James 1:22-25 (ESV)
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
There is a lot of focus in some parts of the Church these days on mission. Living missionally, ensuring that the poor are fed, ensuring that communities are supported. Going out into the world to do the work that Jesus commanded us to do.
Some of these people and churches are doing amazing good works in the name of Jesus. They are reaching people. They are feeding the poor, helping widows and children, and generally doing the social work of the Gospel. This, in many cases, is a great thing.
But there remains a question mark – which Gospel are they proclaiming?
Ephesians 2:4-10 (ESV)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The verses here in Ephesians that were written by Paul are well known to many – and rightly so. They are central to our faith and our understanding of the Gospel of God.
We were dead in our sins. There was nothing we could do, or can do, to solve this problem.
But God is gracious, and has saved us through faith, despite our inner condition.
And this was of God alone. There was nothing about us, nothing we thought or did, that brought us this grace.
For many people, this is not the Gospel! The Gospel for them is the social gospel – living ‘the life of Jesus’. In the end, this gospel that many people live, whilst it is lived with good intentions, is nothing but good works! And we can see straight away, that we are not saved by good works, not matter how good our intentions are.
We are saved by grace, through faith, so that no one may boast.
Is this the Gospel you know? It is not always the Gospel that is preached, or how the gospel is understood by many people, even those who would honestly call themselves Christian. If you ask your modern day ‘evangelical’ Christian what it means to be saved, you may get responses like -
- Jesus calls us to live lives as good people and to try and do good to others
- Jesus was a great teacher who by His example led a life we should all emulate
- Jesus calls us to accept His love, and go and love others in the same ways.
Is this the Gospel? No! There is no mention of sin, of atonement for sin (which means blood and death), of resurrection and new life. There is no mention of grace, faith or scripture. Jesus was not just a good or great teacher, a moral leader or example how to live. He was God incarnate on the earth, come to pay the price for sinners like you and me!
But wait, there is more!
Why were we saved? “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
We are not saved by good works, but for them.
I have nothing against people serving our communities socially – this could well be the works that they were saved for. But I want to make sure we all take an honest look at our works, at the things we ‘do for God’. There are good works that lead to nothing, because they come from our own desires in an effort to please God – and there are good works that He has planned for us to walk in – once we come to terms with the fact we are saved despite everything else in our lives.
So the question is not ‘what are you doing for God’, but ‘why are you doing these things?’. If your answer is that you are saved and God has called you to them, then Amen and Amen.
But if you find yourself wondering if God really accepts you, or if God really approves of these works, or hoping that all the things you are doing will be enough that God will like you that little bit more than He does now – it is time to stop, read the Bible, and examine your life in light of what you find.
Lord God, teach us to rest in your grace alone. Help us to understand, that no matter how good our works seem to be to us and others, that it is through your grace alone we are saved. Help us to see that if our works are not based first on your saving grace, then they are worth nothing! Draw us ever closer to you as we learn that you, not works, are the center of our faith. In Jesus Name. Amen.