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How Do I Know If They Are Good Works?

August 13, 2013

On August 4, I had the privilege to preach on Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  You can listen to the sermon here.  The main idea of the sermon was that good works are the result of God’s work.  First we explored God’s good work of regeneration in our hearts and then we examined our good works.  In light of the sermon, I had an email exchange with someone from our church about discerning whether or not our works were truly good.  I thought it might be helpful to you as well, so I am posting it below.

Chet, a very good question came up last night at our CG.  “How do you know when your works are true good works done in faith, vs, a work that you want to do and are forcing your theology upon and making you think it’s a good work?”  Let me explain… the most edifying take away from your sermon is that our goal is to make all of our works good work.  As Christians we don’t want to have a secular and sacred time of our day, we don’t want to be making the decision to all the sudden start doing good works.  Good works need to be a way of daily living stemming from our new nature and desire for the things of Christ.  So lets take a work that we really want to do but isn’t really done in faith, but we say it’s good because we throw some theology in with it.  How do we know when we’re doing that?  I thought this was a great question that came from our discussion.  We answered it somewhat by suggesting we take time to analyze our motives and determine if our goals in the work are God centered or flesh centered.  I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on this?

Here’s my response:

Let me try to give the bullet points from the sermon on works and then move forward from there.

Works: I defined works as that which comes out of man. They are a product of the heart and include not just actions, but words, thoughts and attitudes as these are all activities of the heart and mind.  This does bring the idea of works down to the everyday mundane elements of life and away from programmatic, sporadic, purpose-driven events.

I then distinguished good works from what they were not:
1. They are not works of the flesh.  This boils down to any attempt to do anything apart from God
2. They are not works of the law.  These are attempts to buy God’s favor in anyway.
Works of the flesh and works of the law have a few things in common: 1. they are done in our own strength/power and 2. they are done for selfish/self-centered ends.  This is where you are right in getting people not just to consider motives, but the means they are using to perform the supposed good works.

Next, I challenged us to think about what makes them ‘good.’  Only God is good.  So good works are dependent upon God.  On God from beginning to end. God is the source, power, author of, goal, and motive.  Good works are from Him, through Him, and to Him (Rom 11:36).  Good works then are simply the natural overflow of God’s regenerative and redeeming work in us.  They are the result of us simply walking in our new identity in Christ.

Now to the question of determining whether a particular work done by us as Christians is good or deceiving ourselves into thinking it’s good.  Here’s how I would examine that:
1. What are your motives toward this action?  Are they selfless or selfish? Is the goal to love Christ, reflect the Gospel, and live out of my new identity or to make me look good to God, others, or myself?
2. Whose strength or power are you doing it in?  Yours or in an active dependence on Christ?
3. Who am I thinking about more in this?  Christ? Others in a way that desires to point them to Christ?  Others in a way that desires to point them to myself?  Or am I thinking mostly about myself?  I think it was Mahaney’s ‘Humility’ where it said that humility is not being selfless, but thinking of self less.
4. Am I delighting in the Gospel?  Is this activity the result of that delight?
5. Is it consistent with the character of Christ?
6. Is it consistent with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)?
7. Is this activity marked by prayer and/or thanksgiving?
8. Is it done in active repentance and faith?

Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin.  Here’s the real beauty of this one: We all have found ourselves in times when we knew the right thing to do, but we didn’t feel like doing it. In those moments we’ve all wrestled with whether or not we should force it.  Would it still be a good work if my heart is not in it? Should I do it or not?  James 4:17 says that ‘whoever know the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.’  That being the case, my answer is to do it.  But if you can’t do it joyfully in faith as you delight in the Gospel, then do it repentantly, because to do so IS to do so in faith.

As I, a new creation in Christ Jesus, pray confessing to the God who saved me, who has and is changing me, that my heart is not in this activity before me, but my desire is to still do it for his glory and the good of others; as I repent of my selfishness and apathy and ask that God change my heart in the matter so that I would joyfully serve him and commend the Gospel with all that I am, THAT IS FAITH.  Active, dependent, Gospel-centered faith. I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ for good works which God prepared beforehand that I should walk in them.  When I pray repentantly about my sinful motives in attempting any good work, the righteousness of Christ covers me and makes them good, and God uses the activity in ways beyond what I, in my selfishness, could even imagine.  That’s the glory of the Gospel. That’s the glory of regeneration.  That’s the glory of repentance and faith. This is what God is doing in and through us.  We don’t perform good works for our justification.  Nor do we justify our actions by our theology.  That should never be our focus.  The goal is to delight in Christ.  As we delight in him good works will follow…even if they are repentant ones ;).

I am sure there is more that I could say, but I hope this is a sufficient help.  Rejoicing in regeneration, Chet

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