‘Good Works’ has become a swear word in certain church circles; specifically, the Reformed tradition I am a part of. In some ways, this is understandable. Reformed doctrine is rooted in the truth that we are saved by grace alone, though faith alone. We recognise that our deep depravity makes it impossible for us to do anything to make ourselves acceptable to God. No amount of good works, however hard we try, will meet God’s standard of perfection. To avoid confusing believers, some churches stay clear of speaking about good works all together. The problem, though, is that the Bible repeatedly encourages believers to do good works. We can’t shy away from speaking about good works, instead, we should give careful thought to what these good works are and why the New Testament has so much to say about it.
The Call to Good Works
In the book of Titus, the apostle Paul, mentions good works several times. He tells Titus ‘…to be a model of good works.’ (Titus 2:7) He says that Jesus’ goal is to create a people ‘…who are zealous for good works.’ (Titus 2:14). Titus is called to remind the believers ‘…to be ready for every good work.’ (Titus 3:1) and to ‘…be careful to devote themselves to good works.’ (Titus 3:8, 14) As you read Titus, you can’t miss Paul’s emphasis on good works. Good works is a vague term though. What constitutes a good work? Fortunately, throughout the letter to Titus, Paul gives concrete examples of the kind of good works he has in mind. Most of the good works Paul refers to are actions, rather than attitudes. They are godly behaviours that are done in public, visible to others.
The Shape of Your Good Works
As Paul unpacks good works he encourages believers to live blameless lives, to be faithful in marriage, hospitable, upright and self-controlled (Titus 1:6-8). Believers ought to think seriously about how they live, and train younger believers to do the same (Titus 2:1-4). Christian women should love their families, gladly following their husband’s leadership (Titus 2:4-5). Christian men should exercise self-control in all areas of their lives, their thoughts, actions and desires (Titus 2:6).
Jesus’ goal is to create a people ‘…who are zealous for good works.’
Christians should also be model employees, trustworthy in everything (Titus 2:9-10). In the wider society, Christians should stand out as those who honour and obey the government. They should be known as law-abiding citizens. Believers should also be known as peace-makers, those who avoid unnecessary arguments and are kind to all irrespective of social status (Titus 3:1-2). Furthermore, Paul calls believers to ‘…help cases of urgent need.’ (Titus 3:14) This involves meeting the practical needs of others, whether financial, clothing, accommodation or transport needs. With such an extensive list of good works, Paul leaves no room for confusion or excuses.
The Motivation for Good Works
Our good works don’t earn something from God. As Paul says in Titus 3:4-5 – he (God) saved us, not because of works done in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…’ If this is true, then what is our motivation for good works?
You may have noticed that good works have a lot to do with how believers are seen by outsiders. However, it’s not really our personal reputation that is at stake, it’s the reputation of God and his gospel. Christians are encouraged to do good works so that ‘…the word of God may not be reviled.’ (Titus 2:5) Or stated positively, Christians are to do good works so that we ‘…may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.’ (Titus 2:10) This is remarkable! The way we live either makes the gospel seem attractive or unattractive to the watching world.
You see, you and I are given a high calling as children of God – we are called to represent God and his message of rescue to our broken world.
Paul rebuked the false teachers in Crete for being hypocrites (Titus 1:16). They claimed to know God but they failed to live out what they believed. As unbelievers watched their lives, they would conclude that the gospel message is weak. They would think that God is completely irrelevant. They may even go a step further, mocking and slandering God. It’s one thing for unbelievers to resist the gospel because they just don’t want to follow Jesus, it’s quite another for unbelievers to resist the gospel because of our bad witness!
You see, you and I are given a high calling as children of God – we are called to represent God and his message of rescue to our broken world. Our lives should be so different that unbelievers are intrigued and desire to know more about what we believe. Our motivation for good works is this: to join hands with God in his mission to reach the lost.
The Grace for Good Works
Paul is no fool, though! He understands the call to good works is not an easy task. So, he reminds us that we are not alone in our effort. We have two things on our side, helping us to do good works. The first is the grace of God. Paul says in Titus 2:11-12 ‘…the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age…’ The grace of God not only saves us from our sin when we are first converted, it also continues to be at work in every believer teaching us to live the kind of lives that make the gospel attractive.
The Power for Good Works
Along with God’s grace, Paul reminds us that we also have the help of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5-6 says God saved us ‘…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly …’ The Holy Spirit caused a radical change within us the moment we first trusted in Jesus. He gave us spiritual life, we were born again, regenerated.
The work of the Holy Spirit, just like God’s grace, did not stop there though, the Holy Spirit continues to be at work in a believer’s life. God renews us, changing our loves and desires. He causes us to hate sin and desire godliness. He empowers us so that we can do good works and correctly represent God to our world (Titus 3:5). It won’t be easy, our old nature and sinful desires are strong, but we do have all we need to grow in good works. What a relief that God has not only called us to good works, he has also equipped us to do them.
Brothers and sisters, do you realise that your life is an advertisement for God and his gospel? What is the advert of your life saying? Are you seeking to do good works? How can you be intentional about including good works in your life? Here are a few simple ideas to consider:
- Greet those you pass in the street with a smile
- Spend time with someone, just listening to them
- Help someone carry their bags
- Give someone a lift in your car
- Make an extra meal and give it to an NGO that helps feed the poor and needy
- Pay your taxes and traffic fines
- Pray for the government rather than grumble about all the ways they are failing
- Obey the speed limit when you drive
- Make a card for someone in hospital
- Visit children in orphanages
- Clean out your clothes cupboard and give some away to charity stores
Adorn the Gospel
Throughout the centuries, Christians have been noticeably different. Christian missionaries not only preached the gospel message but also built many hospitals and schools. If we are going to be faithful Christians and faithful teachers of God’s word, we need to ensure that we are growing in good works and encouraging others to do the same. The Gospel is the most precious message in the universe; let’s make every effort to adorn it as much as we possibly can. To the glory of God!