What Ever Happened to Good Works?

Have you ever wondered whatever happened to good works? God prescribed them, described them as the lifeblood of a believer, the oozing of the Spirit of Christ within them onto everything they do. Today, good works are external, check-markable, measurable, and visible. Things we do. But when God described them, they were invisible, interior, heart attitudes that became visible action. And what God measured was in the heart: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

For centuries, people have taken up God’s job, the job of telling people what God wants from them. Ever since, “good works” have been what Colossians describes as “the elementary principles of this world… ‘do not handle, do not taste, do not touch,’… in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men” (Colossians 2:20-22).

These are all on the outside, easily visible, easily measurable. They have to be, because humans can see nothing else. We can’t see the heart, so if I take it upon myself to decide if God is pleased or not–with me or someone else–I have to use externals. How else am I to communicate what God wants? How else do I communicate God’s approval? Only by seeing something I imagine God approves of.

This is a person still trying to please men. And if I am still trying to please men, Paul says, I cannot be a bondservant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

I give away God’s place when I look for approval somewhere that is not Him. Every time I seek to please someone that is not God, every time I compare myself to others to find myself approved or lacking, every time I let someone other than God tell me right from wrong and yes from no, I am accepting an inferior master in place of Christ. And this robs me of peace. Inferior masters see me with human eyes, hold me to human standards, and leave me to my own human devices to meet them. This is not good enough. To be a bondservant of Christ is to serve a master already pleased, and this is peace.

Excerpt from “Peace and How to Keep It.” Coming fall 2020.