Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Do Good Works Matter?

Reading: Titus
Some evangelicals are guilty of treating good works like a curse word. By that, I mean if one even mentions good works, the defenses go up and we begin to filter everything said with a “is this legalism?” suspicion. At times, I wonder if people somehow think bad works would be better than good works. The whole reason we call good works good is because they are good! And I sometimes wonder if we like to throw them under the bus of legalism so quickly because it somehow alleviates us of our accountability before God for how we live.
So it is fair to ask what, in another generation, may have been obvious, “Do good works matter?” The obvious answer is, “Yes!” But now we must get to the real point: How do they matter? Or, in what way do they matter? Do they earn our salvation? Absolutely not, that would indeed be legalism. But that doesn't mean they don't matter; that is not the only way they can matter. Paul's letter to Titus certainly reveals a significant reasons why good works matter.
In the greeting, Paul makes an important distinction.
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time... (Titus 1:1-2)
Faith and knowledge were both important in the mission of Paul. We know from Paul's other writings (such as Romans 3:22-24) that faith, trusting in Christ, secures eternal life. Knowledge of the truth leads to godliness. Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ, bringing a message from Him, for the faith and for the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. The Gospel message that Christ called Paul to deliver would not only produce saving faith in God's promise of eternal life, it would produce a knowledge of the truth that would change how we live. The Gospel shines light into the dark places of our ignorance showing us how to walk! Godliness, according to Friberg's lexicon, is a particular manner of life characterized by reverence toward God; behavior directed dutifully toward God; godly living. In other words, godliness is living a life of good works.
Paul immediately takes up the topic of elders and their qualifications with Titus, reminding him of the importance for the elder to live a godly life as one “entrusted with God's work...” (Titus 1:7). He must encourage others by sound (healthy) doctrine, and refute those who oppose it. Those who oppose it are “ruining whole households” by their unhealthy teaching; their character is described as, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12) Finally, they are described in Titus 1:16 as those who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (ESV)
Our lives are either confessing Christ before men in word and deed, or they are professing Christ in word while denying Him in deed. Good works matter! Paul immediately picks up with Titus telling him to teach people how to live consistently with the Gospel. He instructs older men and women; younger women and then young men. He also speaks to slaves. The motivation behind these instructions comes out periodically as, “so that no one will malign the word of God,” and, “so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us,” and, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:5, 8, 10)
Indeed, because of the Gospel (what Christ has done for us), we are to be eager to do what is good (Titus 2:11-14). It is the Gospel that teaches us how to live godly lives; not the law. Paul doesn't send us to the law for that, but to the Gospel... to Jesus! Certainly the law was a shadow of how we are to live; the reality is found in Christ! The grace of God is what teaches us good works. That grace is most fully and perfectly expressed in Jesus Christ. (Click here for more on the difference between “law” and “Gospel”.)
Then Paul directs instruction to the church in general, that we would be “ready to do whatever is good.” (Titus 3:1) Paul doesn't seem to have an allergy to good works. In the verses that follow, it seems that Paul is arguing that because Christ saved us when we were living lives of evil works, full of hatred and lust—saving us not by any works of righteousness on our part, but purely on the basis of mercy, giving us the hope (confident expectation) of eternal life—we are to be intent on engaging in good works (Titus 3:2-8).
Do good works matter? Absolutely. Not because they earn us salvation, but, at least one reason is that they may help others find the same hope of eternal life, as they make the Gospel attractive. Grace was not our paycheck to do with as we please. Grace is God's investment in us (Matthew 25:14-30), and is to be poured into others. The love of Christ we have received is to bear fruit and grow in us that others may receive it also. Be eager to do good works.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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