Many believers hesitate over the word “works” because they have received a revelation of grace – righteousness apart from works. They may ask “so if works are not what makes a believer righteous, you don’t want to do works, right?” The answer is “it depends what sort of works you are talking about.” The New Testament talks about three kinds of “works.”
- The Good
- The Bad
- The Ugly
Good works are good works with good motives. Bad works are good works with bad (wrong) motives. Ugly works are sinful works.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:16, emphasizes mine) This is a perfect scripture to show good works with a good motive – to glorify our Father in heaven.
Now, here’s a scripture that shows that good works are not about gaining salvation – that was a gift from God. Nevertheless, we were created in Christ Jesus for good works: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:8-10, emphasizes mine) Notice also, that God prepared the good works for us ahead of time! Walking in the Spirit is fun and not taxing because God has lined-up divine opportunities for us daily.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” (Jn 14:12) We are called to do the works that Jesus did. He loved, healed, taught, embraced, preached the Word, set captives free, and many others! Acts 10:38 recounts these sorts of works as well “. . . God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”
Good works are both from God and for God.
Bad works are good works with bad or wrong motives. There are two types of wrong motives:
- Trying to get the acceptance or praises of man
- Trying to earn right standing with the Father
Even spiritual gifts operating in power are worthless if not done in love: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2-3)
Often, it is tempting to be “noticed” for our good works. Jesus said you have received your reward already if you are working to be noticed by others: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” (Matt 6:5) Trying to gain the acceptance or accolades of man makes a good work a bad work, because it was done with a wrong motive.
Our own works are similarly worthless for the purpose of gaining right-standing with God: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20)
You may be thinking working for righteousness “can’t hurt” but the Bible says God counts it against us: “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” (Rom. 4:4) Working for righteousness is not a neutral proposition in the eyes of God – it is in fact counted against us. Trying to earn right standing with the Father is therefore a BAD work, not a good one.
Ugly works are sinful works. They are clear, obvious, easily-noticeable, and stick out like a sore thumb.
Galatians 5:19-21 says “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.” (Eph 5:11-12)
In short, don’t do sinful works – they bring ugliness (death) into your life and the lives of those around you. When you do your good works, don’t do them for the praises of man or to try to gain right standing with God. Rather, receive Christ’s work on the cross, know that you are thereby in perfect standing with the Father, and then start participating with Him! Works from a place of righteousness are about participating with the Father and His plans for our lives and the lives of those we can impact. Participating with God is fun! If you are a believer, don’t shrink back from works. Just do them for the right reason!