Good Works, No Works, or Works Righteousness

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Devotional Word for Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Today, I’d like for us to look at two passages of Scripture, one from Galatians 3 and one from Hebrews 5. Both deal with failure. Failure by Christians. Failure by people who were born again through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, yet experienced failure in their walk with the Lord. Not ultimate failure, but failure. As we’ll see, one can fall off the donkey on either side.

Let’s start with the Galatians. Here’s what Galatians 3:1-3 says: You foolish Galatians [think they got the hint that they had failed!], who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

So, what was so terrible that they were doing? They were considering being circumcised as a way to maintain their right standing before God. Put in other words, they were going to do something that would make them acceptable to God. They had forgotten God’s gracious redeeming of them by the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross applied to their lives by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. They forgot they had “purchased” salvation freely, without money, without anything on their part. 

One error of which all who have been born of the Spirit must beware is this: transferring our reliance from the work of Jesus to a reliance on our own works, to thinking we are in good standing with God because of the things we are doing. It’s always a temptation. It must always be resisted. This does not mean that God doesn’t want us to be doing good things. God is not against good works; indeed, he has prepared them for us to walk in. What God is opposed to is our earning anything. Our good works are gifts of gratitude to God, not vouchers looking for payment.

The other side of the donkey is found in our passage from Hebrews 5:11-14. Here’s what it says: . . . we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [But I bet they heard that!] For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. 

These were Spirit-born Christians who knew full-well that Christ had saved them. They were resting in that fact. In fact, all they were doing was resting. The Lord Jesus wants His people to grow in their knowledge of Him and their experience of His transforming power in their actual thinking and behavior! But their ears are dull. They should be taking positions of responsibility. They should be growing. Perhaps they were worried about failing. What if they messed up? Perhaps they were just lazy. Regardless, they were failing.

But there is great hope in these verses. We are told that maturity comes through practice. As you know, practice means failing from time to time. You don’t always get it right. But you learn. You get up and continue on, the wiser for your failure. Jesus is not disappointed; no more than parents are when their toddler falls while trying to walk. Failure is part of growing up. How’s that for good news! It really is good news, and should be freeing for each of us.

How do we avoid falling off either side of the donkey, how do we keep a good seat? We need to have a leg on each side and our body firmly balanced. Here’s how the Bible speaks of it: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. [Do you hear that Galatian folk?] For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works [Do you hear that Hebrews folk?], which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. [Eph. 2:8-10]

If we’re spiritually growing disciples of the Lord Jesus, we will experience failure. We will not experience rejection! God knows our frame; He is mindful that we’re but dust. He is at work in our lives. He will hold us fast. Let us go forward, confident in Him.

Let us pray: Gracious God, thank You that we have freely received from You the gift of salvation, of new life in Jesus Christ. We want to be good stewards of Yours. Help us learn how to balance our lives. How to rest in You. How to labor for You. We desire to be mature, fruitful disciples of Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.