What the Bible says about Good Works, Necessity of
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This last curse is a clincher, more expansive in scope by far than the others. By its substance as well as its position, it serves to point out that the previous eleven curses serve in aggregate as an encapsulation of all the laws of God. In fact, the curse will come to any person who violates any of the precepts of God's law. There is no room for hypocrisy. The apostle Paul may have had the twelfth curse in mind when he wrote to God's people in Rome: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13).
Confirmation of the law does not take place through word but through works, works of overt obedience. As a second witness, consider God's own orders to His prophet Jeremiah:
The Lord said to me, “Listen to the terms of the covenant. Tell the people of Judah and of Jerusalem that I, the Lord God of Israel, have placed a curse on everyone who does not obey the terms of this covenant. It is the covenant I made with their ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, the land that was like a blazing furnace to them. I told them to obey Me and to do everything that I had commanded. I told them that if they obeyed, they would be My people and I would be their God. Then I would keep the promise I made to their ancestors that I would give them the rich and fertile land which they now have.” (Jeremiah 11:1-5, Good News Translation)
Through the same prophet, God tells us that appearances do not fool God. He sees through the mask, recognizing reality clearly: “For My eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from Me, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17).
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)Related Topics: Blessings and Curses | Blessings and Cursings | Blessings Contingent Upon Obedience | Blessings for Obedience | Faith and Works | Faith and Works Complementary | Good Works, Necessity of | Hearers and Doers | Hearers of the Law | Hypocrisy | Judging According to Appearance | Unity and Division
Some commentators describe Ecclesiastes 3:12 as negative because they understand the phrase, “there is nothing better,” as implying something “second-best.” They almost seem insulted that God has “tossed them a crumb.” But look again at what God has counseled that we should do! In verse 12, He advises us to rejoice and do good in our lives, and in verse 13, to eat, drink, and enjoy the good of our labor because these things—the food, the drink, and the ability to labor—are gifts of God.
If we reword these verses into the first-person voice, it reads, “There is nothing better than that I should be joyful and do good as long as I live, and to eat and drink and take pleasure in all my work—this is God's gift to me.” How much good can be accomplished in a life lived with the attitude that He counsels us to live with? What does God more specifically mean by “do good”? What He means should be taken in a moral and ethical sense. To do good is to do good works, and that is our assignment all the time! God is most certainly not tossing us a crumb.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us that doing good is the very reason for our calling! “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Regardless of a trial God may have specifically assigned us, doing good works is always our assignment, whether within that specific trial or free from whatever particular discipline the trial might normally impose.
Thus, in Ecclesiastes 3:10-14, God is telling us to take joy in His employment of us before the world in doing good at home for those we live with, doing good work on the job, doing good in serving the brethren, and doing good within our community as we have occasion, using our spiritual gifts to the best of our abilities.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts
Jesus is saying, in plain language, that His teaching does not contradict the Old Covenant law, but it is the ultimate fulfillment of its spiritual intent. Even in the smallest matter, the smallest statement—the jot and the tittle—the law must be fulfilled.
Notice where His statement appears. Matthew places it immediately after Jesus' exhortation, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works" (Matthew 5:16). What if our works are good? Are we supposed to hide them? Then comes His statement regarding law. Is there a connection between good works and keeping the law? One would have to be quite obstinate to believe there is no connection between them. It is obvious that He is connecting good works with lawkeeping.
To strengthen the argument, He mentions righteousness in verse 20. What is the Bible's definition of righteousness? Psalm 119:172: "All Your commandments are righteousness." Thus, sandwiched between righteousness and letting one's light shine comes an explanation that He did not come to do away with the law but to fill it to the full, to help us understand its ultimate application—its spiritual intent.
Is it possible to keep the law in its spirit without also keeping it in the letter? It cannot be done. One must first keep it in the letter before learning how to keep its spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Fourteen)
We must do good works to be blessed with eternal life, and all who have eternal life do such works. Our Savior expects us to become coworkers with Him in our salvation, as well as the salvation of all mankind. Paul writes, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
God's great law is His way of life! God chooses to live by the Ten Commandments, and they reveal His excellent character. To enter His Family, we also must live by God's law, which helps us to develop godly character. This is how closely eternal life is linked to keeping the commandments.
Works of Faith (Part 1)Related Topics: Character | Character, Building | Character, God's | Commandment Breaking | Commandment Keeping | Commandments, Breaking | Commandments, Keeping | Commands of God | Created for Good Works | Eternal Life | Eternal Life, Conditions for | God's Law | God's Workmanship | Good Works | Good Works, Necessity of | Law "Done Away" | Law Keeping | Lawkeeping | The Ten Commandments | Works | Works as Evidence of Growth | Works, Christ's Emphasis Upon
Following the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus continues without a break in His teaching to His disciples. This continuity of thought makes the Parable of the Talents (verses 14-30) a fitting complement to the preceding parable. Jesus is careful to balance His instruction by teaching another important requirement for His servants to fulfill prior to His return. He does not want His disciples to assume that the previous parable constituted His entire warning.
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus reveals the necessity of developing inward character, but in the Parable of the Talents, He combines that need with the encouragement to manifest good works. The virgins teach us the need to watch and be ready; the talents teach us our responsibility to work until His return.
Jesus knew the human tendency to think that, because He was there in person, His disciples did not have to work, leading to laziness and freeloading as a person becomes dependent on the support of another. Thus, He urges His disciples, not only to be ready by watching for His return, but also to work diligently toward it. The first parable portrays the virgins waiting for their Lord, which requires mental and spiritual preparation and watching, while the Parable of the Talents shows the servants of the Lord working for Him, which entails profitable activity.
The wealthy man (referred to as "lord" by his servants) is "the Son of Man," Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:13). His journey into the far country parallels Christ's departure into heaven after His ascension. The servants stand for the twelve disciples and thus all the followers of Christ down through the ages, and the talents they receive represent the spiritual gifts Jesus passes on to His servants. The absence of the lord from his home pictures the absence of Christ's visible presence on the earth, and his return is Jesus' promised return.
The trading that the servants are expected to do during their master's absence suggests the faithful use of spiritual gifts and opportunities for service that Jesus' disciples are expected to practice. On the master's return, he commends the servants, showing what will happen at Christ's return, when each Christian's service will be rewarded. The judgment on the one servant who failed in his trust is a warning against not using or misusing his gifts. [Note: The phrase, "The kingdom of heaven is" (verse 14), is in italics, meaning that it is not in the original, but was added by translators for clarity.]
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part One)
The first hurdle to accept here is that, though the parable appears to apply directly to that time after Christ's return when He is ruling the nations, the instruction also applies in principle to us. In other words, His children can never ignore this instruction. What sets this parable apart is that Jesus specifically focuses on works regarding our relationships with and services to our brethren.
Clearly, failure in this indicates sin. We need to grasp two major principles involved in sin: First, sin describes failure, the failure to live up to or meet God's standard. Second, sins can be acts of commission and/or omission. Sin is a direct act of evil against another or a failure to do something good, in this case, something God would expect.
How important are works even though they do not save us? Revelation 20:12-13 reveals that those who commit the unpardonable sin earn for themselves the punishment of being cast into the Lake of Fire. That is their “reward” for their evil works or no works.
On the other hand, Jesus declares in Matthew 16:25, 27:
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. . . . For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to His works.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works
My library contains a book titled The Code of Jewish Law. This six-hundred-page book, printed in fine type, is a compilation of laws that the Jews in the first, second, and third centuries AD—the time of Christ and the next two hundred years—were required to do as a part of Judaism.
They did not perform them because they wanted to make fun of God; they did it in all seriousness. However, their zeal was misguided. Their zeal, Paul says in Romans 10:2, was not according to knowledge. They were expending their efforts sincerely, working hard, but on all the wrong things. The Jews who were faithful to their religion worked extremely hard. They would put us to shame in terms of religious zeal. Yet, being misguided and misdirected, it was all for nothing.
Works are a part of Christianity, but what kind of works does Christ want? Jesus hints that it has something to do with the commandments or word of God in contradistinction to the traditions of men.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love and Works
Teachers who say that works are unimportant are spreading lies—by confusing the issues, by blunting the incentive to keep the commandments of God and to make the right kind of choices, by making people think that they do not have to do any works. Understand, however, that works are not required to save us but to ensure that we are changed!
What does God want to see when we come before the judgment bar, as we are now during our Christian lives? He wants to see evidence to prove that we are indeed His children. His judgment is based upon what we have done; the Bible says repeatedly that judgment is according to our works.
I am not qualifying here the quantity or the quality of our works. God is so merciful! Paul tells us in I Corinthians 3:15 that, even though our works are burned up, we ourselves will be saved. Even though the works are of poor quality, at least we have worked! We did not just sit there, dead in the water. We apparently pleased God enough to show that we wanted to be in His Kingdom.
That judgment is in His hands. But we should recognize that He does require works. The works are not for justification but for sanctification. The works aid in the transformation of our character to the image of God. The works aid in our growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. The works help to produce change. It is a cooperative effort that we do with God.
And I can guarantee you that, if a person does not make the efforts to change, he would be totally unhappy in the Kingdom of God. He would be like a fish out of water, because everybody in that Kingdom is going to be holy. Everybody in that Kingdom is going to do—they are going to live holy lives. (An unholy person wouldn't fit, and so he won't be there.)
Satan is trying to destroy God's purpose by subtly confusing the necessity of good works, and therefore stopping the process of sanctification through a perverted teaching on grace, law, and covenants. But remember this: Hebrews 12:14 tells us that without holiness—a holiness that we have to strive for—"no man shall see the Lord."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nine)Related Topics: Character | Good Works | Good Works, Necessity of | Growing in Grace and Knowledge | Holiness | Holy | Judgment According to Works | Justification | Justification by Works | Sanctification | Sanctification as Growth | Works | Works as Evidence of Growth | Works, Christ's Emphasis Upon | Works, Judgment According to | Works, The Necessity of Good
Taken alone, these three verses could give us the impression that salvation is a free, downhill ride. However, II Peter 1:10 levels the playing field considerably in its sobering instruction: "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble." If salvation is a free coast into the Kingdom, why does Peter admonish us to be diligent to make sure we do not fall? Paul adds that we have a responsibility to "work out [our] own salvation" (Philippians 2:12). These instructions do not contradict but complement and balance, making our responsibilities more specific and varied.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven
This does not exclude our responsibility to work for the purpose of sanctification. Works are not for justification but for sanctification. Works do not save us, but they are essential for transformation! To put it bluntly, we have to practice being God; we have to learn to live as God lives. Is that not how one becomes proficient at something?
God shows in many places in the Bible that He is pleased with our obedience. Our works do not save us, but they please Him (see Hebrews 13:16; Colossians 3:20; I John 3:22; etc.). He is so happy when we work at sanctification because they assist in the transformation process.
Parents ought to understand this. We are pleased by the stumbling efforts of our child to please us. So is God! He looks on our motives, intentions, and the principles involved in what His child is doing. He does not just look at the quantity or the quality—He looks at us as His children, who are trying to imitate Him.
Sanctification is absolutely necessary to prove to God our righteous character and belief in Jesus Christ.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nine)Related Topics: Good Works Necessary for Sanctification | Good Works, Necessity of | Imitating Christ | Imitating God | Personal Responsibility | Responsibility | Responsibility of Keeping God's Law | Responsibility to Obey | Responsibility, Sense of | Sanctification | Works and Faith Complementary | Works as Evidence of Growth
Works do not pass from the picture because we are saved by grace. This is made evident in the book of Revelation because Christ, in His last message to His people at perhaps the most important juncture in the history of mankind, says, "I know your works." His concern in the final two letters to His churches is about conduct, overcoming, and works.
In the conduct of our lives, to whom or to what are we going to be loyal after conversion? This is why in Revelation 2 and 3 Christ consistently mentions works, conduct, doctrine, faith, repentance, warning, promises, and overcoming—and warns, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
Love is extremely rewarding yet also costly, since one who loves will sacrifice. Indeed, sacrifice is love's very essence.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Salvation indeed is a free gift; it cannot be earned by works. Yet, after saving us from our sins, God requires us to work! We are to perform work that He has laid out beforehand for us to accomplish. In fact, verse 10, standing by itself, asserts that to do these good works is the very reason we have received justification!
This verse, in the phrase, "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus," also says that God, in turn, is working on us. Before being saved, we were not in Christ Jesus. God's creative processes brought us into Christ, and once there, He continues to shape and form us into His Son's image (II Corinthians 3:18).
We are being formed, shaped, and molded by our Creator and Savior to become Christ-like. What kinds of work are required of us for this to happen?
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk [live your life] as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. . . .
Is it twisting these verses to say that Paul is commanding these converted and already-saved people to work to sacrifice their lives as Christ did? Doing what he commands takes the work of consciously praying, studying, investigating, and meditating on God's Word to remove a person's ignorance and blindness. It also takes the additional hard work of resisting Satan, human nature, and the world to implement what is learned into daily life.
Such labor will be very pleasing to God, but in no way does it earn us salvation! Moreover, this is clearly obeying God's command. Even though it is not one of the Ten Commandments, it nonetheless expresses God's will for His children after they have been saved from past sins.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required to Do Works? (Part One)
Because of what Christ said, we can understand that it is not impossible for us to redirect our energies and feelings. If we tie Galatians 6:7-10 to Colossians 3:1-4 and Revelation 2:1-7, we can see that Paul was saying that the rewards are in the doing—in the works. As Christ said, "I know your works." The solution is, "You need to redirect your energies, go back to your former devotion. And, if you have the right devotion, if you show real love, then the right works will come, and you will overcome."
God's way is such that it begins producing the good soon, not late. The apostle is saying that, if we begin sowing the right seed, we will soon begin to reap the fruit of the harvest to come because God's Word always produces results. God says that His Word will not go forth and return empty. We can be assured that fruit will be produced if we sow the right things, if we turn our energies to the way they should be.
The harvest, then, begins to be reaped—soon, in the sense of well-being, a sense that things are well between us and God. John 3:21 and the next several verses tie in here so well. So in the Ephesian church, as well as the whole church era, the members' lack of love was showing in what they were doing. Ignorance was not motivating them, but a loss of affection for Christ (Revelation 2:4-5). This is serious business. If there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation (I Corinthians 16:22).
John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love ChristRelated Topics: Doers of the Law | Doing God's Word | Doing Good | Ephesian Church | Ephesians | First Love | First Love, Losing | Good Works | Good Works, Manifesting | Good Works, Necessity of | Love for Christ | Reaping and Sowing | Reaping and Sowing Principle | Sowing and Reaping | Spiritual Harvest | Works | Works as Evidence of Faith | Works as Evidence of Growth | Works of the Law | Works, Christ's Emphasis Upon | Works, Judgment According to | Works, Paul's Emphasis Upon | Works, The Necessity of Good
The explanatory material that fills out the remainder of the verse provokes varied interpretation. The reason for this is that two similar but variant readings of "was completed" have come down to us in the manuscripts: plerothosin and plerososin. The former is aorist passive, meaning, as in the New King James Version, that "the number of their fellow servants . . . was completed," while the latter is plain aorist, changing the sense to either "their fellow servants . . . should be complete" (less likely, according to the experts) or they "should complete [their course]" or "should fulfill [their calling]."
Yet, this may all be just a semantic argument. By using italics, most Bibles make it clear that the number of is not in the Greek text but has been supplied by the translators. This was done to conform to their misunderstanding of the passive form, plerothosin. Since mainstream Christians, including translators, do not believe in the biblical doctrine of sanctification as a lifelong process—in cooperation with God—of spiritual growth toward perfection, translations of this verse contain a built-in bias toward a certain number being saved by grace alone through faith rather than those whom God calls being transformed into the image of Christ through grace and works. Thus, they insert the italicized phrase unnecessarily to preclude the idea of Christian works—despite the fact that the entire passage exalts the particular works of witnessing and martyrdom!
Nevertheless, the verb—whichever is chosen as the better of the two—appears in the plural form, as it refers to its plural subjects, "servants and . . . brethren." "Number" is singular. This provides additional proof that Revelation 6:11 is not referring to a specific number of martyrs but simply that others either will be completed or will complete their calling through martyrdom. The latter half of the verse, then, is better rendered, ". . . until their fellow servants and their brethren, who are to be killed as they were, should also be complete [or, should also complete (their course)]." In other words, whether passively or actively, more sons and daughters will come to perfection through suffering and death, just as God's Firstborn Son did as our Forerunner (Hebrews 2:9-11).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Seal (Part Two)