… zealous for good deeds. (NASU)
The Why of Good Works
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph 2:10 NASU)
I don’t usually think of good works as good theology. Most of the time, people are cautious to remind each other that salvation is not a result of all the great things we have done and that they can’t earn our way into heaven. Well, that is theology and it is a point that most of us get. The point we miss is why we do good works. Paul addresses this right after he tells us that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8).
The primary reason we should be zealous for good deeds is that we are God’s workmanship. The more I look at that word, workmanship, the more I wonderful it is in this context. The Encarta Dictionary says that it is “the product or result of the skill of a worker or artisan.” Notice that for a product to be a workmanship, it must be skillfully made by a worker, or an artisan, which is the implication in Ephesians 2:10,. God is the artesian. The New Living Testament used the word, masterpiece. Think about that for a little while. We are not the random accumulation of atoms that somehow have evolved over millions of years. Each of us is a created by God, the creator of the universe. He has paid special attention to each one of us.
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. (Ps 139:13-14 NKJV)
When my daughter was a preteen, she would often moan about having straight hair or brown eyes instead of blue eyes and whatever she thought her hair should be. I would ask her if God made mistakes. “No, Dad,” she would reply with a sigh. I would respond that she was exactly the person God wanted her to be. This is essentially the same thing God said to Moses when he complained about being slow of speech. God made it clear that Moses was made the way He wanted and not only that but He also explained that even deaf, mute, and blind people are made the way He wants. Why, it is because we are to depend on Him (Ex 4:10-12).
Getting back to the why of good works, since we are His masterpiece, then we must be used for the purpose He intended. Beautiful paintings are not made to be stored out of sight. Magnificent bridges are not made to be observed but used. We are created for good works.
In Christ Jesus
OK, here is what separates different kinds of works. Being in Jesus separates what we do to be saved from what we do after we are saved. It separates what is worthwhile after we are saved from worthless activity. The prerequisite is to be in Christ who is the foundation (1 Cor 3:10). The plain implication of Ephesians 2:10 is that even what we consider good deeds done by someone who is not a Christian are worthless, “Our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isa 64:6 NLT). They can’t save that person. If that person is not saved, then the most that could possibly happen is that the good deeds would somehow reduce his suffering in hell, though I’m not sure that was exaclty Jesus’ meaning in Matthew 10:15; 11:22, 24.
If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor 3:14-15 RSV)
Paul clarifies that even a Christian can have much religious activity and good works in their life but that work may be worthless and end up without reward at the final judgment. This requires me to think again about my attitude when I do anything. Do I treat my wife with love and respect because it honors God as well as her? Or is my reason really selfish. Am I kind and considerate to my wife because it makes life more pleasant? There is nothing wrong with this motivation from the world’s viewpoint, just ask any secular marriage counselor. However, if my goal is to glorify God first because Christ lives in me, then I want to build on the foundation of Christ not my personal interests. In fact, when I do it with His strength and power, it makes it easier to do. It means that even a person with a contentious spouse will be able to demonstrate a loving attitude. If a loving attitude is from selfish reasons, a person will grow tired of the hostility from that spouse, write to an advice columnist who will then advise the person to seek his or her own happiness and get a divorce. Matters that are even more “spiritual” can be done with the wrong motivation. Do I write this to bring honor and glory to God or to feed my own ego? I don’t always like the answers to questions like these but they are questions we all should ask to make sure we are doing our works in Christ.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (Gen 1:26 KJV)
From the beginning of creation, God had a plan for mankind. It was to be good stewards of His creation. At this point in our history, everything was good. Sin had not entered and there is no indication that animals killed each other but all were herbivores. It was probably even better than the restored earth of the millennium where animals live in peace with each other and people (Isa 11:7-9, 65:25). Man did not yet exist, but God had work planned for us. Did God’s work for us change after the fall? Not according to Psalm 8:6-8; Genesis 3:17-19 indicates that the job is certainly harder than it would have been without the fall. Yet, in looking at Titus 2:14 and Ephesians 2:10, I get the impression that caring for God’s world is not the most important work that He has prepared for us.
Looking back at the verses leading up to Titus 2:14 reveals relationships between people and attitudes and behavior that glorify God. While not forsaking our stewardship of creation, we must remember that mankind is God’s crowning masterpiece. We are made in His image; He has prepared us to have a relationship with Him and each other all of which glorifies Him. If we are not zealous for these things, then we are missing our calling and the works He has prepared for us.
They said therefore to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." (John 6:28-29 NASB)
Ultimately, He has prepared us to believe in Jesus Christ for our salvation. If we miss that “work” then all the others are meaningless. Believe in Jesus, be zealous for the works done in Christ, and we will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21 ESV).