Thursday, June 9, 2011

Good works explained (PART I)

What is good works? The works of a philanthropic? The big, big good undertakings, like that of Mother Theresa? What about I give my lunch pack to another? Is my working to earn an income to support myself and to provide for my family a good works?

Common definition of works
What is a works? A works is something on which exertion or labor is expended; a task or undertaking. Very simply, a works is an action, a laboring or a deed. When we do something to produce something, that is a works. This is one definition, but is this the definition used in Scriptures?

What is lacking in the common definition
I believe as a minimum, we have to add “from whose point of view” into the definition. We need to interpret Scriptures theocentrically, meaning we have to interpret Scriptures from the perspective of God. In other words, whether what is done is works or not, must be viewed from God’s perspective; if God says it is works, it is works, if God says it is NOT works, it is NOT works.

For example, I can say Mr A is NOT working, but you may disagree and say he is; then another person may say Mr A is NOT working, he is playing, and Mr A himself may express that he is both working and playing! This illustrates the importance of attaching  “from whose point of view”.

Believing per se is NOT works
So how does God view works? For one thing, believing per se is NOT works; these scriptures tell us so:

James 2:14-18 –

14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

James 2:20-24 –

20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

James 2:25-26 –

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

What about words or verbalization?
Are words or verbalizations, even “silent verbalizations”, works or not? I believe we have to divide such into 2 categories to consider. One category is verbalization of belief, and other, action through verbalization.

Action through verbalization
Actions through verbalization include all such actions like preaching, giving a lecture, instructing, teaching or singing; and they are works, mostly, theocentrically; are all works, generally (using the common definition) {Similarly, actions with mouth (not verbalization), such as eating, drinking, biting, kissing, etc are similarly mostly works (not necessarily good works), theocentrically; are all works, generally}.

Verbalization of belief, works or not?
First, let me pose this question, “Do you consider believing in your heart (NOT yet verbalisation) that Jesus Christ died for you, a works?” No, a mere belief or "faith" (or rather, I prefer to say, an incomplete unit of faith) is NOT works. This we have seen above, supported by verses from Apostle James, particularly James 2:22, 24.

How about confessing with your mouth that Jesus is your Lord and Savior? In other words, is the verbalization of your belief or "faith" in Jesus Christ, works? For THIS verbalization of belief, there is agreement, but NOT strong agreement (some still do NOT agree) that it is works. I will elaborate a little more below.

Verbalization of belief on salvation
How does one enter into salvation? Typically, he believes in his heart, and confesses with his mouth that Jesus Christ is his Lord and Savior (Rom 10:10). So, is that works? Because, we are accustomed to saying salvation is by grace, through faith, and NOT by works, many of us will NOT even look at the verbalization of our belief, as works. I can appreciate that, but I also have no issue with saying that the confession with one’s mouth is a deed or works, using the common definition. But could it be regarded as a works theocentrically?

If believing with one’s heart that Jesus died for him, is NOT deed or works, and confessing with one’s mouth, the same, is also NOT deed or works, theocentrically, what is the significance of the calling for both, in entering into salvation?

Now, I said that typically, how one comes into salvation is by believing in his heart and confessing with his mouth (and that is what is said in Rom 10:10), but it really does NOT necessarily be that a confession with the mouth must be had; if for example, he was asked to come to the front of a sanctuary, and given a salvation form to fill in, and he did that, even if there was no verbalization, the person has entered into salvation. The coming up to the front of a sanctuary and filling in of the salvation form are actions acknowledging the belief in the heart (motive/purpose – to acknowledge). If you look at it that way, confessing with one’s mouth serves exactly the same function, acknowledging the belief, and is therefore, equivalent.

But I still have not answered the question of whether or not there is a unit of works here, theocentrically. Perhaps, this way of looking at the matter is admissible: Salvation believing is NOT works, theocentrically, confessing of that belief, for the first time, is works theocentrically (making confession of our salvation faith, the first good works of a believer). The point is that when it is the first time, the very act acknowledges (motive/purpose) that salvation faith.

Doesn’t contradict salvation is by grace, as far as I can see it
I see no real inconsistency with saying that the confession of one’s belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, completing the entry into salvation, as works, and the saying that salvation is by grace, through faith, not by works. The intent and purpose of saying that salvation is not by works, is to point to us not being able to earn or merit our entry into salvation; surely acknowledging our belief that is in our heart is no more meriting than stretching our hand out to receive or saying I will take it, when a gift is offered; rather this action pleases God, for it is in agreement with His will. As one's stretching forth his hand to receive a gift is NOT regarded that the receipient has merited or worked for the gift, in the same way, a non-believer coming into salvation, that he lifted up his hands or verbalised his belief, cannot be treated that he has merited or worked for the gift of salvation; it does NOT contradict "Salvation is a gift", by grace. But that lifting up his hands or verbalising his belief forms the first works, completing the salvation faith.

Actually viewing the process of entry into salvation in the above manner points us to “faith” in Jesus Christ is NOT faith in Jesus Christ, until the belief in Jesus Christ is acknowledged by the person; or when acknowledged, the belief in Jesus Christ becomes faith in Jesus Christ. The works of acknowledging the belief (in this case, in Jesus Christ) is what completes the faith. Belief in this sense is incomplete faith. I believe this is what James was trying to say in James 2:22, 24.

Confession and profession
Confession essentially is to acknowledge something that is already there. In this case, the “something” is the belief in the heart. Our confession acknowledges that belief that is already in the heart.

To me, there is a difference between confession and profession, although it is commonly used interchangeably. Maybe it is easier to see the difference when we reference it to sin (instead of salvation belief). When someone committed a sin against you, that is a fact, although not necessarily known to others. When he confesses that he has sinned against you, it means he acknowledges that he has sinned against you. Subsequently, when he makes mention of the same sin with you, he is not confessing, for what is already confessed, stays confessed. More correctly, to me, in the latter, he is professing (stating), not again confessing. Similarly, for belief in Jesus Christ, in the first time, we confess (acknowledge) our belief, subsequently, we profess (state) our faith.

What about subsequent professions?
When one has entered into salvation he is a believer or a Christian. His believing in his heart and his confession with his mouth made him to be a Christian. Now, what if he repeats (and repeats) he is a Christian, any works there or good works there, theocentrically? If it is MERE profession, my answer is “No”, for the motive/purpose of first time confession (to acknowledge the belief in the heart) has been expended. The first time mouthing of the belief was to acknowledge (motive) the belief of the heart. Subsequent profession of the same faith must be for a fresh motive/purpose. Now, if we just keep repeating without a motive, it is just vain repetitions, which do NOT please God. In Matt 6:7 we read this:

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

In general too, MERE mouthing of words do NOT constitute works, theocentrically, unless it is loaded with a motive/purpose. For example, you are saying you are a Christian in crisis situation to encourage others, that your God is mighty to save, your professing you are a Christian is a works, a good works, for it was loaded with a noble purpose of encouraging others in a time of crisis.

Mere talk or talk per se
We have seen that if you verbalize your faith with the intention to encourage another, that is a works or deed. Of course, if you speak to discourage another, that is a works or deed, too, albeit NOT a “good” works or deed. Lying is works or a deed, for when you lied, you talked with a motive, albeit with a bad one. What about mere talk or talk per se?

We often hear people saying talk is cheap, or even NATO (No Action, Talk Only). In such, perhaps, is also found a guide as to whether or not, talk or verbalization is works. For example, if before us, there is a thinly dressed, empty-handed young girl, understandably lost her way, outside, in the open, late at night, in freezing winter season, and we are indoor, around a warm fireplace, chatting and looking out of glass windows in front of us, and we only talk about the girl’s plight and the possibility of her freezing to death in the night, and do nothing for her, our talk is cheap talk, and we are just being members of NATO, so to speak, no action, talk only. There is no works in such cheap talk. Well, we could say we have a motive, we just wanted to pass time and we just took her as a subject of conversation. In that case, it is an occasion of talk per se, or mere talk, and there is no works there, in relation to the young girl’s plight, and in God’s eyes.

We can talk all we want, how much of it amounts to works
The point of such lengthy deliberation on words or verbalization or speech or talk, is to remind us that we can talk all we want, the crucial point is whether any of it amounts to works, and good works. Actually, a lot of us talk a lot; we use up a big chunk of our time in talking, in words, in verbalization (even writing, well, consistent with change of time, with electronic communications, SMSes, emails, chats, etc). There is indeed a need for us to see that bigger and bigger portions of our such verbalizations fall into good works, not bad ones, and not into no works. How do we do that? The way is to cleanse ourselves from corruptive ones, and to avoid more, those verbalizations, speeches or talks that do NOT amount to good works, and to do more of those that do, not forgetting our motives (or purposes) are key.

What about physical actions?
The framework is similar. For example, if you are simply walking for no apparent reason or motive, what you are doing is no works, but if you are walking with a motive of getting to a place where there is a phone to call for help for someone in distress, your walking can possibly be a works, a good one; if you are walking to a place to fetch a boulder to throw at someone already fallen into a well, that is surely works, but a bad one.

Remember, it is to be from God’s perspective
We will NOT go into quarreling over whether or not there is such thing as absolutely no works. Works is always in relation to or relative to someone or something. Even a man’s walking aimlessly maybe no works to us, but to that man, walking aimlessly, serves a purpose, whatever that purpose may be (even to give him time to calm down, for example, is a purpose), it is a works in his point of view (he did not do nothing, he was trying to calm down). But we are to remember that we are to view works from God’s perspective.

So, what constitute good works in the eyes of God?
Although it is NOT necessary to begin this discussion with the confession of salvation belief (or faith, as is more commonly referred to), I will start there. If you feel very strongly that it is wrong to treat confession of salvation faith for the first time as works (the first good works of a believer), you can still skip the next paragraph and go on with the one following.

The first confession (actually, there is only one confession, all subsequent ones are really professions, not confession) of salvation belief (even if it were not verbal, e.g. came to the sanctuary front and filled in the salvation form) with acknowledgment as a motive/purpose, has made the salvation belief a complete unit of faith. Putting it in another way, faith, even salvation faith is of 2 components, a right belief, and a conviction; and it is only when the conviction is so strong and strong enough to propel the person to an action like speaking the belief out, walking to the front of the sanctuary, or filling up a salvation form, that, that faith unit is made complete, and becomes righteousness-countable to God, and all works from belief conviction is good works in the eyes of God. 

What faith is
We know from Scripture that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). My understanding of faith is that a complete unit of faith or faith that is righteousness-countable to God is of 2 components, a right belief and a strong enough conviction in that belief. The right belief must be based on the Word and truth of God, His will and desires.

For example, if you think it is right to steal from another, and you go and steal from another, your belief is NOT a right belief, although you may think that you have the correct belief, that stealing is ok, but based on the Word and truth of God, that belief you have is NOT a right belief. The other component of faith is the conviction of that belief you have. If your conviction is strong enough, you will act on your belief, and we have an action or works. If you do not feel strongly enough stealing is the thing to do (your conviction not strong enough), you will not do it.

Also noteworthy is that our motives/purposes are invariably linked to our belief system. There is a lot of truth in the common saying that we hear, “You are what you believe”. Scripture puts it this way:

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:45-46)

He {Jesus} went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:20-22)

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. (Matt 12:33-35)

In Scripture, where is our belief lodged in? It is in the heart.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Rom 10:10) – concerning salvation

That is why the set of verses quoted here made reference to the heart of man. God looks at the heart, for it is there that our belief is lodged, and they shape the thoughts or meditations of our heart. Before God commissioned Noah to build the ark, and sent The Flood, this was what God said:

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (Gen 6:5).

This is what King David told his son, Solomon:

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts (1 Chr 28:9)

If it is not yet apparent to you, I will say it, “Many people confuse faith with belief”. One does NOT yet have a faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior until he has believed (a belief) in his heart, and confessed with his mouth (threshold-crossing conviction reached). Until one completes the second portion of the salvation process which NOT necessarily be confession with his mouth, it can be his coming to the front of the sanctuary and filling up a salvation form, he, at most, has a belief, NOT a (complete unit of) faith in Christ Jesus. What pleases God is, a right belief (as defined above) AND threshold-crossing conviction of that belief. When there is that combination, we have a faith unit, and we inevitably have an action or works. And because the action or works is based on a right belief, it is pleasing to God, and therefore, is said to be good. Righteousness-countable faith = right belief + works (motivated from that belief conviction). A NOT yet righteousness-countable "faith" or a non-expended "faith" (strictly, still an incomplete faith) = right belief + that belief conviction. When the conviction exceeded the thrusthold of inaction, works kicks in, and we have a "faith" in action that can be righteousness-countable by God. Therefore, another way of saying “without faith it is impossible to please God” is “Without good works it is impossible to please God”.  That way "faith" was used in Scripures, I believed, was in line with what described in Heb 11:1 - "substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen", meaning when "faith" was used, works was already factored in or expected; in other words, the "substance...." and the "evidence...." are NOT to be taken as applied on the "God's part" only but it is also to apply to the "Man's part".   In other words, it is proper to say, "Without faith it is impossible to please God", and improper to say, "With belief  I will please God"; it should be "With faith I will please God".

So, for the question of what constitutes good works in the eyes of God, from the exposition thus far, is: good works is works from and of faith; works apart from faith cannot be good works, for everything that does not come from faith is sin (Rom 14:23). Good works is works coming from faith, for it is coming from a right belief, and brought on by the conviction of that belief busting the threshold of inaction; and it is good, for faith pleases God.

Without good works it is impossible to please God
To me, the Apostle James had this understanding when he said this:

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do (James 2:18).

The Apostle James was saying if you claim there is a faith, there must have been a deed, too. Why? Because faith without deed is no faith (no complete unit of faith); at most, it is only a belief (an incomplete faith). When a belief becomes a faith, a deed would have been done. In other words, the deed evidences the belief, and when and only when there is a deed is there a (complete) unit of faith, or faith is faith only when it is an evidenced belief, evidenced by a deed, coming about when the conviction of that belief has busted the threshold of inaction. James said, “I will show you my faith by what I do”.

Although what is expounded so far, does not yet completely answer the questions and similar ones posed at the beginning of this article, I believe it has provided the beginnings of what can be used to better understand the topic of good works, viewed from the perspective of God. Watch out for other parts to this multi-part article.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions - The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good (Ps 14:1, KJV).

PS: Added: 04/08/2011 - The above led us to good works as faith in action or faith in exercise.  Additionally, my latest revelation is that faith is to be exercised through love (Gal 5:6, 1 Cor 13:2).  Therefore, finally good works is from faith in action through love.  For exposition of the more excellent way, of faith is to be exercised in love, read my separate article, "You need faith, and you need love"

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