As Christians, we are always concerned with communicating the Good News of Jesus. The gospel is the message of grace for sinners, life eternal in Christ, and the transforming power of God that impacts every aspect of our lives.
The multidimensional nature of the Gospel is seen clearly in Clear Creek’s spiritual formation chart: our activities are rooted in our gospel identity. Or, said another way, because of who God is and what he has done, we have new identities that transform what we do in this world.
Despite this understanding, however, the gospel can sometimes be presented as the antithesis to good works.
While we may think this provides clarity to the unique and redeeming work of Christ, it can make us uneasy about emphasizing good works. We are afraid we might become legalistic or worse, undermine the grace of God, by preaching a gospel of works.
Neither Jesus nor the apostles are uneasy about emphasizing good works. Jesus says we are the light of the world called to faithfully let that light shine before others so they may see our good works (Matthew 5:14,16). Paul tells us we are to “be rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18), “a model of good works” (Titus 2:7), and “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). In fact, a key function of the Bible itself is to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).
So, where does the tension between grace and good works come from? Are good works optional? Are they ancillary? Or, are they essential to our faith?
A simple definition of grace is God’s unmerited favor. Because we are sinners, we rightly understand that we do not deserve God’s goodness. But, because of the reality of our sinfulness, it’s easy to think of grace as only being granted for our redemption. When God’s grace is only understood to be expressed toward humanity after the fall of the world in Genesis 3, it can cause us to think of grace in a static and transactional way.
Yet, grace for humanity does not originate in the response to the fall and our now sin-tainted life in this world. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He did not become gracious after human rebellion corrupted God’s creation.
Instead, we must learn to see God’s gracious will and purpose for humans as the first and defining expression of grace toward humanity.
The world that God created in the beginning was good! It was to be a dynamic place where good works and stewardship were at the heart of the plan. Energy, effort, discipline, growth, and change were essential parts of God’s purposes and gifts to humanity. It was a world full of potential with a story to be written and work to be done!
Yet, remember, Adam and Eve did not choose to be created, they did not earn their existence, and they didn’t deserve the delight of living in God’s good creation. So, we can see that grace was poured out on innocent, not condemned beings. This is the lens through which we must see and understand grace even in our post-fall existence.
Grace is a means not an end. God’s grace for humanity has a purpose — a God-sized purpose — where we exist to reflect his image throughout his creation. He allows us to participate in the greatest good of them all: a relationship with himself. God’s unmerited favor is, has always been and always will be his purposeful presence with us. Grace allows, enables and empowers us. Grace is not opposed to goodness, grit, or goals.
We need to understand this as believers of Christ not just so we do remember that effort is not the same as earning, and that doing is not the same as deserving, but also because it will enable us to fulfill our mission to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.
We cannot fulfill our purpose apart from knowing and being known by God in Christ, but through him, we can and should do much good in his world.
Grace should energize us to engage in service projects in our community, so the presence of God is manifested for the people of the 4B area. Good works are essential to the Christian life. It’s no wonder that Paul not only says we are to be zealous for good works but that in Christ we were in fact created for good works (Ephesians 2:10).
Our call is to bring wholeness, peace, and justice to God’s creation. To do this, we must go beyond words. The world must see our good works in such a way that they give glory to our Father in Heaven and then are inspired to join us in our calling to reflect God’s grace to the world.