Ready for Good Works (1)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Philippians 2.12, 13
In this series we have been addressing the question, “Which works?” Believers in Jesus Christ have been saved by the grace of God to do good works of love (Eph. 2.8-10). Salvation is not merely a subjective experience which assures us of God’s love and forgiveness, and that we will be with Him by and by and forever. Certainly, the faith which issues in salvation brings such assurance, and with it, peace and joy and abounding hope (Rom. 5.1-3).
But true, saving faith begins something new in the soul of one who has been saved by grace. Brimming with assurance of salvation, believers embrace the call to seek God’s Kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2.12) by working out their salvation in good works of love. Love – expressed in good works – is the evidence that saving faith has taken root in our soul and is bearing the fruit Christ intends (Heb. 11.1; cf. Jn. 14.12, 15, 21; Jn. 15.1-4, 9, 10, 12). The fruit of faith is expressed in good works of love for God and for our neighbors. The goal of all Christian instruction is to nurture such love (1 Tim. 1.5), so that believers may bear much fruit of love for the glory of God (Matt. 5.13-16).
We are not sufficiently clever to define the particular good works Jesus has in mind for us. We must look to Him, and to His Word. Paul explains that God has already ordained the good works He has in mind for us, and we may begin to discern them by reading and studying God’s Word, beginning with His Law (Rom. 3.31; 7.12). The Law provides a rich tapestry of commandments, precepts, examples, and rules to guide us in bearing the fruit of good works. The prophets and other Old Testament writers looked to the Law to exhort and instruct the people of their day in the wisdom, justice, and love of God. Jesus fulfilled all the Law, and He instructed us to follow His example so that we might be great in the Kingdom into which He has brought us (Jn. 15.9, 10; Matt. 5.17-19).
All the Law and the prophets reduce to two great commandments: Love God with all your soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. The works that are the evidence of true and lively faith – saving faith – are those which demonstrate love for God and neighbors. For such good works, Paul insisted, we must be zealous, ready, constant, and fruitful (Tit. 2.14; 3.1, 8, 14)
In this final installment in our series Which Works? we will unpack what is required of us in working out our salvation in good works of love, so that the assurance of salvation in which we rejoice glows with the evidence of salvation, expressed as love.
I need to stress again: We do not take up good works in order to be saved. We are saved by the work of Jesus Christ and His Spirit. Jesus did all the work of righteousness that we require. Having borne our sins in His own body on the cross, He rose from the dead in the righteousness of new life. Our sins have been laid on Him, and His righteousness is ascribed to us (2 Cor. 5.21). Jesus has done all the work that is needed to reconcile us with the Father.
With the Father, Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to be with us and to dwell in us. By His work we are born again and enabled to believe the Good News of Jesus and His Kingdom (Gal. 4.1-7). The Spirit has come to dwell in all who believe, reminding and assuring us that we belong to Jesus, and preparing us for lives of witness to Him (Jn. 14.26, 27; Acts 1.8). The Spirit of God is at work within us, teaching us the Law of God and all the Word of Jesus (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Jn. 15.14, 15). He convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16.8-11); brings to light the fruit of His Presence (Gal. 5.22, 23); adorns us with gifts for carrying out our role in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12.7-11); and continues always to bear witness with our spirits that we are sons and daughters of God (Rom. 8.14-17).
The Spirit is at work within us, shaping our thoughts and understanding, purifying and enriching our affections, firming up Christian priorities, and guiding us into our individual callings as the followers of Christ. But we must join in His work, taking up whatever is required of us to work out the full promise of our salvation in good works of love for God and our neighbors.
Salvation leads to good works, but only in those who take up the daily salvation workout, relying on the power of God and the truth of His Word for the mercy and grace they need each day (Heb. 4.12-16).
The power within
What do we know about the Holy Spirit? We know that He is God, and that He is the power of the Kingdom of God, as it comes on earth (1 Cor. 4.20; Acts 1.8). The Spirit brings holy, spiritual power to bear on the inner workings of our soul, changing the way we think, the things we desire, and the values and priorities that guide us. He does this by bringing us to the Word of God, day by day, and showing us Jesus in all His grandeur, glory, and greatness. As He shows Jesus to us, He adjusts and improves and enlarges our thoughts, desires, and values, making us a little more like Jesus, that we might be fitted with the love of Jesus each day requires.
The Holy Spirit works gradually to grow us in love – here a little, there a little; line upon line, precept upon precept (Is. 28.9, 10). But though He works gradually, He works truly in all who have been saved and who take up the yoke of Jesus to learn from Him good works of love (Matt. 11.28-30). Plowing the furrows of our soul is hard work, but with each step we take in the yoke with Jesus, the Spirit meets us with power to bring about the inward assurance and outward evidence of true and lively faith – good works of love.
And the Spirit is able, by the work He does within us, to bring us exceedingly abundantly more than we have ever dared to ask or think into the pleasures of God that come from working out our salvation in fear and trembling (Eph. 3.20). The effort involved in doing good works can be considerable, but the Spirit has a more-than-ample supply of power for our needs. The pleasure that awaits us as we yield to the Spirit is unspeakably beyond anything we could ever imagine. There is more of satisfaction, fulfillment, joy, and hope to be discovered in working out our salvation than in anything else we might ever do.
The Spirit is within us, and He is ready and able to fit us for those good works that bring the love of God to light the darkness of sin and show the way to Jesus. But we must determine that we will take up the call, in the strength of the Spirit, to work out our salvation day by day, that we may be zealous, ready, constant, and fruitful in good works of love.
1. Why must Christians be zealous to do good works?
2. How does the example of Jesus lead us to know which works are good works?
3. How does the Spirit work in you to fit you for a life of good works?
Next steps – Transformation: Ask the Spirit to show you what you can do today, in His power, to bear the fruit of salvation in your Personal Mission Field.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.