Erin Eldridge | 16
When Jesus speaks to the seven churches at the beginning of the Book of Revelation, he addresses each of them with this simple yet memorable phrase: I know your works. Although He was directly referring to several churches in Turkey nearly two thousand years ago, the ardent reminder I know your works echoes across space and time to reach us. As Christians, we know that the messages in the Bible are not diluted by miles or millennia. God’s Word applies just as much to us today as it did to the young churches. Clearly, our works bear some significance. But Jesus’ emphasis on works raises a key question: if we are saved by faith in Jesus alone, what exactly is so important about our works?
Since “works” can have a variety of meanings, it is first necessary to define the term in this context. Works are the choices that we make, and the subsequent actions, in the pursuit of an end goal. Our works are the outward evidence of where our true, inner allegiances lie. As human choices, works can either be God-glorifying or not. For example, John the Baptist chose to promote God in all his works by paving the way for the Messiah. On the other hand, the works of Jezebel, who sought to replace the one true God with false gods, were not godly.
The addresses to the seven churches follow a common pattern. First, Jesus describes the works of the individual church. Jesus rebukes the church in Thyatira because it “tolerates that woman Jezebel” (Revelation 2:20). On the other hand, He commends the Philadelphians because they “have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (Revelation 3:8). Jesus then tasks each of the churches with something to do, some works to accomplish. Thyatira must repent, and Philadelphia must continue to persevere. Those who choose to serve God and undertake these works will be rewarded in heaven. These diagnoses, prescriptions, and prospective outcomes also apply to us all these years later. Just like the works of the churches, our works in this life matter, even from the perspective of eternity.
As Christians, we know almost implicitly that we are supposed to perform godly works, even when it is unpopular to do so. Consider Paul, who received innumerable beatings for his unwavering proclamation of God’s word. The blessings that stem from taking the narrow path are not always readily evident, nor are they always immediately beneficial for the worker himself. So what are the benefits to accomplishing the hard works?
Some people believe that good works are their ticket into heaven, but the Bible does not support this. Galatians 2:16 states that salvation comes through faith in Christ rather than a person’s works:
A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
But surely good works must count for something, perhaps as a means of producing rewards in heaven. This may be true, as Psalm 62:12 says that God will “render to each one according to his work.” It would be a mistake, however, to pursue godly works with the intention of self-promotion. God is the one who deserves the all the glory, not any individual, for He gave us the gift of faith through which we might begin to accomplish works for his kingdom (Ephesians 2:8).
Good works can be viewed as evidence of an individual’s belief. Jesus taught us in John 14:12, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also.” Furthermore, James 2:26 shows that works are such an integral part of our faith that “faith apart from works is dead.” Indeed, simply obeying God’s word can increase an individual’s faith, as was the case for Abraham. But even this falls short of explaining why Godly works are so important.
Perhaps the most essential reason for pursuing good works is found when considering the Christian community as a whole, rather than as individuals, and especially how nonbelievers see that community. 1 Corinthians 12:27 declares that, for the Church, “you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” Each believer has a role in the proper function of the Church, the body of Christ on earth. The Church might just be the only Christ that the world sees. It is easy enough for nonbelievers to avoid going to church or reading a Bible, but it is next to impossible (particularly in this country) to avoid interacting with at least one Christian in their lifetime. It is vital, therefore, that the Christians accurately reflect Christ to the world, just as Jesus reflects the Father to us. Our good works don’t only benefit the believer, or even the convert, but ultimately give glory to God. We must speak and act deliberately so as to convey to the world a message that is so much more than just ink on thin pages or rituals on Sundays. Our works shine forth the light and proclaim the living word.
Let us end in prayer.
Dear Lord, we come to You knowing that our works will not always be perfect, but we ask that you guide our choices so that they are worthy of You. Sometimes it can be hard to live outwardly for You rather than just keeping You inside ourselves. As James said, help us be doers of the word, and not hearers only. We ask that as You gave Your Son for us, You help us give Christ to a world that so desperately needs Your love and mercy. Thank you, Lord, for showing us how to choose You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who teaches us how to truly live. Amen.
Erin Eldridge, UMaine Orono, Class of 2016. Mechanical Engineering. Brunswick ME.
Erin’s preparations for the end of the world include the discipline to always show up and a bright blue car to show up in.