“Sinners may be justified before God and by God, not because of any works of their own, but because of the atoning work of Christ, not because of anything they have done or could do, but because of what Christ did once when He died. The Gospel is not good advice to men, but good news about Christ, not an invitation to us to do anything, but a declaration of what Christ has done, not a demand but an offer.” Galatians, Only One Way John Stott p. 70
There is a great deal of good news packed into these two sentences of Stott’s. I love how Stott reminds us that God’s offer of salvation is not based upon demands, but instead is a simple offer of grace. Being right with God is not based upon your performance because you can never be good enough, do enough or act right enough to ever earn one drop of merit towards your salvation.
When you hold the best day of your life spiritually up against God’s all encompassing glory it fails miserably, and that is your best day. So, should a Christian not worry about producing good works in their life? Yes and no. If you are counting on them for salvation then absolutely no because that will only lead to frustration, legalism, discouragement and a view of God that makes Him vengeful and unsympathetic. Just read the book of Galatians with an open mind if you doubt me.
But there is a place for good works within the life of a Christian and our good works can have a wonderful impact on helping to proclaim the gospel to a lost world. Jesus reminds us over and over throughout the Gospels that we are to love people, and Paul picks up the theme and carries it right throughout his own writings.
Rodney Stark, in his book The Rise of Christianity, or as the tease intriguingly puts it, How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, makes the case that it was love that overcame the powers of paganism in the first centuries and elevated Christianity.
Let me illustrate Stark’s point by referring to two great epidemics that swept through the Roman Empire in the years 165 AD and 251AD. It is estimated that around thirty percent of the entire population of the Roman Empire was killed by these epidemics. The first epidemic was from smallpox and the second from measles. When the disasters struck the overcrowded and unsanitary cities of the Empire, panic overtook the people and those that could, fled to remote areas of the Empire to wait it out. The poor who couldn’t leave and were crowded into tenements without sanitation, privacy or fresh air, died by the millions.
The biggest reason so many people died from these diseases was because of a lack of care. The people were terrified of catching the diseases so they abandoned their loved ones and friends to their fate. Keeping them hydrated, fed and comfortable would have done wonders in restoring life to many infected people.
Now, here’s the question. If thirty percent of the pagans within the Roman Empire died, why did only ten percent of the Christians die while facing the same epidemics? The answer is that the Christians, because of their teachings and living out the principles of love, looked after their sick as well as many of their neighbors. Many Christians came down with smallpox and in the later epidemic with measles, but because their families and friends did not abandon them they were nursed through it.
The pagans were quick to pick up on what was happening within the Christian community and were very impressed. This opened their hearts and made them receptive to a Christianity that manifested love and compassion for the sick while their own culture taught them to abandon their families to their fate.
A second aspect was that numerous Christians who came down with the plagues but survived because of nursing care became immune to the disease and were able to work amongst the pagan population without contracting the diseases. This seemed like a miracle to a population that knew nothing about germs or contagion.
Good works are exactly that; good works. We don’t minister to our neighbors and strangers alike because we think God is going to love us any more than He already does, but because it is the expression of the Gospel in our lives. As God demonstrated His love to us through sacrifice, we should demonstrate our love for God through sacrifice on behalf of one another. There is no merit in our works, but there should be love.
Now, let me be clear concerning works. They are not about doing things for your own salvation, rather they are about showing love through action to a culture that needs Jesus in its midst. You are saved by grace. The merits of Jesus who is worthy redeems you and you accept that through faith alone. Our works towards the lost are because of a driving force within us, the Holy Spirit, that gives us a longing to see others find salvation in Jesus and experience the joy and peace that accompanies such good news. Does this make sense to you?
Together with some friends, Ruth and I are working on a plan to sponsor the children of a number of single mothers in our county be able to go to a week-long art program this summer. Many of these mom’s have multiple children and it is impossible to be able to give their children this experience. Those of you who are moms also know what a relief it is to be able to have a few days for yourself without children making constant demands on you.
Because the art program is a day program with the children going home after their half day activities the cost is under a hundred dollars a child to attend. If you would like to help us help these moms then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will fill you in on more details.
Stott is right. Our good works never justify us before God because that is already a done deal through the power, glory and grace of our all-powerful God. Our acts of love are simply an expression of God’s love for those who need a helping hand from time to time.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith in many countries around the world. There is a great evil settling on this earth and we must be vigilant in our prayers and stay close to Christ. Our hope is in Christ and he is faithful to his people. Please take the time to read about what is taking place in the world around us at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…