This author’s pen has been scribbling furiously, and there is a book well under way. Herewith a short excerpt from the first draft addressing a critical aspect of the New Covenant. Enjoy!
Just as there are only two categories of people, in Adam and in Christ, there are similarly only two categories of works. The difference between them is enormous, even if they appear indistinguishable to the natural eye at times.
Dead works are not always bad things in any obvious way. What they are is those things done in self-reliance. The rebel’s defiant disobedience is therefore most obviously a dead work. But so are the best efforts of the self-righteous. It’s as simple as this – whatever is not of faith is sin. In other words, do it in your own wisdom or your own strength, and it’s a dead work. It’s sin. No matter how many pats of the back you get for doing a remarkable job, if it was not in faith, it was a dead work and it was sin. What that means is that a great deal of prayer, fasting and church attendance are dead works, as is every tithe given in fear, and every act of mercy done for men to see.
Good works are the antithesis of dead works. They are works done depending on God. That’s the defining factor. Whatever does not come from faith is sin. Remember the little old lady who put the two copper coins in the offering plate, and Jesus said that she had given more than everyone else? There she was, doing her good work surrounded by folk whose righteousness didn’t impress Jesus at all much.
This is such a great example of the way in which the Gospel rearranges our paradigms. We tend to think that the opposite of a good work is a bad one. But deep down inside we all know that there is much more at stake in life than just good and bad behaviour. We’ve all dealt with self-righteous church goers whose attitudes disturb us deeply, even though their behaviour consistently appears impeccable. And we’ve also all met that no-good low-life whose behaviour is typically appalling, but whose heart attitudes have at times stopped us in our tracks as they’ve challenged us to the core of our beings. These anomalies are evidence that we intuitively know that the Lord does not define sin as superficially as it’s convenient to think. His is not just a framework of right and wrong, because He fully understands that good and evil cannot be defined by norms, standards, rules, regulations, patterns and principles, but that it involves the heart. Reduce matters to law and the result is a superficial righteousness, but one which falls far short of the perfections of the Lord in their profound simplicity, depth, richness and beauty.
God’s definition of sin in far more penetrating than transgression. The many words used to describe sin in the Bible bear witness to this. Included are brokenness, distortion, mediocrity, rebellion, insincerity, estrangement, misdirection and indebtedness, to moot just a few. These are not always easily quantified, but they are substantial enough to implode relationships, destroy lives, and even start wars. These are weighty issues, but they are in way complicated, for all sin has its essence in unbelief. Walk, work, say and do in God-reliance, and you’ll please Him. Faith pleases Him. Walk, work, say and do in self-reliance, and you’ll be nothing but a doer of dead works. Pastor, pastry chef, poet or policeman, this remains true.
In fact, nothing could be simpler. Even a little child can understand. Everything we do is either a good work or a dead work. Get the Gospel clear and it all hangs together without quandary or contradiction. There were two trees in the garden. Adam and Eve could have chosen to feast off the tree of life. To have done so would have been to trust God, pleasing Him in faith. Instead, they chose to feed off the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, trusting themselves, and in so doing rendered themselves arrogant unbelieving sinners who were the doers of dead works. There were also two Adams. Stark are they in contrast. First Adam, who did what was right in his own eyes, and Last Adam, who did what was right in His Father’s eyes. We too live either by faith or by sight, just as they did. Either by God’s words or by our own wisdom; relying on Him, or relying on ourselves.
Christians do dead works all the time of course. Some are in rebellious licentiousness, others in religious self-righteousness, but lawless or legalistic, they are dead works all the same. Other folk, not yet Christians, but moving towards faith as the Lord draws them, find themselves doing good works before they fully understand what these are. It could be they show up in a church meeting, drop some money in the offering plate, forgive an enemy, or sign up to serve in a soup kitchen. What is done is from the heart, and although their theology might still be a catastrophe, and their good works unable to save them, they are responding to God as best they’re able. Of these it can be said that they are not far from the kingdom, as was the scribe of old who Jesus commended for answering wisely. That goes to show that “getting it” can be a valuable step on the way to “got it” when it comes to the righteousness that is by faith alone.
The Good News then is that we Christians, made good by God in the moment we believed, have been re-created for good works. Dead works are an option, but good works are our inheritance. We fit our mission and our mission fits us, and our salvation comes to us fully equipped with ready-fitted good works that have been meticulously prepared just for us. This is good news indeed.
This Post Has 8 Comments
Written in such an easy way to understand…a murky subject explained so clearly for all to understand. The scary thought of “anything not done in faith is sin” – still taking me time to comprehend and digest that out in practical ways of arbitrary living like playing sport, doing the gardening or going to work. I suppose Colossians 3:17 comes to mind – “Whatever we do, whether in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord.” Knowing that in Him we live, move and have our being is comforting. Great piece Gavin. Keep writing!!!
Thanks for the encouragement Ross. I’m currently working on the chapter subsequent to the one that the extract comes from, and it addresses the practicalities of living out Rom 14:23 day to day. (Rom 14:23 – “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin”). Thanks for confirming the logical flow of the book, even if inadvertently so!
Thanks for this Gavin. Have also been ruminating on the statement that anything not done in faith is sin. That is a BIG idea but I think that, properly taken to heart, is also liberating. If we understand that God has gifted each of us in special and unique ways, It stands to reason that the good works that He has prepared for us to walk in will be in line with that gifting. A person can be the most diligent hospital visitor, the most enthusiastic group leader, the most dedicated ……(fill in the blanks) but not have any real gifting or heart for any of those activities. They are done for any number of reasons none of which is part of God’s planned and prepared works. Once we rest in Him and trust Him to lead and guide us, we find that our activities and the works that we do correlate with our interests and aptitudes. The pressure to perform and conform is removed and we can move forward in Him, because of Him and through Him. That is not to suggest that we are never asked to get out of the boat and trust Him when there is the possibility of a new work, but when we do, we discover that there is that something inside that has never been brought to the surface and therefore never identified. The works He has planned come with an equipping even though initially we take baby steps. Faith enables us to turn those baby steps into giant strides. SO looking forward to the coming book. Bless you.
Thanks Ros. The New Covenant is a message of freedom and fullness. Loving the writing. Such good news!!
Helen and I had the privilege of sharing simple goodness with a hurt Christian over lunch. It is almost a pattern. When the person finds acceptance from you, they begin to share. Though the details are different, the hurt from fellow Christians runs deep. That’s where sharing the Gospel is so easy. Take the focus off who, what, when, etc and turn attention to Jesus and the reality that He is the only firm foundation. People, no matter who they are, will get it wrong. Her companion was of unknown belief. We were not meant to be at home and they arrived with no prior warning. Yet the sense of it being a God moment was clear. He met Christians who spoke if the weakness and that it is only by Grace that we are where we are. She is looking for a new church in Stellenbosch where she is studying. My prayer is the Lord will lead her to a place of Gospel freedom.
Thanks again for your life layed down and the strength the Gospel is bringing to us.
Thrilled to get this kind of feedback Stan. And thanks for the encouragement. May you yet share the Good News with multitudes; in groups and one-on-one as the opportunity presents. Much love!
Thanks for the sharing Gavin.
Without faith, we are just like Adam. I have to reconcile myself with the faith in God. I have to say, there are many churchs, even myself may get involved in for a long time, like Walk, work, say and do in self-reliance, which is meaningless, and are dead works. I have to take a bit of time to adjust my faith with Christ, when i do, walk,work, say, answer,serve, just make sure i am have the right faith in Him.
Nice hearing from you Peter!