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TEXT: Titus 2:14

SUBJECT: The Passion of Jesus Christ #37: Passionate for Good Works

Tonight, with God's blessing, we'll move on in our study of John Piper's fine little book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. Our Lord did not suffer and die for the purpose of suffering and dying. He suffered and died to secure certain things: some for His Father, some for Himself, and some for us. Our book is about all three, but mostly the third. Mostly, it's about the things we receive because our Lord went to the cross in our place.

Some of the things we receive are invisible. Forgiveness, for example, cannot be seen, and neither can the Holy Spirit. But other things can be seen. The one we'll look at tonight is the most visible thing He gives us in this life. What is it? Zeal for good works. Chapter 35 is titled,

Christ suffered and died to create a people passionate for good works.

GRACE

In the history of the Church, no topic has been discussed more often-and with more heat-than the relationship between God's grace and our works. We all agree that both exist and that they are related in some way or another.

But in what way are they related? That's the question the Church has debated for more than 1,600 years. Do our works obtain God's favor or are they the result of God's favor?

While some, wanting to promote good works, I'm sure, have hinted at the former, the Bible plainly teaches the latter. Many verses can be quoted to this effect. The fullest (that I know of) is Ephesians 2:8-9,

For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.

We are saved by grace, Paul says. 'Grace' is God's favor, which for sinners, is always undeserved. We are saved through faith, he says. 'Faith', instead of being a work is an anti-work; it doesn't give God anything, but simply takes what God gives. Francis Schaeffer often spoke of 'the empty hands of faith'. Empty hands being good for only one thing: taking. This salvation-Paul goes on to say-is not of yourself. In other words, it's not something we do (or don't do) to win God's favor. It is the gift of God, which again emphasizes its freeness or its givenness. Finally, it is not of works, because, if it were, we'd have some reason to boast. Which we don't have!

God's favor is not earned; it is given. And given, not because of something in us, but because of something in God.

WORKS

At this point, Reformed pastors often leave the matter triumphant, as though they have made their case by exalting Divine grace and degrading human works. But the case is manifestly not made.

While we are not saved by good works, we are also not saved without good works. Good works are necessary for salvation. In Matthew 7:21, our Lord warns,

Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' shall inherit the kingdom of heaven, but they who do the work of My Father who is in heaven.

In another place, Paul says

It is not the hearers of the Law who are just, but the doers of the Law shall be justified.

A bit later, James coins the proverb,

Faith without works is dead.

This brings us back to square one: What is the relationship between God's grace and our works? If we go back to Ephesians 2, we find out what it is. I've already quoted verses 8-9. Now, I must add v.10,

For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God, not or works, lest any man should boast...For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

In short, we are not saved by good works or through good works, but for good works. Piper says,

Good deeds are not the foundation of our acceptance but the fruit of it...Good works are the effect of our acceptance, not the cause.

John sums it up beautifully-

We love Him because He first loved us.

We do good works for God (such as they are) because He did a Good Work for us. In His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, God died for us. Because of His death we are able to do good works.

ZEAL

I just said, 'Because of His death, we are able to do good works'. This is true, of course, but it's not quite what our verse says. It says our Lord died to make us zealous for good works.

The difference between being 'able' to do something and 'zealous' to do it is significant.If I say, 'Tom is able to work out', you assume he's not paralyzed and maybe less than 100 years old, and under 500 pounds! But if I say, 'Tom is zealous for working out', you see in your mind's eye a very different man: lean, muscular, strong, energetic.

Apply this to good works. Did our Lord die for you so that you'd be able to serve Him once-in-a-while, with half-a-heart, when you had nothing better to do? Or did He lay down His life so that you'd abound in good works?

To ask the question is to answer it. Our verse says He died to make us His own special people [who are] zealous for good works. In another place, our Lord said,

This is My Father's will, that you bear much fruit, and that your fruit remain.

The 'fruit' He has in mind are good works, which He wants to be both lasting in their effect and large in their number.

The kind of good works in which we're to be zealous are any and all good works we have an opportunity to do. Some of them are distinctly 'religious' works, like praying and reading the Bible, meditating on God's Word, witnessing, and keeping a good conscience. Others are more 'practical', such as helping people who need a hand, giving to charity, being thoughtful, and so on.

WHY

Why does God want us to do good works? Why did He want it so badly that He sent His Son to the cross to make us zealous for doing good? Piper notes there are many reasons, but one stands out-

There are reasons Jesus paid the infinite price to produce our passion for good deeds. He gave the main reason in these words, 'Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven'. God is shown to be glorious by the good deeds of Christians. For that glory Christ suffered and died.

I've heard many sermons on 'good works' including a number on giving your life to 'full-time Christian service'. Many of them were quite stirring, but most of them failed at the crucial point. Why should you devote your whole life to God? Because it's a good life? Yes it is. Because it will bless others? Yes it will. Because it will make your parents proud of you? It will do that too. But this is where the sermons often stop-with man. But the Bible aims higher: the main reason you're to do good works, to witness, to give to the poor, to pay your bills, to help little old ladies cross the street, is to extend the glory of God in the world!

Maybe the little old lady is an atheist. When you go out of your way to help her, she asks why. You answer, God. She may not believe in God, but she needed help across the street, and almost can't help praising Him (a little bit) because of what you did for her.

I can't remember where I read the term, but I've always been struck by it: the argument of love. Intelligent, well-informed unbelievers can pick apart our arguments for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, life after death, the Resurrection of Christ, and so on. But what they can't pick apart is our love for them. I suspect this has won more to Christ than the best arguments ever crafted.

While good works bless you, set a good example for your friends, help the lost, and make the world a better place for all of us, chiefly, your good works glorify God. And that-the Shorter Catechism says,

Is the chief end of man.

HOW

How does this all work? You can see why commands might make you do good works, or promises or warnings or peer pressure and so on, but why the cross?

First of all, the cross redeems us. We cannot do good works while we're bad people. But the cross makes us good people-by pardoning our sin and giving us the Holy Spirit-and good people do good works.

Secondly, the cross fills us with gratitude. Did you ever hear the name, Count Zinzendorf? He was a prince in Moravia, and like most of his countrymen at the time, he was a nominal Christian. He went to church on Sunday, he didn't have a mistress, and the like. But one day, while meditating on the sufferings of Christ, he heard a voice in his head (or maybe, in his soul), saying,

This I have done for you,

What have you done for Me?

The count became a new man that day! He gathered the most zealous Christians in his country and set them to praying and evangelizing. It wasn't long till they became the leaders in foreign missions. They held a prayer meeting that lasted one hundred years! One of their men was so burdened for the slaves in the West Indies that he sold himself into lifelong slavery to live among them and win them to Christ. Behind all of this was Count Zinzendorf, a man who used to do good works (now and then), but became zealous for good works.

What made him zealous for good works was not guilt or high pressure preaching or even an iron sense of duty. It was gratitude for what Christ had done for him.

He's done no less for you and me. So, let us shake ourselves out of our doldrums, and become what Christ died to make us-

Passionate for good works.

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