Works of the Law VS Good Works

Works of the Law VS Good Works

Good works VS works of the Law - The Bible mentions the word “works” many times and there is a lot of confusion about this when it comes to salvation. What do "works" mean? What kind of works are acceptable to God? Are they necessary for salvation? This article will attempt to answer these questions from the Bible. May the Lord open our ears to hear!

We are created in Christ Unto Good works

Good Works VS Works of the Law

The Bible mentions the word “works” many times and there is a lot of confusion when it comes to what this means when it comes to salvation. Sometimes, the expression “works of the law” is used, other times, “good works” is used. What does that mean? What are good works? What difference does it make for us today? It is important to know what kind of works the Lord accepts or rejects. This post is to give you dear reader and seeker of the truth, a better idea of what is meant by these expressions. May the Spirit of the Lord open our ears to hear what the Spirit says.

 

Good Works

 

Our own “good” works

Many Christians know the famous verses used in Ephesians 2:

Ephesians 2:8-9

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

 

But what does that mean when the Word says “not of works, lest any man should boast”? To understand this, we have to switch our focus to the word “Boast”.

A simple definition of the word “boast” is “to talk with excessive pride and self-satisfaction”. We see that pride is directly related to boasting. We can all agree that pride is something God desires to destroy. It was pride that caused Satan, who was an archangel in God’s court, to fall from His presence. It is pride that makes men resist God because pride actually makes man his own god and idol. It is this “boasting” that Paul is singling out here to help us understand that we cannot come to God with a proud heart, thinking we can make ourselves righteous and earn our standing with Him. 

God has freely given us all things that pertain to righteousness. The meaning of these verses is that we cannot consistently do good works in our own strength. Even if we could do some good works, it would be in vain because there would still be an occasion of pride and boasting which are a bigger sin. 

Here the verses in Isaiah is very relevant:

Isaiah 64:6 – all our righteousness are as filthy rags

 

The verses in Ephesians 2:8-9 are therefore clear, there is nothing that we did or can ever do that earns us salvation. It is entirely the gift of God unearned and undeserved. It is by the grace and mercy of God. This is a fundamental truth of the Christian faith to understand, it is also what makes Christianity unique since Islam and today’s form of Judaism focuses on deeds to attain aright standing with God. In these religions, we attain righteousness by respecting a set of rules and doing deeds. If you wish to read more about Christianity’s salvation by grace, click here.

 

True good works are God’s works through us

Things get a bit complicated when other verses are introduced talking about “works”. For example, the same word is used in the book of James:

James 2:17 – Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

 

So knowing scriptures don’t contradict themselves, how can we reconcile these verses? In one case, Paul is saying in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works but in the other case, James says faith without works is dead.

This becomes clear when we dig deeper into the context and we see that Paul is talking about works we do in our own strength apart from God. In other words, if we live apart from God, our own good works are worthless and useless for the kingdom of God. On the other hand, the works James is talking about are works prepared by God for us. These are not our works, these are the works of God prepared by Him that we have to walk in when we are guided by His Spirit. They don’t save us, they don’t earn us salvation because we are already saved but they make us useful for the kingdom of God because we become instruments in His hands. These works are ABSOLUTELY necessary because God not only saves us but calls us to do His works. If we are fruitless for His kingdom, we can be cut off from Him as we shall see.

This is confirmed all through the New Testament. Let’s look at some verses starting with Ephesians 2 which we quoted before.

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

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

 

We see that in verse 10, there is continuity to the context. We are God’s workmanship, His instruments which He will use on earth to accomplish His own purposes and His own works that He Himself prepared beforehand for us that we should walk in them. This is not optional, it is a path laid out by God, a path of good works that He prepared for each one of His servants to do in order to advance His kingdom on this earth.

That completely goes with what James said

James 2:17 – Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

 

Notice that James is talking about a faith that is not resulting in works. In other words, these works are not ours, these are works originated in the faith that God gave us. How do we know this? We know this because it is God that gives us that faith:

Romans 12:3 –For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

 

It is God that deals to every man the measure of faith, it is that faith that should result in works of God. Paul is saying that we should not think highly of ourselves because it is God that gave us the faith that is allowing us to do anything for Him. 

Paul also mentions how anything that is not done in faith is outside the will of God:

Romans 14:23 – for whatsoever is not of faith is sin

 

Now notice how this all fits into a big puzzle with what our Lord Jesus says in John 15 (glory to God!):

John 15:1-8

 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

Every branch in me (notice it is talking about believers who are in Christ) that beareth not fruit he taketh away (so the branch can be in the Vine but not bear fruit. This means the will of man has to be exercised in letting the fruit of the Spirit come out): and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (So we see Jesus talking about doing, producing the fruit of the Spirit, He is saying that we can do nothing without being in Him. Why? Because the fruit or good works that we will bring without Him are not His, they are ours, they are not the works of God)

If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

 

All this shows we must live in the works of faith that God has prepared for us before the foundation of the world. This analogy of the Vine of the branches that Jesus gave cannot mean anything else except that we have to be fruitful and useful for the Kingdom.

 

Works of the Law

We saw in the previous section that we can have bad “good” works and real good works. Bad “good” works are works that are done by our own strength that do not originate by God’s Spirit in us. True good works are God’s works originating in the faith that God deals us. These true good works are works of the Spirit of God done through us when we are guided by the Holy Spirit. In this section, I want to talk about the works of the Law. What does this expression mean “works of the Law”?

A good look at Romans 3 is relevant here:

Romans 3:20-28

20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

 

We see that man is not justified before God by the works of the Law but by the law of faith. God’s grace is given to those who believe in the sacrifice of Christ the Son of God on the cross. By this, we understand that we are not made righteous by our own works but by what Jesus did on the cross when He took willingly our sins and nailed them to the cross.

By looking at the Bible, I can discern two types of works of the Law.

Let’s look at them.

 

Things to do in the Old Testament Law

One category of the “works of the Law” are things that have to be done. This includes the ceremonial laws given to the Israelites in the Old Testament Scriptures like animal sacrifices, Sabbath keeping and circumcision.

You see dear friend, concerning animal sacrifice, in the Old Testament these were needed for the atonement of sin year after year. In the New Testament, it is clear that these were only temporary and a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ coming to be the ultimate sacrifice for sin made once and for all. This is well explained in the book of Hebrews. There is much confusion when it comes to this, doing away with these laws is not getting rid of good works of faith that are done in Christ (as we saw in the previous section), but rather the doing away of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament.

The same is with Sabbath keeping. Even though the New Testament mentions many laws, the Sabbath is not one of them. This can come as a surprise to some Seven Day Adventists who say that keeping the Sabbath is mandatory for salvation. In fact, there are verses in the Bible showing that putting this law as a requisite for salvation is completely against the gospel of Christ.

 

Things not to do

The second category of “works of the Law” are things that we are forbidden to do. This is not only for the Old Testament but also in the New Testament. Remember, this does not mean we have no laws or commandments to keep. Jesus Christ gave us many commandments, we have to keep all of them. However, it is not the keeping of these commandments that justifies us before God, because justification is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This justification is not earned by our ability to keep any set of rules, laws or regulations whether they are in the Old or New Testaments. 

Examples of this category:

  • “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, “Thou shalt not kill” in the Old Testament. 
  • do not your alms before men, to be seen of them”, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” in the New Testament.

Again, this doesn’t mean we can do these things. This means we are neither justified nor do we earn righteousness or salvation by not doing these things

 

Conclusion

You see my dear friend, God by sending His Son to die for us on the cross, was not doing away with the ultimate purpose of the Law, which was to provide a way of reconciliation to mankind. He was rather establishing a better law which is the law of Faith. This is to say God was eliminating the need for circumcision of the flesh and the other deeds of the Law as a basis for justification and replacing with a spiritual justification by grace through faith in the cross of Christ.  

Dear friend, no flesh is justified by the works of the law and that includes any set of rules and regulations whether it is the Old Testament or the New Testament. It is not of works; it is neither by the works of the Law nor by our own “good” works, lest any man should boast and be prideful. God has decided that man is justified by grace through faith in what God has done for us through his Eternal Son Jesus whom He sent to die for us on the cross. We as Christians are therefore justified by the mercy of God through our faith in the power of God and in his Word to set us FREE from sin to place us back into right relationship with Almighty God. By accepting us back, God gives us His Holy Spirit in us so that we may be able to live our lives righteously before God until the obtaining of eternal life in the world to come.

Do you know dear friend, that it doesn’t matter what you have done, where you have been, how much sin you have committed? It doesn’t matter how many people you have hurt, how many secret things you are hiding. Yes, it doesn’t matter all of it as long as you come to Christ now! What you already did before in your life will not prevent you from coming to Christ. It will not prevent Jesus from accepting you. But my friend, you have to go to Him in seriousness of heart repenting over what you did. Are you ready to be delivered? Are you ready to be forgiven? Come now to the cross of Jesus Christ, believe in Him, He sacrificed Himself for you so that you don’t have to work your way up to God. We cannot make it on our own, we need a savior, we need Jesus Christ! 

May the Lord bless you!

2 comments

  1. Biagio - April 4, 2018 2:53 am

    This is an amazing and very detailed study on the different ” works”.

    Reply
    • geass - April 5, 2018 12:47 pm

      Thank you Biagio! God bless you!! 🙂

      Reply

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