The topic this week will be works; what do my works really mean, now that my flesh has been crucified? Am I still functioning as I was before, or do my actions have their genesis from another entity, such as the Holy Spirit? What is the Christian value of a ‘good deed’?
I’ve waited a while to write this blog because the theology is particularly difficult, and I wanted the Lord to cement a few more thoughts in me before I put anything on paper. I think it’s time now. This essay will be front-loaded; most of my points regarding a godly worldview relate to the human desire to justify himself, and that will be my first topic.
In addition, remember that these posts are not finished products. I’m using the Reaching Campus blog as an opportunity to poke things that the Lord has given me into the ears of a smaller audience and to see how many eyebrows are raised. Therefore, sit back, relax, and know that I welcome questions, comments, and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Working for Righteousness
I could’ve just as aptly named this section ‘Working for Reward.’ My three basic ideas: no plus can be added through our Christian work upon our righteousness; no minus can be subtracted from our righteousness because of our Christian work; Christian work cannot take us closer to God.
Let’s unpack. No plus can be added to our righteousness through our Christian work because righteousness is credited to our account through faith alone. In other words, I can spread the Gospel all day long and into the night, but I have gained no more righteousness. I may have received a reward, but we’ll discuss what that reward really is when we reach point three of this subheading; I believe that there is no incentive at all in Christianity to work for material heavenly rewards such as crowns, cars, heavenly money, or glory. Therefore, nothing is added to anybody through doing stuff ‘for Jesus.’
Similarly, as was previously stated, no minus can be subtracted from our righteousness because of our work either. If you’re resisting your sin because you want that Ferrari to hop into before you cruise through the pearly gates, stop it. You’re won’t get a mansion because you told the least amount of lies; a better after-life does not exist, because the reward of our Christian life is Christ, not another life to live. I believe the desire to earn rewards through our Christian effort is related to the desire to justify ourselves according to the law—to work for God’s approval. God destroyed this philosophy through Christ.
‘But Scott, now I don’t want to do anything!’ If you were living to please God rather than to love God, that’s true, because your paradigm needs maturation. If Christ is not a great enough reward to motivate you into a submissive lifestyle, it’s time to do some serious praying and fasting. Pray for God to remove the idol from your heart, whatever it is, and replace it with love for the Reward which He will give to all His children in Heaven.
For the reward of Heaven is singular: Christ. He is our Reward. You will not get a Ferrari in Heaven; you will get Christ. You won’t get money or fame or a nice house; you will get Christ. How hard is it for a rich man to go to Heaven!—because a rich man doesn’t want to go to Heaven, he wants to go to Hollywood. When he hears that all he’ll get in Heaven is Christ he takes to the hills. But with God, all things are possible; and how? How can a man sprinting from God as fast as he can suddenly desire Christ above all else? The same way you and I were saved—we were sprinting just as fast as he. God’s grace draws him near, allowing him to desire Christ.
Have you ever wondered why Paul says ‘grace and peace to you’ so much? He’s not just using a mindless social convention; those words are deliberate. What he’s saying is, may God draw you near (grace), and may you be fulfilled in His presence (peace). The repetition of this phrase in scripture demonstrates the massive importance of grace to the Christian walk.
So if you have a sneaking suspicion you haven’t been working for the reward of Christ, but for something else, here’s an idea on how to start letting God do the work you did before: stop planning. If your ministry is baking cookies, tell God that if He wants cookies baked, you’re waiting for Him to give you the desire or the customers to bake for. If it’s evangelism, stop making appointments and let God draw the lost to you instead of clinging to them for dear life. If it’s feeding the homeless, tell God you won’t seek out another starving soul until He plops one on your doorstep.
‘But Scott, nothing will get done!’ Are you sure? ‘I’ve led my ministry by myself for a long time, and it’s gone great.’ Good—this’ll make it even better. ‘I just don’t believe God can do a better job of this than me.’ He can, trust me. ‘I just don’t believe God will provide what my ministry needs to function.’ He will, trust me. Maybe not immediately. But He will, and then some.
Working for Glory
So if we die to our ministry and let God do His work through us instead of working at our own ambition, what does that say about how we glorify Him? When we do a random act, does it glorify God as we’re called to glorify Him? What is the value of a good deed in Christianity?
My first point: we never glorified of our own accord, and we will never do so. God glorifies Himself through the ability to glorify which He gives to us on a moment-by-moment basis; this ability is called grace. He initiates and facilitates grace—we do not initiate, nor do we facilitate, but it does happen to pass through us because of God’s love for us.
The action part of an act of glorification was never the point. The main point of the law, as Christ pointed out, is to love God, not to work for God; therefore the main point of the law is emotional rather than physical, and no man has total control of his heart. Rather, God controls our hearts through His ultimate sovereignty. I believe the emotional nature of the law is intended to show us our overarching need to submit ourselves to Him and let Him work His own glory out in us. Because the main thing which He requests from us, love, is beyond our ability, He forces us to look to the fountain of living water, where love may be found in abundance.
To summarize the above, we glorify God best when we love God most, not when we work hardest, as the law says; and love for God can only come from God Himself because God controls our hearts and we do not.
So we understand that the value of a Christian ‘good deed’ isn’t a matter worth considering—rather than worry about rewards, we should worry about praying to draw nearer to Christ and to love Him more. But we can rest assured that no good deed which we do of our own accord, without God, is glorifying. Although this may seem discouraging at first, praise God for His overwhelming grace, which He lavishes upon His children! The grace of God is omnipresent and omnipowerful for the life and deeds of a believer, and none who ask shall be turned away. It is always a word away from us.
So what is there to do, when there’s nothing left to do? Pray. Pray, pray, pray. The Christian walk depends upon prayer as few other things. Prayers for grace, love, faith, wisdom, hope, and a myriad of other emotional needs have changed my life in exponentially greater ways than praying for physical needs; a few more prayers for the heart certainly wouldn’t hurt anyone.
And remember Paul, who wished grace to you so many times. Save a fist-bump for him in Heaven. Who knows how many times that grace has helped you.
Lord Jesus, please take my life and my heart upon Your shoulders—I give you my load, every part of it. I ask that You fill me full of your grace and truth, and that You make me strong in faith and wisdom; let me live peacefully in my trust that You will glorify Yourself and not I, and let my love for You grow as I see the ways You work in my life after my work has ceased. Lord, I pray that my rest with You would reflect the Sabbath day that You took on the seventh day of Your creation, and that I would live in that glorious peace. Please make the words of Hebrews 3:7-4:13 shape the way that I live; I desire to enter Your rest, God. Please make the way clear to me—please give me grace, and eyes with which to see. In Jesus’ name,