Christian, Good Works Are Not Your Enemy

One of the most important insights I have gained from the Orthodox Christian faith is that the decision to obey Christ and to cleanse my heart are decisions imperative to being a Christian. The idea I learned from the independent churches I grew up in was that a believer’s heart was cleansed by a sovereign move of God and one obeys Christ as a natural outflow of love for Him; and since it is automatic one need not consume his or her thinking with such things, we were far too concerned with “victorious living” by way of health and wealth. We were saved be grace through faith; anything more than this was a deception of the devil and a sure way to fall from grace.

These ideas are appealing to many, particularly, I think, Americans who are already conditioned to view life as a great hopping from one thing to the next thing in rapid succession, never stopping long enough to give serious attention to serious things: quick wealth, quick relationships, quick food, quick education, quick, quick, quick.

The authentic Christian faith does not avail itself to quick anything.

Stopping to give real effort to obey Christ in one’s personal daily life was simply too great a weight and too narrow a path, riding dangerously close the cliff of “dead works”. We reasoned that in order to have any chance at this faith thing we needed something simple and easy: just pray this prayer and ask Jesus to come into your heart and He’ll clean you and save your soul, nothing else is required (well, except tithing). Just come to church each week and we’ll pump you up and remind you that you’re a winner!

The trouble is this simply does not work. A person cannot love Christ without cleansing his own heart. He can be convicted by God, and desire to follow God, but to truly love God requires a strenuous, daily fight with selfishness, greed, lust, anger, hate, unforgiveness, etc. All of these passions grow within a person with the intent of tearing him or her away from God. One must strive to preserve the faith he gains. Faith is nothing without love, and love is nothing without action.

Jude reminds us to “build yourselves up on your most holy faith,” and to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 20 & 21). The Christian life is not automatic after one says a “sinner’s prayer” or has some other intellectual or emotional epiphany. Faith is a “race” (Heb 12:1) and a “fight” (2Tim 4:7) and requires extreme discipline of the body (1Cor 9:27). It is the believer’s obligation to cleanse his flesh and spirit of pollution of the world (2Cor 7:1), and if he or she will not “strive to enter through the narrow gate” unto eternal life they will not enter (Lk 13:24).

Indeed it is Christ who turns the believer away from iniquity (Acts 3:26), and Paul assures the believer that “sin will not have dominion over you for you are under grace” (Rom 6:14), but this is because grace “teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:11). The student does not automatically do what he is taught, but must make a conscious effort to follow his teacher. We can “receive the grace of God in vain” if we do not become “workers together with Him” (2Cor 6:1).

And indeed we “receive from Him whatever we ask,” but how is this possible? “Because we keep His commandments and do the things pleasing in His sight” (1Jn 3:22); if we keep His commandments we “abide in Him and He in us” (1Jn 3:24).

The main point I’m trying to convey is that a Christian need not be afraid of good works. They are not the enemy; disobedience is the enemy, well, that and anyone who would attempt to deceive you into believing that a person can know God and still practice lawlessness (1Jn 3:8). There is no avoiding the facts if one truly believes the Bible is the word of God. Both old and new testaments repeat the same message.

“God will render to each according to his deeds,” no that’s not only Moses, Samuel and Isaiah, it’s St. Paul (Rom 2:6-7).

And he continues: “Glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good” (Rom 2:10). Paul again warns, “we will receive the things done in the body whether good or evil” (2Cor 5:10). Peter tells us: “whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:35).

Christ Himself does not change the message (amazing, the same God who spoke to the Jews also spoke to the Gentiles). Hear the Master and Lord of our faith: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will be saved but everyone who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). He again promises that when the Son of Man comes in His glory He will, “reward each according to his works” (Matt 16:27).

I’m out of breath

Everything which exists exclusively in the imaginary world of the mind without ever becoming real eventually loses its pizazz. Christianity doesn’t work if the believer don’t do it. Christianity is not imaginary, it’s alive. Jesus never told anyone to think about Christianity and agree with it, He told those who would follow Him to, well… follow Him.

Thanks for reading

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10 thoughts on “Christian, Good Works Are Not Your Enemy

  1. Pingback: [Traducere] Creștini, faptele bune nu sunt dușmanul vostru

  2. Good post Eric. Although I still believe that our obedience should flow out of love for Christ. But we must also demonstrate a desire to turn our back on the old way of life, or living in the flesh. I’ve been parked in Romans studying grace for awhile now. What God has taught me is that the move from law to grace is connected to our move from being a servant of sin to a son of God. It’s a complete change of belief and mindset. From what I’ve read in Romans, you can either be a servant of sin, walking in the flesh, or a son of God walking in the Spirit. It can’t be both. You have to be dead to one. I do believe that this transformation begins to take place in us when we allow the Spirit to move in us, listen and obey. We can’t attain the standard of righteousness simply by trying in our own efforts to obey the law. It takes the work of Christ in us. But we also can’t claim to be under grace when we continue to choose to ignore the leading of the Spirit and choose the flesh. But when we live by the Spirit we are under grace and the works are the fruit of Christ in us.
    I don’t know if I’m explaining myself very well, but I have really been enjoying the study of law and grace and I appreciate your blog.

  3. Brittaney, thanks for the reply. I think you are voicing a common concern regarding the works of the law and grace. What this article deals with is works of love, faith and purity; nothing to do with the OT law, per se. But this is what many automatically think of when one begins speaking about good works; they have in mind the Old Law. Paul addresses Judaizers in the book of Romans, i.e. those who were saying that to be a Christian one needed to follow the OT law, and in particular – be circumcised. This battle became so intense that the Apostles called the first Church council to decide on the matter, found in Acts 15. But Paul would have been the last to preach a gospel that pitted faith and grace against works. I noted quite a few verses in the article but could have quoted 100 more. Paul was an extreme disciplinarian with himself when it can to living righteously and in union with Christ.

    Also, I think its important to not conflate “grace” with strictly the mercy and forgiveness of God. Grace is dynamic and encompasses much of what we mean by mercy and forgiveness, but it has the added meaning of the “strength” of God and “communion” with God. Grace is the gift of God – or better said, the gift of God Himself – which empowers a believer to become united with Him. The OT is packed full of the mercy and forgiveness of God. Read the Psalms and see how David understood God’s mercy and forgiveness through the lens of the law. Amazing stuff. But what Christ gave is the power to literally “become” a new creation. This is grace. That’s a far cry from what many “cheap grace” ministers today teach. They teach grace as if it is the gift of God to NOT follow Christ; the gift of non-discipleship, where one simply rehearses a sinners prayer and goes on with the life they were already planning on living, focused on all the things the world is focused on: success, money, health, power, acclaim, etc. Not that that is what you were saying, but you get the point. 🙂

  4. Well, I totally agree with you on that definition of grace. And I can agree with you on works of love and faith. But from my experience these are things that only the power of Christ working in me, transforming my mind and heart can empower me to do. They are an outflow of love and relationship with Him. The two of us “working” in unity together. But then they don’t really seem like work from that standpoint ; )

  5. Love this post. i really love this part “Christianity doesn’t work if you don’t do it. Christianity is not imaginary, it’s alive. Jesus never told anyone to think about Christianity and agree with it, He told those who would follow Him to, well… follow Him”
    is christian means follower of Christ? i will follow Him with all His Might forever..doing good or as you said “works righteousness” as what Jesus want us as His follower, i think is a manifestation of following Jesus ( i hope u can understand my English, since i’m an Indonesian, but i got your point)
    ^_^

  6. Thank you for this. Something I’ve struggled with both in my own life and in watching others is worldliness and how people will often justify it by claiming that they are “engaging the culture” and call themselves missionaries. But no sooner they speak the words and I see them, and sometimes myself much to my shame, act like those who do not love the Lord. Then you see them in church the next day drowning their speech in theological terms. I don’t see how people can’t call that hypocrisy. It’s hard to watch and especially hard to realize that you were doing it.

  7. “Faith is nothing without love, and love is nothing without action.”

    Eric, your statement says it all in the simplest terms. It is an excellent phrase for recurrent meditation.

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