Observations About “Works” – Doug Post

Doug Post

But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God (Rom. 2:5-11).

The above passage supplies a wealth of information concerning the salvation shared and enjoyed by Jews and Gentiles. Or, as Jude wrote, “our common salvation” (cf. Jude 3; Rom.1:16-17; Acts 15:9).

  1. God will judge all of mankind. Wrath and punishment will be for the unrighteous and eternal life for the righteous. There will be one judgment for both good and bad.

  2. God will judge according to the works performed.

  3. God will give eternal life to those who continue doing good, working what is good (“good works”), and who seek glory and honor—not from men but from God.

  4. God will exact His wrath upon the self-centered, self-willed, and self-seeking, followers of evil, who do not obey truth because they do not love truth, choosing to live according to standards of the world.

  5. God’s judgment is impartial.

The Holy Spirit, through both Jesus and John, reveals a pending day of judgment for both the just and unjust:

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:28-30).

Moreover, judgment will be based upon works. These works could be described as either the works of Satan (evil works—unrighteousness—consistent with Satan and his desire) or the works of Christ (good works—righteousness—consistent with Christ and His Will). Souls will be judged based upon the works they perform.

A self-seeking attitude is what produces “evil works.” Elsewhere Paul describes such folks as not having received the “love of the truth” (1 Thess.2:10), being consumed with “pleasure in unrighteousness” (1 Thess. 2:12). Pleasing self was more important than pleasing Christ. On the other hand, those having loved the truth (the gospel/God’s Word/ the New Covenant), love being slaves for Christ (1 Cor. 7:22). Many translations refuse to use the word slave, even though the Greek word used is doulos. There are at least six Greek words for servant and not one of them is doulos or slave. There is only one word for slave, which cannot be mistaken for any other. The fact is, we have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20), implying the idea of slave, not servant or hired hand.

Just as translations have opted to use the word servant instead of slave, they also use Lord rather than Master. Jesus asked, “Why call Me Lord, Lord and do not the things I say?” (Luke 6:46). That should be, “Why call Me Master, Master,” not Lord, Lord. Here, the relationship to which Jesus refers is Master/Slave, not Lord/servant. Just as the concepts of slave and Master have been watered down, so has the word works— works which slaves must perform for their Master, and by which all slaves shall be judged, since God “will render to every man according to his deeds.” Here we see the subtle denominational bias as they substitute the word “deeds” for “works,” mitigating against the significance of the context, because “works” are seen as sinful.

The concept of works is found in the Patriarchal, Mosaic and Christian dispensations. In each dispensation, “works” are requisite because obedience to God and His Word is necessary in order for a covenant relationship to exist. Some works are universal, while others are specific to particular dispensation. For instance, faith is necessary for salvation in each dispensation, yet faith, itself, is referred to as a “work” (John 6:29; Rev.2:19). These “works of God” or “good works” (Eph. 2:10), are basically assignments for us to obey and carry out—“perform” (Acts 10:34-35; Heb. 5:9; 1 John 3:7), being absolutely necessary, especially since we will be judged by them (Rom. 2:6; 1 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17; Col. 3:25; Rev. 20:12; cf. John 12:48). Of course, James plainly tells us faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:19-26).

As long as I can remember I have heard my own brethren speak of meritorious works or works of merit, even though no such phrases are found in Scripture. The Bible simply speaks of “works” and we must determine from the context what “works” are under consideration. Quite simply, the New Testament addresses two kinds of works: one related to falling from grace and the other related to justification (right standing with God) and salvation.

Works of the Law

There are various passages throughout the epistles, which speak of works of the law. Overwhelmingly, the contexts with the phrase, works of the law, refer to the Old Covenant—the law of Moses, not to works of merit or meritorious works.

The works God gives Christians to do under the New Covenant do, indeed, have merit since we will all be judged by how we obeyed Christ in carrying out these works (2 Cor. 5:10). Refusing to properly obey, or by refusing to carry out these assignments, results in “unbelief” (Heb. 3: 12-19; cf. John 3:36). Now, let’s address two passages commonly used to object:

  1. Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

First, the context concerns the church of Christ, and how both Jew and Gentile have become one new man in Christ (2:14-22). Paul speaks of the Jews being converted first (1:3-12). Then he speaks of the prophetically anticipated conversion of the Gentiles (1:13-14). Paul then explains this mystery (3:5-6) whereby the Gentiles are to be part of the same body – the church.

Second, what was it that separated Jews and Gentiles? The law of Moses, of course (2:14-18). But, what of the law was the culprit? Circumcision, of course (2:11-13). Circumcision was a big issue of the day between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians (Acts 15:1-5; Rom.2:25-29; 1 Cor.7:19; Gal.5:1-5; Phil.3:3; Col.2:11; Titus 1:10). This was dividing the church because the Judaizers were pressing circumcision upon the Gentiles as a means of justification.

Third, some brethren teach Ephesians 2:9 simply refers to any works of which one might boast. This is false for various reasons. The word “boast” means to “glory,” which means “to have an opinion, a view, an estimate, honor resulting from good opinion.” Not only do I love the word of God (2 Thess.2:10), but in the example of God, Himself, I magnify it (Psa.138:2). I honor all the teaching Christ put forth, including baptism being necessary for salvation (Mark 16:16). To honor what the Lord taught is to honor the Lord. To boast in what the Lord taught, is to boast in Christ.

The idea of boasting here, however, means much more than just having a high opinion, but a high opinion of something that is obsolete. The law was obsolete (Heb. 8:13; 2 Cor. 3; Rom. 7:1-6, Eph. 2:14-18; Col. 2:11-14) and the Jews had a high opinion of it. So much so, they bound it upon the Gentiles.

The Jews “boasted” in the law and in circumcision. This is the very point Paul makes elsewhere: “Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?” (Rom. 2:23) and “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Rom. 3:27-28).

The Jews boasted in circumcision as a means of justification and were guilty of perverting the gospel over it (Gal. 1:6-9, 5:1-4). They were continuing to divide the church, and this is the point Paul is making in Ephesians 2:8-18, the very thing keeping Jew and Gentile separated, hence, salvation is “not of works, lest man should boast.”

Moreover, Paul goes on to declare we are “created in Christ Jesus (epi) unto good works.” The word epi here means upon or on the basis of. In Christ Jesus are the necessary works provided for transformation and are part of all spiritual blessings in Christ.

  1. Titus 3:4-7: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Paul is writing to Titus concerning the church at Crete which also had it’s share of Judaizers (Titus 1:10-16), and by specifying “those of the circumcision,” Paul is identifying not only the party, but what they were teaching—“circumcision.” As is true in most of Paul’s epistles, the Judaizers and their binding of circumcision upon the Gentile Christians is also part of the background of Paul’s letter to Titus.

Many twist this passage to their own destruction. Paul, specifically says that something appeared “toward man before, not by works of righteousness which we have done.” This is the same point he makes in 2:11: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.” The kindness and love of the Savior came to mankind, based upon an eternal plan (Eph. 3:10-11; Acts 2:23).

Mankind had nothing to do with this decision and why He appeared to mankind. Works of righteousness had nothing to do with it, so they did not compel or obligate Christ to come. His coming was purely a Divine transaction among the Godhead.

Sadly, many brethren read this passage believing it says that He (Christ) saved us without any need of works of righteousness. They will then force themselves into saying that “Well, baptism is not a work,” or that it’s only a work of God (Col. 2:12). Not only is this false, but it contradicts Acts 10:34-35, which, itself, has everything to do with Acts 15:9 and Acts 2:38. Moreover, it is not what the text says! Baptism is indeed something God has given us to do—it is a work of God or a good work. While God’s work is to forgive sin in baptism (Col. 2:12), it’s our work—a work of righteousness God has specifically given in order to be saved.

Paul then says that according to His mercy He saved us. But, how? Without any works of righteousness (Acts 10:34-35; 1 John 3:7)? No, but through regeneration’s washing and the Holy Spirit’s renewing (both clauses are possessive genitives). This is exactly what Jesus alluded to in John 3:3-8 (See also John 6:63; Eph. 5:26; Jas. 1:18,21; 1 Pet. 3:21-25).

Works for Salvation

Under the Christian dispensation, the gospel, or New Covenant law, Christ provided Christians assignments or works to carry out. We are to love God and others, but love is a work (Rev. 2:19). We must have faith (Heb. 11:6) but faith is a work (John 6:29). We must repent (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38) but repentance is a work (Jonah 3:10; Matt. 12:41). All things we must do, like confessing Christ, are required for salvation.

When Jesus says we must “abide” in His Word to be His true disciples (John 8:31), He is saying we must do what He says (John 12:48; cf. Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46; John 14:15; 1 John 2:3-6, 5:3). When Paul says we must continue in the faith, His Word (Col. 1:23), then we must continue doing what the Bible teaches. And, when the Hebrews writer says we must obey Christ (Heb. 5:9), he means we must “continue obeying.”

Obedience means to carry out that which Christ desires and faithfully carrying out the works designed for us to perform, are as necessary for salvation as is faith, which, itself is a work. The work of faith must work in working the works of God, otherwise, we will find ourselves in “unbelief.”

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