This post is the first in a series designed to encourage good works by providing excerpts from Reformed preaching and writing. The first excerpt will be from Thomas Manton, clerk of the Westminster Assmebly and chaplain to Oliver Cromwell. But, before we get started, I think it is important to ask why this even matters and then a second introductory post to clearly define “good works.”
This post seeks to provide some biblical reasons we as Christians should we make a study of good works.
Why does this topic matter? Here are several reasons:
- As Christians, we were graciously saved and recreated in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). In the wonder of sovereign grace, God has delivered us from the kingdom of the Evil One through faith in his Son to live a life of holiness in the kingdom of Christ, walking in the way of good works which he has prepared for us.
- Good works are the way we follow after Christ. The Lord Jesus’ whole ministry could be summed up in the words, “he went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), and he came “not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). “A disciples is not above his teacher, or a servant above his master” (Matthew 10:24). So when Jesus called men to die to themselves and the world (“take up your cross”) he also called them to imitate his life of obedience (“follow me”). As disciples of Christ we are to “be imitators of God as beloved children...” (Ephesian 5:3).
- Good works are the path to inheriting eternal life. As God has determined to first deliver us into his kingdom by grace alone through faith alone, he has also determined to bring us to to the fruition of that kingdom in heaven by grace alone through the mighty work of sanctification ending in glorification: all of this is a firm and sure promise to those who believe. We who have been permanently declared in justification “not condemned!” in union with Christ by faith alone (Romans 8:1), now in sanctification fulfill the righteous requirement of the law (8:4) by the mighty Spirit who leads us (8:6,9), giving life to us (8:11), making us debtors to Him (8:12) as he dwells in us (8:11), leading us as sons (8:14), assuring us of sonship (8:15-16), and by these things setting before us our great inheritance to come (8:17). “..If children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). How do we get to be glorified with Christ? We first must suffer with him. A life of growing obedience by the Spirit through union with Christ precedes a life of glory in heaven with Christ. In this way, good works are the path to Christ’s heaven. “The one who sows to the Spirit,” as Paul says, “will from the Spirit receive eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). Using the biblical imagery: we are children preparing ourselves for receiving an inheritance. Farmers, who by the gracious Spirit of Christ, are sowing seeds unto and in Him that will spring up into eternal reward. “Well done,” he will say, “good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
- The alternative to good works is hell. Let this be clear in our minds and affections: “pursue... sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). “Let know one decieve you with empty words, for because of these things [immorality, coventeousness, idolatry] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6). “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
- Good works please our God. We are sinners, redeemed from futility by the blood and merits of Christ (1Peter 1:19), brought to life not by our own doing (Ephesians 2:1), loved when we were unlovely (Ezekiel 16:6), still sinning even after being brought into the light (1John 1:8), slow-to-learn sons of a patient Father (Hebrews 12:6), workers with weak hands and pilgrims with weak legs (Hebrews 12:12). Is there a greater wonder then that on top of freely pardoning us in Christ and clothing us with his righteousness, God’s grace is so great that he now is pleased with our good works? Having received us, he recieves them. So let us “find our what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10) and “walk in a manner worth of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).