Ques. 91 But what are good works?
Ans. Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imagination, or the institutions of men.
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33.
The rich young ruler came to Jesus with the anxious question, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”
Jesus first reminds him that he should not carelessly use the word “good,” since there is none good but God. If Jesus is indeed the Good Master, He is sent of God. That the young ruler should understand at the outset.
Then our Lord refers him to the ten commandments, particularly to the second table of the law. One can hear the ring of disappointment in his voice when he remarks that this is no different from what he had been taught by the scribes since he was a child. These commands he had scrupulously kept according to the letter of the law all his life. Yet this had not given him the sorely needed peace of heart, the assurance of eternal life.
Thereupon Jesus tells him of the basic principle of the law, which is to love God above all, by saying, “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me” (Matt. 19:16-22).
The young ruler went away sorrowing, as he pondered the lesson in his heart, that salvation is by grace through faith, all works excluded. As all Scripture teaches us: By the works of the law no man is justified before God. The just shall live by faith!
This our fathers understood very clearly as they point out to us in this Lord’s Day that good works have their source in faith, have their perfect standard in the law, and have their one soul purpose in the glory of God! Such works are good in the sight of the living God, since of Him, and through Him, and unto Him are all things! To Him the glory!
Proceeding from a True Faith.
This saying is hard, who can believe it?
Ever since the fall in paradise man has been trying to merit his salvation by his own works. Cain presented God with the crops of his field and resented the fact that God rejected them. Carnal Israel boasted in themselves, saying, “The people of the Lord are we.” How many do exactly that same thing in our day!
The Pharisees enjoyed telling God of all their virtues and good works, looking down with contempt upon others who were less worthy than they.
All exponents of men’s free will, or of the good that sinners do, or who put their trust in their own works must necessarily say with the rich young ruler, “All these things have I kept, yet assurance of faith I lack!”
For all that is not of faith is sin!
Every desire that arises within me, every thought that flashes through my mind, every word I utter, every move I make or deed that I perform, if not rooted in faith, God brands as sin!
Well may we ask: Who, then, can be saved?
The answer: Those who are engrafted into Christ and united with Him by the powerful bond of living faith, for both the ability to believe and the activity of faith are from the Fountain of life, Christ Jesus!
We are new creatures in Christ. Christ by His Spirit has implanted into our hearts His resurrection life. We live, yet no more we, for Christ now lives in and through us. From this must follow that all the good we do is Christ’s work of grace in us. Apart from Christ we can do no good. Yet through faith in Him we can do all things, since He empowers us!
We are members of His body. We no longer function as individuals, but as members of Christ, some as eyes, some as ears, some as hands or feet, or possibly a mere finger, or less. Each member serves its purpose as a part of the body, and for the welfare of the body! Our span of life, our gifts and talents, our possessions, our place in the family, or in the congregation, all that we have and all that we are is not ours, but is God’s gift entrusted to us as stewards of His house to be used by us as His peculiar possession, the heirs of His salvation!
Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Christ claims our all as we live by faith and not by sight!
In the great Day of days we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ to carry away the deeds done in the body, according to that which we have done, whether good or evil. In that Day all that is of ourselves will be burned away like straw and stubble. All that remains will be only Christ’s work wrought in and through us by a living faith in Him!
According to God’s Law.
We so readily set up our own standard of “good.”
Anything that is of genuine quality, useful, or advantageous to others is good. But we have our own idea of what fits that definition and what does not.
We speak of a good farmer, or a good business man. Each may be well qualified for his work and may produce profitable results, even as a good baker bakes good bread. But the deciding question is, is he good in the sight of God? Does he carry away God’s approval and blessing?
Glibly we talk of a good neighbor. We grant that he does not go to church, he will have nothing to do with religion, he uses profane language at times, but he is a very nice fellow, a good sport and a good golfing companion.
One hears much talk about love for the fellow man which is not rooted in the love of God. Whatever is done for the advantage of another is good. It is argued that it is perfectly proper, even good, to steal, to lie, to live with another sexually without being married, to get a divorce when the marriage does not work out, or even to get an abortion, as long as the motive and intentions are good.
You and I become judges. We determine what is good according to our own standard. But who are we to judge?
God is God, not man! God determines the right and the wrong according to the perfect standard of His own righteous, sovereign Being. God Himself is the only standard of good, for He alone is good. Christ sums this up briefly in the great command: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Solomon brings the Book of Ecclesiastes to a close with these words: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
We must have God’s law written upon our foreheads and upon our right hands, engraven upon the doorposts of our houses, ready at all times to apply it to our lives, to our families, whether we are sitting in our homes or walking by the way. This applies to every life-mate, parent, or child. There may be no double standard in our lives, as, for example, one for adults and another for teenagers. Scripture requires: Husbands, love your wives in submission to Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord. Parents, instruct your children both in word and deed in the fear of the Lord. Children, obey your parents in obedience to Christ.
The law of God is the straight and narrow way that leads us Home in glory! Anyone who departs from that way transgresses, wanders off, sins against God. There is no return except by a complete about face, a hearty repentance in true sorrow to walk humbly before our God in the way that He lays out for us.
That Word, which appears throughout the Scriptures, is at the same time the lamp before our feet and the light upon our pathway, leading us through this present dark night of sin and death to the eternal dawn. In God’s light, by His Spirit in our hearts, we see the light. The Psalmist declares Thy law is in my heart! O how love I Thy law! It is my meditation all the day! For it is joy to do Thy will!
To the Glory of God.
God alone is good. He is the God of infinite perfections, who lives His own blessed life of covenant fellowship within His own Being as triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He alone is the source of all that is good, the overflowing Fountain of every good and perfect gift in Christ Jesus.
In heaven the angels hide their faces in holy adoration, the saints bow in worship and praise. All the works of His hands declare His praises. For that His Name is near His wondrous works declare. And thou, my soul, bless thou Him above all!
Scripture reveals even greater wonders, as God makes Himself known to us as our heavenly Father who has redeemed us unto Himself by the precious blood of His dear Son Jesus Christ. By His Word and Spirit He creates in us a living faith, whereby we may know Him, love Him, and live in intimate communion of life with Him through our Savior, who is now our exalted Lord in the heavens.
We are taught to address God with that intimate name: Father! We are privileged to call on Him as our heavenly Father in Christ. As His children we learn to say, Hallow Thou Thy Name in us, through us, round about us! Thy kingdom come within us unto the final perfection of all the saints in Christ, our Lord! Thy will be done in all the works of Thy hands, no less in and by us. Feed us with the bread apportioned for us. Forgive all our transgressions, remove our guilty stain. Lead us not into temptation, but rather lead us ever onward to the perfection in glory!
For Thine is the kingdom. Thine the power. Thine the glory! Forever!