Works and Their Purpose
Works have different purposes (perhaps even subconsciously) in the minds of those following the two different gospel models.
Traditional Legal Model – For people with the mindset of working their way to heaven it is to display character, to gain status, to bolster their pride, ultimately to earn heaven.
“But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,” (Matt 23:5)
Biblical Healing Model – For people who truly understand God’s character, their appreciation of and love for Him encourages them to reflect that character by their good works to attract others to Him.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 5:16)
The Reward for Works
Traditional Legal Model – The works-oriented person wants to work their way to heaven to receive the promised reward (or payment for their work):
“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Rev 22:12)
This is misunderstood. There will be rewards in heaven, yes, but eternal life in heaven is not the reward. Eternal life is a free gift.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)
However, you need to receive the gift in order to be there to then also receive the rewards.
Actually, the reward for works with the wrong motivation are described:
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matt 6:2)
Biblical Healing Model – There is no “imposed” reward. The rewards are natural consequences such as:
“For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41)
Note the difference between the gift of eternal life and the rewards that come during that life. I think that, in large part, those rewards will be in the form of the appreciation expressed by those we have helped along the way. (As we happen to cross paths with them perhaps every few thousand years in the vast universe and the zillions of years of eternity – think of it.)
Some “Works” Verses
Works – the acts themselves – do not prove anything:
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt 7:22-23)
This verse sounds like works will be rewarded:
“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” (Matt 16:27)
“Works,” in that verse, is not from the Greek word normally used for the works of man. It is in the context of making the right choices in life which will bring eternal life, resulting in being present in the hereafter to receive the rewards. The most important choice being not a physical work but what is stated here:
“Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:28-29)
Our “work” is simply to believe or trust. That “work” is accomplished when we:
- “Taste and see that the LORD is good …” (Psa 34:8)
- Get to know Him through His word
- Experience His trustworthiness in our lives
- Commune with Him in prayer
- Understand and appreciate His true character
All of which will increase our faith in Him.
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Rom 3:28)
“Justified” means to be set right with God. Note that the change is in us, not in God. It is, essentially, an adjustment to our thinking; a very major one as it turns out. It really is a paradigm shift in our concept of God’s character.
“Faith,” in that verse, is from the Greek word “pistis” (G4102) which is the noun form of the word pisteuo (G4100).
The original word for “deeds” in Romans 3:28 is the same as that for “works” in John 6:28.
Here are additional verses saying the same:
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Gal 2:16)
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)
Here is a passage that might often be seen as differing with ones presented here earlier:
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (James 2:20-24)
Here is another version of that passage that helps the understanding:
“You ineffectual people! Must you be shown that trust in a remedy without applying it is useless? Don’t you understand that our forefather Abraham was put right with God when his trust was applied in offering Isaac on the altar? Can’t you see that it is his trust that caused him to act as he did? His trust became effectual by what he did. This is the meaning of the Scripture that says, “Abraham trusted God and was restored to harmony with God,” and he was therefore God’s friend. Do you understand that a person is restored to harmony with God by the application of God’s methods through trust, and not simply by trust without application?” (James 2:20-24, The Remedy New Testament)
“There is nothing wrong with legalism.”
I have heard people say just that but there is everything wrong with legalism. Legalism (“-ism” refers to a belief system) is the philosophy that a person can be saved by their works; by keeping the law perfectly.
Works do not establish our trust in and relationship with God. It is more like when we do good works God owes us. Then who is the savior?
Works do have their place as discussed in James chapter 2. It is true that genuine faith cannot exist without corresponding works but those works are an evidence of the faith not the source of it.
“… by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Gal 2:16)
Our value with God does not come through our performance (legal standing) based on our works but because of our relationship as sons and daughters of God. He sees us as valuable simply because He made us and loves us. In connection with that, I would like to recommend the book Identity Wars which can help you to find your true identity.
Return to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary Index
Return to the Home Page