Our Best Works Stained With Sin? Well, Sort Of…

There’s a phrase that gets thrown around in Reformed circles that, I think, has its origins in the Puritans. The phrase goes something like this:

Even my best works for God are stained with sin.

In context, I understand the phrase. It means that even our best good deeds do not make us acceptable to God. All of our efforts of righteousness will not get us any closer to God. In an effort to avoid legalism and trust only in Christ, we remind ourselves that our best works are stained with sin.

But, I think we need to be careful about applying that phrase to ourselves as Christians, because I think it can communicate something unbiblical. When the Bible talks about our works as Christians, the emphasis is on the fact that our works are pleasing to God.

Ephesians 2:10 says:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

When we serve the Lord, we are doing works that he prepared beforehand for us. When God sees us walking in obedience, it pleases him and delights him. God doesn’t look on my good works and say, “Those good works stink! They are stained with sin!” I am joined to Christ, and because I am joined to Christ, my works are pleasing to God. God is my Father, I am his child. God delights in me as his child, and my works as pleasing to him.

My little girl Ella, loves to help me. When I’m about to leave, she brings my shoes over to me and says with a big smile, “Here you go dada!” When she does that I don’t say, “You were motivated by your own selfishness when you brought this over to me!” I delight in her little work for me, even though it was imperfect and slow and not actually that helpful. God delights in my works because I’m his son.

Matthew 10:42 says:

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

All of my works for God, down to sharing a cup of water with a brother in Christ, will be rewarded by God. Are my works done with completely pure motives? No, of course not. But God still rewards me for those works! Isn’t that incredible? He honors my work for him by rewarding me. That’s crazy!

The (Almost) Effortless Way To Bless Others

Much of our serving others requires effort, labor and time. Helping a family move or babysitting or cooking a meal for someone involves work.

But God gives us an almost effortless way to bless others.

A little thought might be required, maybe, but you’re not going to break into a sweat or pull a muscle doing this.  (If you do, you’re really out of shape.)  This way of blessing others is so easy, we shouldn’t be rewarded for it, but our lavish God does.

Here it is:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life  (Proverbs 10.11)

With our mouths we can give life to others.  We can encourage, thank, appreciate, build up, edify, and point others to Christ with our mouths.  We can stir up, give hope, lift up the downcast and love.  We can teach, bless and sing God’s glorious truths. We can strengthen the weary, or point out where God is working in their lives.  We can pray for others, express our compassion and warn against temptation.  We can welcome newcomers to church.  We can counsel, read Scriptures to each other and share our testimonies.  We can extend forgiveness, teach our children, and tell the good news of Jesus.

Not only can our mouths impart life to others; we can benefit ourselves with our mouths.  When we thank and praise God or rehearse his promises to ourselves, we build our faith and increase our joy.

O Lord Jesus,
Thank you for the gift of speech
Please use me this week
To give life to others
To encourage the weary
To lift up the faint-hearted
To point people to their Savior
To build up your saints
To give your people grace and hope
Please fill me with your Spirit
And give me boldness and opportunities
To share the gospel.
Thank you, Lord.

……….

photo by PinkMoose


Short Story: The Fall

Last week I invited people to try to write a short story. Here’s what I came up with. (If you’re using a reader you may need to click through.)

The Fall

How Will I Discover What God Wants Me To Do?

With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.  (PS 78.72)

“Here we see the combination of competence and character.  David led his people with a heart of integrity (character) and skillful hands (competence).  These qualities should always go hand in hand in the life of a leader.” – Dave Kraft, Leaders Who Last

When I was younger I told a wise older Christian man that I didn’t know how God wanted me to serve him.  How would I discover my gifts?  He gave me this great advice:

“Take care of the depth of your character and the Lord will take care of the breadth of your ministry.”

In other words, don’t worry about your ministry.  Pursue the Lord; obey him and seek to become like him in character; serve others in whatever way you can and he will take care of your “ministry.”

Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back

I think that fear often holds us back from pursuing the desires that God has put on our hearts.

For example:

  • You desire to use your spiritual gift of prophecy or leadership or mercy, yet you fear making mistakes and failure.
  • You desire to start a Bible study but fear asking people to join you.
  • You desire to write a book, but fear that you’ll never finish it.
  • You desire to challenge someone in their spiritual walk, but fear that they’ll react poorly.

The gospel is what frees us from fear. In Christ, God accepts me. He is my father, I am his son. There are no conditions on his love, no earning that I must do. I don’t need more acceptance. I have enough in Christ. If others think poorly of me, who cares? If I fail, then I’ll fail knowing that God still delights in me. I am free to step out and risk my reputation, because my identity isn’t found in my reputation, it’s found in Christ.

The glory of the gospel is that I am in Christ. My identity is wrapped up in him. I belong to him and I am his servant. I’m a soldier in his service. Nothing more! Whether I succeed or fail, my position in Christ doesn’t change. Whether I produce bushels of fruit or go down in a glorious mess, it doesn’t matter. In 1 Corinthians 3:7-8, Paul said:

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.

My identity is a servant of Christ. If I water, wonderful. If I harvest, great. If I try and fail, God is still honored. If I try and succeed, it was still God who gave the growth. I’m free to risk my reputation for God because I’m not the one ultimately responsible for producing the fruit. God is pleased by my efforts.

Charles Spurgeon said:

I think I know of no delight on earth that is higher than that of knowing that you really are with all your heart adoringly serving God.

Is fear holding you back from using your gifts to serve the Lord? Is fear of what others think keeping you from adoringly serving God? Don’t hold back. Don’t let fear limit you. You are secure in Christ. If you’re going to fail, fail gloriously.

So What Are You Going To Try For God Today?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about one little word: try.

Christians should be those who are willing to try things for God’s glory.  We should be those who don’t quit trying.  The Bible calls us to be persistent, to not give up following Christ, praying, hoping, doing good, giving, loving, forgiving, working, and sharing the gospel.  We are to persist because God himself is our helper and he has created good works for us to walk in.

God doesn’t call us to be successful.  He only calls us to be faithful.

Which means to try.  The Master rebuked the servant he’d given one talent to for burying it – for not trying.  He commended the others because they took their talents and went out and tried to do something with them.

A fool says, “I can’t;” a wise man says, “I’ll try.” –Charles Spurgeon, Salt Cellars

There are at least 3 reasons we don’t try things – fear, unbelief and laziness.

Sometimes we fear we’ll fail.  Or we fear what others may think.  We fear going to a brother who is offended at us because of the discomfort we’ll experience, so we put it off again and again.  We fear being evaluated for our efforts, so it’s easier to not do things.  I battle this, even with songwriting, which I’ve done for many years.  I hesitate to send songs for critique at times because I fear that the guys I send it to won’t like them.

The only way to overcome your fears is to “do the thing you fear,” as Emerson wrote, “and the death of fear is certain.”  -Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog.

What great advice.  Ask yourself, what is it you most fear?  Is it letting your pastor know an area you’d like to serve?  Is it stepping out in a spiritual gift?  Going to a sister and asking forgiveness?  Praying out loud in front of others?  Ask God for grace to tackle that fear and attack it at your next opportunity.

At other times we don’t try because of unbelief.

We don’t pray because we don’t think anything will happen.  We quit trying with our children because we don’t think anything will change.  We don’t believe the gospel is powerful.  Or that God will use us.

“Satan strikes either at the root of faith or at the root of diligence.” – John Livingstone in David MacIntyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer

Prayer is a particular area we’re tempted not to try.

We’re tempted not to pray for God to heal because we prayed for someone once and they weren’t healed. We’re tempted not to pray because we don’t believe God hears us or that our prayers are effective.  We’re tempted not to pray because we have to wait for an answer.  Yet we should never quit praying even if we have to wait.

“To wait is not merely to remain impassive. It is to expect – to look for with patience, and also with submission. It is to long for, but not impatiently; to look for, but not to fret at the delay; to watch for, but not restlessly; to feel that if He does not come we will acquiesce, and yet to refuse to let the mind acquiesce in the feeling that He will not come.”  -MacIntyre

In other words, keep praying.  Keep expecting.  Keep asking Jesus to save your children.  Keep asking him to heal you. Keep asking your Father to provide.  Keep asking him to help you in that class.  Keep asking for joy.  Keep asking for strength to serve. Keep asking for opportunities to share the gospel.  Keep trying!

I like these 2 quotes by Brian Tracy in Eat That Frog:

Take action on your plan immediately. Do something. Do anything. An average plan vigorously executed is far better than a brilliant plan on which nothing is done. For you to achieve any kind of success, execution is everything.

Wayne Gretzky, the great hockey player, once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

So what shots are you going to take for God today?

Around the Interweb: Great Book, Victorian Star Wars, Free E-Book

Here are some links for your enjoyment:

When Star Wars Meets Jane Austen – Yes I am a nerd. And yes, I love these pictures. Victorian portraits of Star Wars characters.

Destiny of the Republic – I really enjoyed this book about the assassination of James Garfield. It was probably one of the best historical books I’ve read in a while.

A Short E-Book on Abortion – John Piper and Desiring God are offering a free e-book on the subject of abortion.

Kids Climbing Across A Bridge To Get To School – I promise that I will never complain again about schooling.

You Forgot To Bring Your Bag? – If you live in Portland, or any hipster city for that matter, don’t forget to bring your own grocery bag.

The Battle You Will Fight Every Single Day

There is one battle that we fight every day. Multiple times a day. Probably hundreds of times a day. The battle is this:

Will I let my circumstances shape my view of God, or will I let the Word of God shape my view of God?

Every single day we encounter circumstances that fight to shape us and mold us and twist us. My tight budget tries to squeeze me into the mold of fear. My disobedient child tries to twist me into a sculpture of unbelief. My constant sickness tries to wrestle me into doubting God’s goodness.

Circumstances are always trying to shape our faith.

When Jesus’ disciples came face to face with a massive crowd of hungry people, they let what they saw with their eyes shape their faith, rather than letting Jesus shape their faith. They trusted more in what they could see than in the Son of God standing next to them.

That’s our temptation too. To let our faith be shaped by what we see rather than God’s truth and God’s character.

Today, let’s seek to have our faith shaped by the word of God. Period.