Only an antinomian would object to doing good works in the Saviour’s name. That is a shocking statement, but it is true because antinomians are against God’s law as a rule of life for the Christian. The Scriptures consistently teach, however, that it is the will of God that His children, who are washed in the blood of Christ and indwelt by the Spirit, bring forth good works.
Sadly, when many professing Christians hear the term good works they become alarmed because they think it is being used to teach salvation by works. We need to get beyond that if we are saved by grace. Grace is never the enemy of godly living; rather, it is an impetus to doing greater good for God out of gospel love and faith. It is what we call “evangelical obedience.” The apostle Paul succinctly answered the question, “Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace?” by saying, “God forbid!” (Romans 6:14). In a recent article in Current, (Summer 2014 p. 5) on the subject of antinomianism, Rev. Reggie Kimbro summed it up well, “God does not change the definition of right and wrong after a person gets saved.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith has devoted a whole chapter with seven sections to the subject of good works. It weeds out the differences between doing good works out of legalism before conversion and doing good works out of a new life of obedience to God through faith in Christ after conversion.
The Confession’s statements on good works lead us into an exciting aspect of Christian living. Because the Christian’s person is accepted by God on the basis of his union with Christ, so his new works of obedience are also accepted through Christ. On this point the Confession teaches us that in doing those things which are well pleasing to God there is great reward:
Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreproveable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections. (16.6)
One of the proof texts given to support this statement is taken from the Lord’s parable of the talents: “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21). In the exposition of that parable the Lord gave a thorough treatment of the attitude of those who were counted faithful servants. They did not boast in their works as worthy of such rewards. Rather the righteous replied, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?” (verse 37). The Lord insisted, however , “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (40).
The point we must not miss is that while we lament that our works are imperfect, yet God is well pleased with them. Men may see them as very little and even pathetic, but because they are works done unto the Lord by a Christian clothed in Christ’s righteousness, they are acceptable to God.
All parents know the joy of meeting a child after school as he or she brings home the artwork of the day. The drawing that took so much effort, never mind so much paint, was the child’s attempt to draw Mom and Dad or the whole family that day they went on a picnic. When you ask your child, “What is that messy thing on the splattered page?” and you are told, “It’s my picture of you,” your heart melts. You praise your little budding painter for the wonderful display of talent and you accept the piece of art as a precious token of true love. In such a manner God accepts our attempts to do those things that please Him. As the Confession states, “He looking upon them in his Son is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.”
This truth should not be lost in our service for the Lord lest we think we must reach a perfect standard of service before it is acceptable to God. While we should use our talents to the full and strive to be our very best for God, we should not feel shut out of doing what we can in the Lord’s name. Are any of God’s people experts at Christian service? Certainly there are no infallible servants and there are many weaknesses in our efforts at music, prayer, preaching, and witnessing. No two attempts to bear witness for Christ are equal. We sometimes shine for the Lord, while at other times we show forth very little light. We also know that when we succeed to some degree to be a good witness for the Lord, it is the Holy Spirit who enables us. When we are left to ourselves we don’t do so well. However, our reward is not lost, for the Lord taught that even a single cup of cold water offered in Jesus’ name shall not go unrecognized nor unrewarded.
When we quote the words of Isaiah to unconverted sinners that “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), we speak the truth as it applies to unregenerate men, for all attempts to honour God out of a heart that is dead in sin are rejected. However, that does not apply to a Christian, who is clothed in Christ’s righteousness. When we seek to honour God according to His Word through faith in Christ, every effort to glorify the Lord is accepted and will be rewarded by God. We will have the “well done thou good and faithful servant.” The Puritan Anthony Burgess taught, “For a work to be good it must be commanded by God, done by the Spirit of God coming from an inward principle of grace in a believer, and ultimately done for God’s glory.”
The Saviour said, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matthew 6:20). Born again Christians do this each time they serve the Lord with an eye to His glory.
Rev. Ian Goligher is the minister of Cloverdale FPC near Vancouver, British Columbia, and is the editor of Current.