Q. Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace through Christ without any merit of our own, why then should we do good works?
A. Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, is also restoring us by his Spirit into his image, so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for his benefits (1), so that he may be praised through us (2), so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits (3), and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ (4).
Read: (1) Rom. 6:13; 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:5-10; (2) Matt. 5:16; 1 Cor. 6:19-20; (3) Matt. 7:17-18; Gal. 5:22-24; 2 Pet. 1:10-11; (4) Matt. 5:14-16; Rom. 14:17-19; 1 Pet. 2:12; 3:1-2.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus told us to stay in the straight and narrow (Mt. 7:13-14)? I think it is because He knows that we are people of the extremes. We thrive in the binaries. Generally speaking we don’t like the uncomfortable feeling of paradoxes but that, dear sister is, many times where God has us. What do I mean by this? Let’s study question 85 of The Heidelberg Catechism to find out.
We love the feeling of accomplishing. We love the lists and we are keen to find those in The Bible. The Ten Commandments. Quiet time, prayer, fellowship. We love writing them down in our lists and crossing them out as we accomplish them. But often we forget that none of our lists save us. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone, for His glory alone. “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” (Eph. 2:8-9). Our deeds, no matter how good they are cannot save us and will never save us.
On the other extreme, we love the idea of doing nothing. Chilling. And spiritually, because we have been saved, it means that I get to do nothing more. I am saved and therefore, now I can sin. Saying little lies. Harboring envy and jealousy in our hearts. Mumbling bad words to people that don’t do what we need them to do. Criticizing our neighbor. Because we think that being saved gives us permission to be licentious. And yet: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Saying that we are saved does not necessarily mean that we are saved. So how do we reconcile these verses?
In Christ. Christ alone saves us. It is His good deeds, His righteousness, His perfectly sinless life, His dying on the Cross that saves us. It is His good work and His alone that saves us. Faith in Christ’s atoning death on the cross; believing in His Lordship, trusting that He is who He says He is, is the only way that we are saved and this is all by God’s grace. Our good works did not move God to be merciful towards us but rather His election. Our good works did not make us gain a good standing in front of God, but rather His work. Our good works cannot give us a good relationship with God, but rather, He comes to us and justifies us. We cannot save ourselves. Jesus alone saves us so that He can receive all the glory. So now, dear sister, we need to ask, what are we saved to? And this is where works come into play. We are saved for good works (Eph. 2:10). We are saved to become slaves to righteousness (Ro. 6:18). We are saved to bear fruit (John 15:4-5). We are saved and adopted and hence, our works are a mere acknowledgement of His Fathership over us (1 Thes. 4:3, James 2:17-18).
Our salvation which comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone propels us towards good works. The good works are merely an assurance, a logical result of our salvation. And both are at constant play in our life making us dwell in the grace and freedom of Christ, while at the same time, doing good deeds because of the grace and freedom that Christ has given us. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philip 2:12-13). We work out our salvation diligently, with fear and trembling, because God worked, is at work and will continue to work in us, both to will and to work for His glory alone. And that is precisely the paradox where we live in today.
So dear sister, are you living in the extremes? Are you relying on your good works to save you? Do not fool yourself. Remember that salvation is not by works but by the work of Christ. Sister, turn to The Cross where you will find the freedom to stop working and doing trying to win your salvation. Are you resting on your laurels and thinking that because you are saved you can now live a life of licentiousness as a worldly Christian? Do not fool yourself. Remember that Christ saved you towards good works. Sister, turn to The Cross, where you will find the freedom to do good works not for salvation but resting in the knowledge that you have been saved to something much better. The Cross is what grounds us to live in that straight and narrow. May we live and die at the feet of The Cross of Christ.
In His freedom