The Importance of Knowing Good Works Are Not Bad
In preparation for writing The Discipleship Gospel, we did a study regarding “works” in the New Testament, and we found all sorts of “works,” including:
Works of the flesh
Works of the law
Works of darkness
Works apart from faith
From this list, only good works are considered good. The other seven kinds of works listed above can be categorized as “bad,” meaning they are sinful works of the flesh. We know that our own works don’t save us because of verses like Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (emphasis ours). The Apostle Paul’s point is clear: we are saved by grace through faith.
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In other words, we’re saved by God’s work on our behalf, not our own works (any of the first seven works on the list above). In stating this, though, we must be very careful not to throw in “good works” with all the other “bad” works. In the Bible, good works are never described as bad—ever.
Being saved by grace, as Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches us, involves continuing to live in grace. God’s grace doesn’t stop with conversion; it continues seamlessly as we grow into disciples. Essentially, we live in grace the rest of our lives. A concept of God’s grace that converts but is disconnected from discipleship is woefully weak (not to mention unbiblical). Many Christians don’t think about discipleship as living in God’s grace; they think of discipleship as an unnecessary add-on, something optional. At worst, they think a gospel that demands discipleship is a “works-salvation” gospel. But can you be living in God’s grace and not be living a life of discipleship?
It’s not enough to read Ephesians 2:8-9; we must read Ephesians 2:10 with it, as well. In this verse, Paul teaches us God’s purpose for saving us by grace through faith, and it has to do with good works. Verse 10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (emphasis ours). We’re not saved by works, but God has saved us for good works. More than that, God himself has prepared these good works for us, and he also calls us to “walk in them.”
To walk in the good works that God has prepared for us is to follow Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we really let this sink in, we realize good works are the good fruit of abiding in Christ (John 15:7-8). At this point, take note: there is not one verse in Jesus’ teaching (or in his apostles’ teaching) that says good works are bad. Jesus said that he did good works. He also taught that his followers would do good works, too. In fact, he said they would do not just good works but great works: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12, emphasis ours). God has been doing good works from the beginning, starting with his acts in creation.