What’s so good about good works?

Peter Adam identifies the good works we have been created to do.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Five lessons on good works

1. We are saved by grace, not by good works. The pressure is on to do good works: from ourselves, from ambitious family or friends, from our supervisors and employers, from God, from our heroes, from our fears, from our guilt, from our need to be needed. And there is an endless supply of good works that need to be done! People give us good feedback on good works. So it is easy to think that we are saved by achievement, by increased productivity, by success, by usefulness. We are not saved by these things: we are saved by God’s grace. I frequently tell myself that if I were to wake up tomorrow paralysed, unable to do or say anything, I would still be as saved as I am today!

2. God prepares us to do good works, and prepares good works for us to do. If we are saved by God’s grace, then we are also re-created, refashioned in Christ Jesus so that we are able to do good works. Not only that, but God also prepares good works for us to do. We are saved to serve. God prepares us for good works, and also prepares good works for us to do. In fact God transforms us so completely, that eventually we do good works without knowing that we are doing them! Good works flow from God’s grace in Christ, and from God’s grace in our lives.

3. God gifts us so that we can do good works with confidence in him and delight in his gifts. God has given us ‘natural’ gifts, when he formed us in conception, in utero, through heredity, through the training of parents and teachers, and through people we meet who encourage us. He has also given us ‘spiritual gifts’ or ‘grace gifts’ since our conversion.
We can enjoy using these gifts from God to do our good works. We can enjoy the strength that God gives us to serve him in the power of the Spirit. We can enjoy the pleasure of using our strengths, given us by God, and praising God for this joy.

4. God also calls us to do difficult, stressful and sacrificial good works. God also challenges to live outside our comfort zone and to act beyond our competence, to take risks, to live sacrificially, to become all things to all people, that we may save some. Paul in 2 Corinthians found ministry stressful, not manageable, and demanding. In his ministry he experienced the pain of the death of Christ, as well as the power of the resurrection of Christ. Christ calls us to sacrifices in ministry, for God’s glory, and the benefit of others.

5. There are some good works we do which we should not do. These are not the good works God has prepared for us do. They are the good works that are extra to God’s requirements! We may do these because we like being busy, because we are avoiding pain, because we need to prove ourselves, because we think we are the Messiah, to impress others, to win a good reputation, or because we are insecure. The more of these we do, the closer we are to burn-out.
It takes strength of character to do the good works that God calls us to do that are beyond our comfort and capacity. It also takes strength of character to recognize the good works that we are doing that we should not be doing, and stop doing them!

C. Activities which we take on, or agree to do, which God does not require or want us to do and which stretch our sense of competence and our available time beyond reasonable limits.

B. Activities which we should be doing, which God wants us to do, but which stretch our sense of competence and our available time.

A. Activities which we should be doing, which God has called us to do, and which we feel able to do in terms of ability and time, with God’s help.

We should do A and B!
We should not do C!
The difficulties are to know the difference between B and C, and then to make the effective decisions to stop doing C!
God has promised to help us to A and B. He provides enough time and energy for us each day to achieve A and B. God does not require us to do C. These are not the good works he has prepared for us to do, they are not the good we were created in Christ Jesus to do.
We should stop doing them!
Some people need to be encouraged to do A; some people need to be encouraged to do B as well as A; some people need to be discouraged from doing C!
If the cap fits...

Heavenly Father, thank you that you saved me by your grace in Christ, and also created me in Christ to do good works, and prepared good works for me to do to your glory. Please help me to do the good works that I enjoy doing; help me to do the good works that stretch me; and help me to stop doing the good works that are not your gift to me today. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Peter Adam is Past Principal of Ridley Melbourne and Vicar Emeritus of St Jude's Carlton in Melbourne.