected, if at all? How could people do such wonderful things and NOT know Christ? I believe the answer is as follows:
Those in Matthew 7 focused on the results, not on knowing God. I wonder, honestly, if some who do so many great things for Christ really knew him. I recall spending my freshman year at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. Their motto is this: “To know Him and to make Him known”. That’s the right focus and the right order. I will suggest that no matter what we accomplish on this year, none of it matters if we don’t know Christ on an intimate and personal level.
Those in Matthew 7 were highly talented people who were likely seen as being very spiritual and rather successful. I think it would be tough to imagine that these folks were not both popular and seen as spiritual leaders since they could drive out demons and perform miracles.
Those in Matthew 7 were NOT accomplishing the Will of God. It’s hard to imagine that God didn’t want demons driving out or miracles performed, but then again, we have trouble understanding how evil spirits could be sent by God to torment Saul or incite David to take a census or be allowed to afflict Job. It’s not as if once the demons are eradicated that God can now do His work. That is such an immature view of God. No, God can do His work and accomplish His will just fine even when the demonic are present.
We are saved with a view to us doing “good works”. The catch here is that we don’t get to choose or define what a “good work” is. Only God gets to do that. And Ephesians 2.10 is clear: He is preparing us for the work and He is at work in the future preparing the work for us so that when we are called to do the work, the work is prepared for us to be successful and we are prepared to do the work successfully.
Now, we can mess this up in a number of ways. One way that Christian Business Owners – people who are highly talented, smart, energetic and so forth – can mess this up is to see into the future what could be and then decide that it should be and that the combination of the two represents God’s call on our business. I would suggest that we can be led astray from what God is calling us to do when we mistake our drive to be successful for God’s call on our lives.
A “good work” has the following characteristics:
- It is a work which God has prepared in advance for us to do
- It is a work that God has prepared us to do
- It is a work that we learn about through time spent with God
- It is a work that is an outgrowth of our faith
With reference to #2, let’s bear in mind that if we can accomplish the work solely through our own talent, then I would question if it is a “good work”. There is much we can accomplish apart from God, but our achievement in “good works” simply must be born in our relationship with God. What is God calling you and I to do? What “good work” has He prepared for us to do?
Our faith in Christ is evidenced by our doing good works. Good works are those which accomplish the will of God. We can do spectacular things which appear to be accomplishing God’s will without ever knowing Christ. We will only know what those good works that God has prepared for us to do are by spending time with God, hearing His voice, knowing Him intimately.
If you do the latter – no matter what you accomplish – you will be doing good works. If you do not do the latter, you are in danger of being told to leave His presence because He “never knew you”.