Sometimes I think we Christians in the evangelical, Reformed tradition are uncomfortable to talk about the idea of good works. We’re firmly (and rightly) convinced that good works can contribute nothing to our salvation, and we’re sensitive to our never-sleeping tendency to feel that God likes us better because we had five quiet-times in a row. That kind of legalism is dishonoring to Christ and a deadly poison to our joy and confidence in Christ, so we are right to fight hard against it.
But the problem is that genuine Christians want to do good works; it’s part of our DNA in Christ. After all, he gave “himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). So we have an authentic, God-implanted desire to speak encouraging words, witness to our unbelieving neighbor, serve on the worship team, or disciple the young newlyweds in care group – and often yet we feel proud or legalistic to talk or think about doing good deeds. The result, I fear, is that we are afraid of thinking, praying, or living as if our good deeds actually please God – and it’s hard to persevere in doing good if we’re not convinced God is pleased with our actions!
Far better to have the perspective Bryan Chappell writes about in his book Holiness By Grace. Good deeds or righteous acts cannot save us, true. But we must believe by faith that good deeds matter to God and are being used by Him:
This side of heaven we will not see how most of our small acts of kindness, or even our great acts of courage that are unnoticed or misunderstood, fit into God’s eternal plan. But we walk and act in the faith that such actions are eternal, because God promises this is so. The grace that makes our righteousness more significant than we can imagine or arrange should inspire a willingness to serve where the world will not notice and to give of ourselves when no one else will bother. (Bryan Chappell, Holiness by Grace, p.214.)
Elsewhere Chappell writes, “Each word of encouragement, gesture of charity, or act of courage and compassion is a vital link in an eternal chain of God’s purpose” (p.214).
Are you convinced that each of your efforts to please God, though they can contribute nothing to your salvation, are valuable to God and part of His eternal plan? God delights in the phone call you took late at night to pray with a friend, in the extra hour you stayed at church to weep with a grieving brother or sister, and in the time you put in to prepare dinner for showing hospitality to the new couple. They are good works that He designed and crafted for you to walk in when there was as yet no Creation (see Eph. 2:10). He is pleased with them! And not one of your good deeds, even though stained by sin, shall be lost or go unnoticed by your Father who sees in secret (Matt. 6:4, 6, 18).
1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”