Works: Are we blessed because of our production of them?
It has always amazed me how so many people think they have something to offer God in exchange for a ticket to Heaven. Scripture clearly tells us we’re all sinners worthy, not of Heaven, but of death. One of the same verses that tells us this also tells us salvation and one’s ticket to Heaven is offered for free. It is offered to all as a gift.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Emphasis added]
18 Therefore as by the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [Jesus Christ] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. [Emphasis added]
Jesus Christ paid the penalty for the sins of all so that anyone could be saved. But salvation and eternal life only come to those who are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Justification is the result of one’s acquisition of the righteousness of God which only comes by the expression of one’s faith in the work of Jesus Christ, namely, His death, burial, and resurrection.
2 Corinthians 5:21
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]
That which is potential becomes a reality the moment someone accepts the provision God made for their salvation. Most people have a lot of trouble accepting the fact that our personal works of righteousness have nothing to do with it.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. [Emphasis added]
6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. [Emphasis added]
As I said at the beginning of this article, it is amazing and sad to see how so many people foolishly think their personal works of one kind or another contribute to their salvation. Pointing these people to Scripture seems to have little if any effect on so many of them. They fail to realize that works are important for the believer AFTER he is saved, but not as a means to his salvation. It is surely God’s will that we would all be highly productive in good works after we are saved.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. [Emphasis added]
Every serious Bible student should understand that God’s plan of salvation today does not include or demand good works. The information needed on all this is found in the letters of the apostle Paul, not in places like the writing of James which was addressed to Israel.
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. [Emphasis added]
It is amazing how people completely ignore and fail to see the significance of verses like this. The principles and commands that relate specifically to us today are only found in Paul’s writings—Romans through Philemon. The question at hand here in this study is to do with the place of good works AFTER we are saved, and will there be special blessing for our performance of them. All too often some believers walk around wringing their hands, wondering what God wants them to do. The solution to this rests in opening one’s Bible and studying what’s there. If you want God to “speak” to you, He will, but through the things you learn from the Scriptures and especially the writings of the apostle Paul. If you’re waiting for an audible voice with directions, you’re not going to get one. Certainly, there was a time when God did that, but such is not the case today. That all came to a halt after the special revelation God provided for the apostle Paul. In fact, you need to beware of anyone who tells you God “spoke” to them. Such did not occur! The Bible is now a finished and closed book—no additional information or revelation is being provided. Everything anyone needs has already been provided. We should simply give thanks to God for it.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect [TELEIOO = brought to maturity], thoroughly furnished unto all good works. [Emphasis added]
Yes, God wants us to be productive in good works as His people. We learn about what those works are in the apostle Paul’s writings. Please realize that it is in his writings that we find our instructions. All 66 books of the Bible are FOR our learning, but they are not all TO us or ABOUT us. The majority of the confusion and resultant division that we have today comes from people not understanding and applying the teaching of this which is called right division. We are to be diligent to study the Bible, but the right division of it is essential if it is to be correctly understood.
2 Timothy 2:15
15 Study [SPOUDAZO = be diligent] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [Emphasis added]
Most Bible translations fail to properly translate this verse. Instead, we’re given the translator’s interpretation. Even Bible dictionaries tend to have it wrong. They’ve “translated” it to mean what they “think” it means rather than what it is actually saying. It is no wonder there’s so much confusion about this. Just look at some of the variety we have in translations.
The New International Version—
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. [Emphasis added]
The Living Bible—
15 Work hard so God can say to you, “Well done.” Be a good workman, one who does not need to be ashamed when God examines your work. Know what his Word says and means. [Emphasis added]
The New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. [Emphasis added]
All these other translations communicate truth, but they fail to recognize a well-established principle—that of right division. Again, all the Bible is FOR us, but it is not all TO us or ABOUT us. Again, if that principle is not clearly understood for what it represents, confusion reigns.
The Greek term that is misunderstood is ORTHOTOMEO which is a compound word from ORTHOS, meaning straight and TEMNO, meaning cut. So, literally it means to cut straight or to rightly divide. There are many such compound words that aren’t taken literally. That’s quite common and such is the case here.
It is important for us to realize that the principle of right division has always been under attack. It is Satan himself who is the author of all this confusion. Some of his greatest work has been to blind people to the truth about this. How can anyone be obedient to God if people don’t know his commands and expectations? As you may recall, it was this very thing that got Eve in trouble in the Garden of Eden. She wasn’t clear on what had been commanded about partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Right division is all about correctly separating the varied instructions that God has given to different groups of people throughout the ages. One of many examples of that is in how God once promised not only spiritual blessings but material blessings to those who were obedient to His Word. An example of this is found in what God promised Abraham.
1 Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. [Emphasis added]
Ultimately four things were promised to Abraham—(1) land, (2) numerous descendants, (3) blessing for him and his descendants, and (4) blessing through him for all nations. Nothing like this is ever promised to anyone today. Even though the application of God’s Word can at times lead to one’s material prosperity, believers are not universally promised that they will prosper because they are saved or because they are a people of faith in Him. To teach otherwise is sometimes referred to as “the prosperity gospel.” Today, God promises or guarantees material prosperity to no one no matter what applications they make from God’s Word. Never let yourself be fooled by false teachers who may tell you otherwise.
Historically, Israel always wanted God to “bless” them according to their works. God chose to honor that desire. Notice what He told them. Nothing like this has ever been promised through the apostle Paul’s writings to anyone today.
5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him.
8 And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. [Emphasis added]
Later, after they’d wandered in a wilderness for forty years because of their disobedience and failure to comply with this, God made a second promise to them.
1 And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:
2 And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God. [Emphasis added]
Then notice the stern warning He gave them.
15 But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: [Emphasis added]
Did they comply? No! They did not comply! They may have had the best of intentions, but they failed terribly. The end result was the discipline God had promised them if they disobeyed. The material or temporal blessings were deprived of them. Sickness, famines, pestilences, wars, economic hardships and more then followed just as God had promised. Unfortunately, Israel experienced far more of the cursing than they ever did the blessing.
Today, we need to realize that we have no such promises for blessing or of cursing given to us. Even regarding divine discipline, please note my article about that—Discipline: Does God punish Christians for their sins? We should not be surprised that on this subject confusion reigns. The book of Deuteronomy and all that it says is not directed to us today. For lack of rightly dividing the Scriptures, there’s confusion and misunderstanding concerning this and so many things.
For Israel [as with us], the best is yet to come. The promises God made to her will be fulfilled in a future time. Many passages speak of this future time of blessing for Israel— Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 11:25-32; Hebrews 8:8-13; 10:15-17. But all this is yet future. Today, because of their unbelief, Israel has been temporarily set aside. Because of their disobedience, that whole period of history has been interrupted. Though God judged Israel and dispersed them, instead of bringing the deserved judgment to the entire Earth at that time, God interrupted things and dispensed the grace of which we as members of what is called the Body of Christ are a part today.
In former times people manifested their faith for salvation by their works, but such is not the case today. In our time our works have absolutely nothing to do with it. Today, a person who has already become a Christian doing good works and someone doing good works to become a Christian are two totally separate matters. The first is acceptable before God while the latter is an absolute abomination before Him. When we say that doing good works saves us, that we can become a Christian by doing good deeds, we are pushing aside Jesus Christ’s perfect sacrifice of Himself and exalting our own deeds above Him. To say the least, God is not pleased with that at all. Substituting His righteousness with ours will never do. But you’ll find people in nearly every church trying to do this.
As believers today we are all truly wealthy, but it is wealth in spiritual blessings, not material ones. This next verse has been totally misunderstood by so many.
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? [Emphasis added]
The “all things” spoken of here are spiritual things, spiritual blessings, not material ones. Yet they have value far beyond anything material. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Ephesians.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: [Emphasis added]
Here are some examples we see in the opening section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
- Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world—Ephesians 1:4
- Predestinated us unto the adoption of children—Ephesians 1:5
- Made acceptable to God—Ephesians 1:6
- Our redemption and the forgiveness of sins— Ephesians 1:7
- Having made known unto us the mystery of his will—Ephesians 1:9
Of course, there are many more. But for most people some of the terms are not meaningful because they have failed to learn their significance. This is something like having millions in savings but not knowing about it. This is why studying the Bible is like treasure hunting. It is only there that you’ll discover what a richly blessed person you already are. It is through studying and believing these things that you’ll build spiritual self-esteem. The self-esteem people build apart from God is temporary because all material things pass away. But these spiritual blessings are ones you’ll have for all eternity. They all have everlasting value. Such has always been the case with all those things God gives His people in spiritual blessing.
1 John 2:16-17
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. [Emphasis added]
To fail to see all this is to function as unbelievers do. Yet people are prone to focus only on the material things of life. Such has always been a problem among believers. But why should we return to the “weak and beggarly” material things like those of the Mosaic Law to get God’s blessing?
9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? [Emphasis added]
Why should we try to merit something we already have? We are already richly blessed in all that counts most.
Again, Ephesians 1:3
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: [Emphasis added]
The apostle Paul was probably the greatest man of God of all history. But with what materially did he die with? As far as we know he only had the clothes on his back, and he died a martyr’s death. You may die as a mature believer and as a very materially wealthy person, but you may not! Aside from enough to sustain us from one day to the next, we’re promised nothing. Notice Paul’s words about this.
11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
Then we have a verse that is often taken out of this context and misapplied.
13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.
This is to do with an offering they had sent him.
15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.
16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.
17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.
18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.
19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. [Emphasis added]
This says nothing about your wants, only your needs. Those things WILL be provided. As long as God has a plan and purpose for your life, you will have everything you NEED to be sustained. It is that and only that which you are guaranteed. If God no longer has a plan and purpose for your life here, why would you want to stay when what awaits you in Heaven is far better?
22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.
23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: [Emphasis added]
If you believe that, and you surely should, you need to let your actions show it.
We’re living in a time when the “prosperity theology” and the “social gospel” reign. People are being told that God wants them to be healthy and materially prosperous. But you need to note that as great a man spiritually as the apostle Paul was, he was often materially poor. And, as I’ve noted in other articles, he even had an ongoing eyesight problem. Great health and wealth were simply not an ongoing part of his life [1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 11:22-28; 12:7; Galatians 4:13-15]. Similar things can be said about other great believers at that time. For instance, Timothy was sick with his stomach problem [1 Timothy 5:23]. Paul was also unable to heal another sick Christian, Trophimus [2 Timothy 4:20]. Then we also read about the poor Macedonian saints who gave, despite their deep poverty, to Paul’s ministry [2 Corinthians 8:1-4]. Although God has given us spiritual wealth in Christ, these Scriptures confirm that He has not promised us material wealth and perfect health. He does, however, give us the grace to endure all circumstances, both the good and the bad [2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Philippians 4:11-13]. When it comes to spiritual resources, we should work to be wealthy in them, realizing their great ongoing value.
1 Timothy 6:6-11
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
Then he gives us a very important warning.
9 But they that will [BOULOMAI = resolve or are determined to] be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10 For the love of money is the root [RHIZA = lit. a root] of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. [Emphasis added]
Again, it is our spiritual assets that are of such great value. It is those things we should value most, not the temporal things. But if we want abundant material wealth, the Bible says that we need to get a job and work hard and smart to provide that income for ourselves [2 Thessalonians 3:6-17]. This is how God prospers believers materially today.
One of the things the “prosperity gospel” people will tell you is that God will bless you materially if you give a lot of your profit away. They’ll then proceed to quote Malachi 3:8-11. If you’ve been attending any one of most of those churches, you should be familiar with this. It is a common “go to” passage for this teaching.
8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
9 Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse [the Jewish temple treasury], that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. [Emphasis added]
But WHO is this addressed TO? Israel! Are you Israel? Are you spiritual Israel? No! If you are saved, you are a member of what is called the Body of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 you have two whole chapters on our responsibility in spiritual giving but not even one word is mentioned about tithing. The standard on giving for us today is summed up in the phrase—“as God has prospered” where Paul is addressing the Corinthian church about it.
1 Corinthians 16:2
2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. [Emphasis added]
If a person wants to give a tithe, 10 percent, that’s fine. But that’s not our standard for spiritual giving. You’re to simply decide based on what you may have to give. The amount may be more or less than a tithe. We’ve been given the freedom to choose.
The law system Israel was under is not ours today. The people of Israel were blessed of God by their obedience to that system. That system can be summed up in one phrase—Do good and you will receive God’s blessings; do bad and you will receive God’s curses. We cannot take the first part and ignore the second; we cannot take the second part and ignore the first. Neither the first nor the second part applies to us. We are said to be under grace, not law [Romans 6:14-15]. God has given us everything in Jesus Christ because of His grace, His unmerited favor, apart from any works on our part. It is THIS blessing, this spiritual blessing that is promised to every believer today.
When you first put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior you realized that you did not and could not measure up to God’s righteous standards to gain His blessing for salvation. Despite “the best” you could do, you were still unable to save yourself. Furthermore, your performance now will also not make you acceptable in God’s sight. Instead, it will always be because of Jesus Christ’s finished cross work at Calvary where He paid man’s sin debt with His blood that you are accepted by Him. As we received that by faith, we are now to walk or live in faith seeking to please Him because of these things we already have.
6 As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:
7 Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. [Emphasis added]
The Bible tells us that our Christian lives in this the Dispensation of Grace operate just as they began. “As” we were saved, “So” should be our daily living. In other words, both our initial sanctification [salvation in Christ, salvation from the penalty of Hell and the Lake of Fire] and our practical sanctification [deliverance from sin’s power over our lives] operate on the same principle. According to the Bible, how we are saved from Hell and the Lake of Fire is the answer to how we are saved from sin having dominion over us on a daily basis. Again, as we were saved by grace through faith we are now to live by grace through faith. Notice Paul’s prayer for the Philippians.
9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
10 That ye may approve things that are excellent [DIAPHERO = differ]; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ [the time when we face Him at His Judgment Seat].
We are in a different time and in a different program from what went before.
11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness [a reference to our productivity as believers], which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. [Emphasis added]
Yes, God’s program for us today does differ greatly from what went on before when Israel was under the directives of the Mosaic Law. We are to note and live by those distinctions that make us who we are in our time as members of the Body of Christ. Always bear in mind that the Christian life is not us doing good deeds to make God happy with us. Instead, it is Jesus Christ doing the work in and through us because God is happy with us in Christ. This is why we must study God’s Word rightly divided, that He may work in us and through us as we make applications that are centered in the Pauline Scriptures.