Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
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"I Know Your Works"

rice workers

by Dennis Pollock

One of the hallmarks of an evangelical is the insistence that salvation is all of grace, and is accomplished by putting our faith in the Lord Jesus, believing that His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead were sufficient for our forgiveness, justification, and adoption into the family of God. This is clearly correct, and there is overwhelming Biblical support for this view. To quote the apostle Paul, “…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16). We are saved, not because of our sterling personalities, nor because we give major portions of our income to homeless children, nor because we haven’t missed a church service in the last twenty years, nor because we have been faithful to our spouse, but because Jesus died on the cross as our sacrificial lamb and took on Himself the punishment and the wrath of God which we so richly deserved. This is basic Christianity, and no serious Bible reader would contradict or deny it.

But some Christians have been so focused on faith over works that they ignore the concept of works altogether. Their theology seems to be: “Having been justified by faith, we are free to fritter away our lives watching television, surfing the Internet, and pursuing our dreams of wealth.” They never volunteer for any service in their church, they give almost nothing to any Christian ministry, they rarely pray, never share their faith, and are hard put to define any sense of calling or any Christian efforts in their lives. They sometimes justify their almost total inactivity and spiritual sluggishness by the thought that we are saved by grace and not by works. And while this is true, it in no way implies that Christ has redeemed us and made us God’s children so that we might sit around doing nothing, never exerting ourselves spiritually.

A Word to the Church

church

I was reading in the Book of Revelation this morning and was impressed afresh with the powerful emphasis upon works that we find in Jesus’ memos to the seven churches in the second and third chapters of the book. As Jesus addresses each church, His first words to them, after identifying Himself, are always exactly the same: “I know your works.” This terse declaration speaks volumes. He tells them, and us, that He carefully observes the works that we do (or do not do) in His service, and by implication He makes it clear that our works (or lack of them) is a big deal to Him. Whether Christians share their faith, give toward His work, help and encourage their brothers and sisters, go on mission trips, comfort the weak, participate in evangelistic outreaches, counsel the confused, and so forth is no small matter. Jesus sees it, notes it, is pleased when we do these things, and is not so happy when we do not.

To the very first church He addresses, the church at Ephesus, Jesus commends the believers for much that they are doing. But then He lowers the hammer declaring that they have left their first love. Their passion for Jesus is not what it once was. And what is the evidence of this? He tells them: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5). Here we see a definite correlation. These believers had left their first love – and they were commanded to “repent and do the first works.” No first love – no first works. Where there is love for Jesus there are inevitably going to be works that follow in its wake. The two are so irrevocably joined together that they cannot be separated. To profess love for Jesus, to sing louder than anyone else in the worship service, to have your entire rear bumper filled with large, bright Christian stickers, to watch more Christian television than anyone in the neighborhood – but never actually do anything in Christ’s service is surely a deception. You may fool others, you may even fool yourself, but you will not fool the One whose eyes are watching over His sheep, and carefully noting their works.

Imperfect Works

To the church at Sardis Jesus says: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:1, 2). Here are a group of believers who have a reputation for spiritual liveliness. Perhaps they were highly enthusiastic in their praise gatherings. But Jesus tells them that they are dead, and reveals that the sure proof of this is that He has not found their works perfect before God. Somehow the inadequacy of their service was, to the mind of our Savior, a dreadful thing and a sure sign of spiritual dying and death. These folks were either a) not doing what they should, or b) not doing as much as they should, or c) probably both. Their works were anemic, their spiritual activity far too sluggish to please the One who gave His all in the service of His Father.

To the church at Laodicea Jesus declares: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot…” The lukewarm state of this church is appalling to Jesus, so much so that He tells them He is ready to spit them out of His mouth, like some disgustingly tepid drink which brings no pleasure to the taste. When we think we may be sick we sometimes use an instrument which shows us our condition numerically. We call that instrument a thermometer. If it says 98 or 99 we assume we must be OK, but if it reads 104 we know we are in trouble and need to take care of ourselves and see a doctor. In this passage Jesus seems to make works the gauge, the thermometer of His children’s spiritual health. First He says, “I know your works,” then He declares: “You are lukewarm,” in other words, you have no spiritual passion. Just as a 104-degree temperature is proof positive that one is sick, so a lack of works and enthusiastic spiritual service is sure evidence that the believer has some serious problems.

James deals with the subject of Christian works plainly in his epistle, telling us that faith without any accompanying works is dead. What he is saying is that faith without service to Christ is not real faith at all. It is some kind of pretense, a fantasy that enables a person to go through this life with a hope for the next life without actually doing anything in Christ’s service.

Zeal to Work

Even though Paul is the foremost promoter of faith and justification by faith in the Scriptures, he does not ignore or deny the need for good works as we live out our Christian faith. In all of his epistles, the importance of Christian works is stressed, but this is especially a theme in the little book of Titus. Three times he makes an appeal for Christians to engage in works of service to God and men. In the second chapter Paul tells us that Jesus “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Not only are we to do good works, if the grace of Jesus is truly at work in us, we will be zealous to do them; we will eagerly seek God and pursue opportunities of service. We won’t minister to others and do acts of service because we have to; we will do these things gladly and thank God for the opportunity!

In the third chapter Paul writes, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8). Not only is Titus supposed to be busy doing the Lord’s work and ministering to others – he must “affirm constantly,” he must never stop encouraging and exhorting the believers to do this. We must not just do good works; we must maintain good works – we must make sure that we never let up, never stop, never tire, never lag, never lose our passion to be doing things for Jesus and others. We cannot spend all our days on our couches praising God for saving us and watching television. At some point we must get up, get dressed, go out and actually do some things, things we know will please the Lord and be a blessing to people.

Restoration Project

Cadillac

Imagine you purchase an old non-working Cadillac. At this point the car does not drive and looks terrible. Its paint is peeling, there are rust spots everywhere, and several windows are broken. The interior is filled with all kinds of rips and tears, the floors are stained, and there is a terrible stench that almost overwhelms you when you first open the door. You determine that you are going to restore this fine old car. It takes you months and you spend several thousand dollars but in time the car is brought to immaculate condition. It has a dazzling new paint job, all the widows are replaced, the interior is brand new, the old flooring has been ripped out and replaced, and it sports new bumpers which look better than the old ones ever did. You have created a masterpiece!

Your neighbor comes over to admire your work and you proudly show him every aspect of your makeover, explaining in detail all the effort that went into making this car the beauty that it now is. Your neighbor, having seen the terrible condition of the car when you first got it, is impressed and tells you that you are surely a miracle-worker. Then he suggests that you take him out in it for a drive. At that point you hang your head in shame, and confess that you have spent all your labor and your money on the outward appearance of the car. The motor is still as broken and dysfunctional as it ever was. The vehicle can sit on your lawn and look pretty, but it can serve no practical value. And what that means is that the poor man’s junker is of far more value than your gleaming masterpiece. His car will take him to work every day; yours won’t even take you three blocks to the corner drugstore.

Jesus Christ is not such an unwise restoration expert as that. When He goes to work to restore, He not only works on our personalities and noticeable habits – He also equips us for service and gives us significant tasks to do in His name. To pride ourselves on how nice we have become, but to ignore His call to service is sheer folly. Jesus’ word to His first disciples is still a word for every disciple today: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” (John 15:16). This certainly includes the fruit of patience, kindness, and love, but it also includes the fruit of transformed lives, broken hearts mended, the ignorant instructed, the weak strengthened, the poor provided for, and the despairing given new hope. To know God through His Son Jesus Christ is to be a people, as Paul would put it, “zealous for good works” such as these.

Jesus our King has led the way in this. He declared, “I must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day…” (John 9:4). Jesus went about encouraging, healing, preaching, teaching, and sharing the love of God with all who would receive it. He had a deep devotional life, but he also left that solitary place with His Father, and joyfully went out among the people to do His Father’s works. His greatest work was His death on the cross, whereby He opened a torrent of the grace of God which flows to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. Let us, in our own small way, follow His example and be a people “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for ourselves a good foundation for the time to come, that we may lay hold on eternal life.”

 


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