Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Works Show God's Work

Do your deeds prove your faith?

If you'd asked me that question before I'd had my devotions this morning, I'd have likely retorted, "I'm saved by grace, not works."

But that's not what the apostle Paul is saying when he explains to King Agrippa in Acts 26:20 that Jews and Gentiles "should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds."

If you don't like how the NIV translates that verse, here are a couple of other takes on it:

From the American Standard Version:  "...they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance."

From the English Standard Version:  "they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance."

And from the New Century Version:  "they should change their hearts and lives and turn to God and do things to show they really had changed."

Hmm... what do I do that shows I've really been born-again?  What do you do?

From Darkness to Light

Remember, Paul isn't saying that people are saved by the things they do - or don't do.  We've got to take this verse in context, like we should do with every verse in the Bible, and not just hang it up on a clothesline like a damp shirt and treat it as some singular directive.

Paul is in Caesarea, explaining to King Agrippa why the Jews want him dead.  The apostle recounts his bizarre conversion experience on the Road to Damascus, and summarizes how, since then, he's been preaching the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.  In verse 18, Paul explains that God would work through him, in His own words, "'to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'"

Wow - so it gets even heavier. Not only are we to perform deeds in keeping with repentance, but those deeds should reflect how we've been turned from darkness to light.

How do I make that leap?  By following simple grammatical correlations between the work that God does within all whom He saves (opening their eyes and turning them from darkness to light) in verse 18, and then how that work is manifested in the daily lives of believers (doing works worthy of repentance) in verse 20.  The works we're to do follow, not precede, the salvific work God does in us.  So, relax:  Paul's teaching is completely in accordance with orthodox Christianity:  we are not saved through works.

How Works Work

But works help show that we're saved.

It's a concept a lot of modern believers don't appear comfortable embracing.  I don't know - maybe we've never wholeheartedly liked the idea that our daily actions should mirror the change from darkness to light that we say we celebrate in church on Sundays.  A lot of us actually like the dark side.  It's fun, so we think, or have been led to believe.  Besides, we don't need to prove we're saved; otherwise, we risk being legalistic.

But is Paul saying we prove we're saved by doing good works, or that good works are a natural outflow of a life changed from darkness to light?  The organic goodness that emanates from our actions, and indeed our motives, should tell other people that we don't walk in darkness.

I'm reminded of that famous passage in Ephesians 2:10, where Paul explains that we're "created in Christ Jesus to do good works."  Unfortunately, it's at this point where legalists come in, and start structuring a matrix of do's and don't's to which we people of faith must adhere.  The more we grow in our faith, however, I think the less concerned we become about lists and do's and don't's, and more on why's and why not's.

Why?  Because we love God and want to honor Him. 

I suspect the more we live with that perspective, the things we do will show we really have been changed.  Changed not through our actions.  But that because of what Christ has done for us, we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in behaviors characteristic of light, rather than darkness.

Perhaps the more we resist that concept, people living in darkness around us will be less able to determine why our faith matters to us.

If, in fact, we truly possess the faith we claim to.

Without Fault in a Depraved Generation

Remember where, in Philippians 2, the apostle Paul exhorts us to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling?"  Here's his exact quote, starting in verse 12:

"...Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. 14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe..."

Here again, Paul isn't saying that salvation rests on what we can do for God.  Rather, he's describing the process of sanctification as people of faith allowing the Holy Spirit to continually mold themselves into the saints He wants them to be.  Still, we're to be God's children, "without fault in a crooked and depraved generation."

And then Paul revisits the imagery of light he used with King Agrippa, calling for us to "shine like stars in the universe."  Stars whose light, which is the reflection of the Son, pops out into our sight against the blackness of space's void.

May God help us to shine for Him in all we do.

So even our works testify of God's work in our lives.
_____

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