Sometimes I am convinced that Christians promoting ‘good works’ do not think that the works they promote are good. How bizarre!
Here’s why …
As a minister, I hear people explain the reasons they get involved in good things: local charities, caring for people, volunteering, etc. As a minister, I receive many glossy mail-outs from well-run organisations seeking to promote good things: water in dry places, micro-finance schemes, freeing women and children from indentured labour, anti-malaria bed nets, etc.
There are so many good things to do in the world. And it’s very Christian to care for people in these ways. Witness Paul’s wonderful words in Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Christians – those saved entirely through the work of Christ, who live only by faith – have no reason to boast. We do not naturally achieve good. We do not have power to save ourselves by right living. Salvation is entirely a gift, the work of God, the new creation through Christ.
This message has a minor cost to our pride, but an enormous benefit to our confidence. Since it is God who saves, we are totally secure – God’s work does not fail!
This salvation has a clear purpose. According to verse 10, this purpose is for believers to walk in good works. Doing good is a result of salvation. Being snatched from the powers of evil and death (see Ephesians 2:1-3), God has a life of good for his children.
This exalts good works, because good works have no purpose. Good works are an end in themselves – not a tool to get somewhere else. They do not achieve anything. My good works don’t save me. And though a good thing will help others, the Bible does not tend to speak of good works as a means to an end. Good works are the result of a changed world, not the cause of a changed world.
That’s a kind of definition of good: good is good, because it’s good.
Good is not good because it’s productive, it’s productive because it’s good. Good does not usher in the kingdom of God, it is a sign that God has brought his kingdom into the world. Consider the (sad) joy in the works of the late Tabitha, in Acts 9:36-43. The widows showed Tabitha’s handiwork to indicate Tabitha’s goodness, not ‘that she made a difference.’
‘Good’ is convincing, all on its own. Consequently, this is the kind of thing I want to read in those glossy brochures:
- We promote digging wells, because it is a good thing to do for needy communities
But too often I read appeals that don’t think ‘good’ is good enough:
- We are dedicated to bringing in the Kingdom, so ask you to provide a goat for a family
This latter appeal is, for me, entirely unconvincing. I think, ‘Why do you need to push so hard to convince me? Why the sledgehammer argument to crack this nut? Don’t you believe in good?’
I do believe in good!