The Westminster Confession of Faith, in Chapter XVI, states “…good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto…
In my experience, Christians tend to have a hard time fitting good
works into their lives and theology. Most protestant, evangelical
believers understand that salvation, if it is anything, is ”not by
works” but it is “the grace of God”. Thankfully, I think that’s clear,
but does that mean we are off the hook from all charitable acts? Yes! I
mean, No? … Well… In fact… I think that entire way of thinking is off.
Let me take my schizo pills and explain…
When Jesus talks about good works, he uses an analogy that I think is
very helpful and very simple. He says, “a bad tree cannot bear good
fruit, and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit”. Get it? If a tree has
been made good (saved, born-again, redeemed, regenerated), then it will
necessarily produce good fruit. It cannot NOT bear good fruit. In like
manner, a bad tree (someone who remains in his/her sin) cannot bear good
the way, there is an important distinction that should be made here.
When we talk about good fruit, we are not talking about the plastic kind
that sits in a bowl on your kitchen table. In other words, real fruit
(the kind Jesus is talking about), is not just good deeds, charitable
giving, and service to the poor… but it’s ALL of those things SO THAT
God may be glorified.
Any other motivation falls short. Any other
motivation is like rotten or plastic fruit that may look nice on the
outside, but on the inside it is incapable of being consumed and
therefore incapable of glorifying God.
Atheists give money to the
homeless in Haiti. Buddhists feed the hungry.
What makes you and I different from an agnostic philanthropist? The
glory of God. We do good works, we feed the hungry, we care for orphans
and widows, and we are generally good citizens… why? To earn God’s
favor? No, He already loves us perfectly. Because we love people? Yes,
but it can’t stop there. If our motivation is because we love people,
then we have made people, not God, our object of ultimate worth and that
is called idolatry. No, we do all of these things because God is the
singular treasure of our lives and whatever makes Him happy makes us
Only good trees enjoy producing this kind of fruit. Fruit without joy is religion.
How do our genuine good works “adorn the profession of the gospel”?
They adorn the gospel, because when people see us doing as Jesus did,
they get it. They know we are truly His people by the way that we love
one another and by the way we love the unlovable. To quote one of my
favorite professors, Dr. Steve Brown, it makes us “smell like Jesus”. If
they cannot smell Jesus on us, then there’s a good probability that
they will not listen to us when we admonish them to repent and believe
the gospel. Why should they, honestly? The world is full of religious
hypocrites as far as the eye can see. I know, I am one. But, is it
possible that the reason why our message is not heard by our culture is
because on one hand they hear, “Jesus is Lord and Savior”, but on the
other hand, they really know we love football, politics,
and tradition much, much more?
Ok, that’s the problem, but what’s the answer? Jesus, of course. He’s
always the answer. Be a good Sunday School student and just say
“Jesus”, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll be right on the money. What can we
do to produce good fruit and therefore adorn the profession of our
gospel witness? Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the
vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more
fruit” (John 15:1-2), and again He said, “apart from me you can do
nothing”. I take that to mean that branches that do not bear fruit (bad
trees or false converts) will eventually fall away. However, those whom
God has chosen to redeem and regenerate WILL bear more and more fruit if
we keep our eyes on Jesus. It’s not about us, it’s all about Jesus!
Legitimate fruit will adorn the profession of our gospel, and our
churches will become full of fruit-bearers who will influence a
community that desperately needs to hear the gospel from people who live
Are you doing your good works to adorn the gospel and glorify God?
If not… it’s time for a root-check.
Matt Johnson is an instrumental part of the Providence Church plant in Spring Hill Florida, and a deacon at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Matt works in the new product development department of Accuform Signs. Reprinted with permission from www.providencespringhill.org.