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  • Writer's pictureKeith Carpenter

Works: Wanted Dead or Alive?

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

Good works, or simply works, is a topic that we have managed to thoroughly confuse, conflate, ignore, and even hate in some ways across the Christian spectrum.

In some churches and denominations, works is placed sequentially ahead of salvation, creating a merit system that some refer to as "Legalistic" where you have to earn your way in, pay your dues. This is incorrect Biblically but if you want to start a new religion, this would be the way since cults and false religions all have this in common and people seem to love it apparently since the fastest growing world religions all have this works-based belief system in place. I call this variant of Christianity "The Church of the Dangling Carrot" (as in race track rabbits endlessly and fruitlessly chasing the ever-out of reach carrot). Some of largest denominations within Christiandom have this doctrinal position and it does make one wonder if it has something to do with being controlling of people and unbiblically tying to the church with the church serving as God's intermediary instead of our Mightly, Holy, and Loving High Priest, the Lord Jesus.

In other churches, they have separated or divorced works entirely from the normal Christian life and Scriptural interpretation and or expectations. Somehow these churches have decided, also unbiblically, that all the passages from Genesis through Revelation that speak of works as critical and essential to the Christian life have been bumped to optional or even superfluous or "dead works". This, despite the fact that Jesus explicitly said; "you shall know them by their fruit" in Matthew 7, to "let your light shine so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" in Matthew 5:16 as well as Paul emphasized that we were created in Christ specifically for good works in Ephesians 2:10. James and Peter also weigh in as does the Apostle John with this same emphasis on good works as a critical ingredient, requirement, and evidence of our Christian standing. I call these churches, "The Church of the Fire Insurance". Walking the aisle or coming forward at a crusade then living either apathetic or like the Devil the rest of ones life does not square with the Biblical outline of a genuine Christian.

So what is the right view of works? Scripturally, salvation was always through Jesus and faith in Him and His substitutionary atonement. Meaning, in Old Covenant times the people of God lived by faith looking ahead to the coming of Jesus, a sacrifice that only God could arrange, only they did not know how it was all going to play out. Clearly, Able to Job to Noah to Abraham to Moses all had faith firmly in place on which they lived out that faith in works. In New Covenant times the people of God look back in real history to the Cross and finished work of Christ, living in faith and in good works looking also ahead for the return of Jesus. The right view is to see faith as the foundational ingredient of Christian life day to day and that true faith as James would call it, leads to be evidenced by our actions, our good works. This is The Church of Jesus Christ. The Bible is loaded with imperatives or commandments of what all we should be doing so we need not scratch our head and wonder what type works we ought to do.

As Christians, we are not to be chasing carrots to earn favor nor buying life insurance so we can slack off and live worldly. We hold faith and works in tension and exercise our works because we love Jesus because He first loved us, pursued us, converted and sealed us. When we trusted Christ, we were sealed forever, born again, we put our trust in Him and believed Jesus came as the God-Man to live sinless and die on the cross in our stead as the perfect sacrifice, the "Lamb that takes away the sin of the world" as John the Baptizer exclaimed.

We are to live day to day as Christians, working out our salvation or "sanctification" in faith and doing the works, doing the sacrificial and loving good works God has set up for us to do because of His great love for us. God gave each of us specific spiritual gifts to use and build up His Church. God sent the Holy Spirit to empower us, teach us, and to help us and we do good works out of gratitude to God and out of a loving and thankful heart. We cannot earn His favor, we already have it all, all spiritual riches in Jesus Christ. Jesus rose again on third day from the dead, in history and in a real human body, a resurrected and glorified body, and our great Christian Hope is to obtain the same type resurrected and sinless body one day and while we do good works down here, we walk with this hope, this expectation in our minds and in our hearts.

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