Friday, March 14, 2008

Keeping Focused on Doing Good

As I've read through the New Testament the past few months - and studying James in-depth at the same time - I've been struck by the emphasis on "good works". Here are just a few of the verses - only those that actually use the exact phrase "good works". If we were to search for "good deeds" or "doing good", or those verses which express the concept without the words, the list would be extensive.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mat 5:16 ESV)

Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" (Joh 10:32 ESV)

Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. (Act 9:36 ESV)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10 ESV)

but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works. (1Ti 2:10 ESV)

and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. (1Ti 5:10 ESV)

So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. (1Ti 5:25 ESV)

They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, (1Ti 6:18 ESV)

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, (Tit 2:7 ESV)

who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Tit 2:14 ESV)

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Tit 3:8 ESV)

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. (Tit 3:14 ESV)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, (Heb 10:24 ESV)

Why this emphasis on good works? The early church was riddled with doctrinal controversy. There were significant political issues of the day. Christians were mistreated. Money was often tight. Persecution was common. Jesus had promised to come soon, and some just wanted to wait on Him. Yet over and over, the New Testament writers tell us to focus on good works. Why?

I thought about this today as I sat in a conference room at lunch, overlooking the grassy mall of the major university where I work. On the lawn sat a self-proclaimed preacher who likes to come to campus and stir up trouble. He professes Christianity, but devotes himself to arguing. Some well-meaning undergrads sat near him, trying to point out the errors in his thinking by using sound biblical reasoning. I've seen him around for years; I know that they are wasting their breath. He's interested in drama, not doctrine.

Meanwhile, a political battle rages in my country. There are sensational headlines almost every day, things that scream for my involvement. The issues and causes are numerous. No candidate lines up with me on every issue but I have strong opinions on who is best for the country at this time. It would be easy to focus on our nation's political needs right now.

And so it goes. Don't get me wrong - the example of Paul in Gal. 1 shows us that there is a time to focus on doctrine. And good stewardship of our democracy requires that we be an informed electorate and utilize the system God has blessed us with.

But none of that is the point. Neither is a super-spirituality that camps out on the mountaintop, rather than getting involved in the unpleasantness of the valley. Frankly, I'm a much better Christian in my quiet time than any other time of the day. But God doesn't call me to withdraw, He equips me to engage.

And so I'm convinced that among the many reasons for the emphasis on "good works" is that He knows how easy it is to be a theoretical Christian - and how hard it is to be a practical one. Just try it. Imagine the worst thing you could be asked to forgive. Figure out all the doctrinal reasons you should do it and practice it in your mind. Then think of the simplest thing you struggled to forgive. The vast difference will probably be sufficient to illustrate that walking the walk is much harder than talking the talk.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment was love. Love God, love others. And repeatedly, He tells us to show that love in practical ways. We don't get to love theoretically.

The bottom line is in the first passage above. Good works glorify God. That just doesn't happen when my Christianity is relegated to the hallways of my mind. It only happens on the streets of life. The dusty, dirty, painful streets of life.

The same roads that Jesus walked.

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