What motivation do we have for good works?

Titus 3:1-8:

[1] Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, [2] to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. [3] For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. [8] The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

Apart from verses 4-7, the motivation for good works would be to make God happy, appease his wrath, feel good about ourselves, or impress other people. But because we have experienced the goodness and kindness of God, because we have been saved according to mercy (not by works), because the Holy Spirit has washed and renewed us, because we have been justified by grace, because we are heirs according to the hope we will inherit in glory, we can do good. God loves us, therefore we obey. This is the gospel. Man-made religion says, “I obey so that God will love me.”

We can do good because our status with God remains 100% secure and unchanged even when we fail to do a good work. We are freed from the pressure of having to do more good than bad. We are freed from the burden of the law weighing down our shoulders.

That is motivation for me to do what God created me, in Christ Jesus, to do (Eph. 2:10). If you don’t see or feel that, and if you think grace gives you a free license to “do whatever you want,” then you don’t really understand grace. People who play the “I-can-do-whatever-I-want-card” with grace have not tasted too much of grace; they have tasted too little. Indeed, they may not have tasted any at all.

Life Theology

Does God give eternal life to those with faith or obedience?

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. (Romans 2:6-10)

Paul tells us that the people who have eternal life are those “seek for glory and honor and immortality.”  How do they seek these things?  They seek glory, honor, and immortality “by patience in well-doing” or, also, “perseverance in a good work.”  In verse 10, Paul says that glory and honor and peace will be given to “everyone who does good.”  Later on in Romans, Paul will make clear that man is not justified on the basis of good works (3:20, 24, 28; 4:5; 5:1).  So what does he mean here?  Is Paul speaking of real obedience or hypothetical obedience?  The ESVSB writes that Paul is speaking of real obedience that is made possible by the Holy Spirit (i.e. heart circumcision; see 2:26-29).

If Paul is not speaking of actual obedience, then verse 6 should not be taken literally and therefore, there may not be a day of judgment according to works.  But that is not what the rest of the Bible teaches, and that is certainly not what Jesus taught (see Matt. 25 among other passages).  It is true that in the context of this section (1:18-3:20), Paul is clear that all people are unrighteous and sinful and no one is right before God.  However, as the ESVSB points out, the only way people can be righteous and blameless before God is one whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit, not by obeying the law.  It is a complete reversal of logic: those who cannot obey the law are empowered to obey the law, not by trying harder, but by being transformed by the Holy Spirit. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explains that the good soil represents those people who have been saved by God and circumcised in the heart.  Jesus points out that these people have heard the word, hold it fast in an honest and god heart and “bear fruit with patience” (Lk. 8:15).

Douglas Moo, on the other hand, points out that another possible interpretation of this passage is that Paul is setting forth the biblical conditions of salvation apart from Christ.  Moo writes that “the stress in v. 6 on man’s work as the criterion in the determination of a person’s salvation or condemnation makes it difficult to fit grace into the situation at all (p. 142).   This is not convincing for me because 1) Scripture never tells us that God promised eternal life based on good works; 2) Paul does not say works are “the” criterion, he merely says that he will render a judgment “according to…works.”  This is not “on the basis of” or “because of the merits of.”  It is “in accordance with”; 3) In this chapter, Paul is not talking about hypothetical situations; he seems to be speaking in a very straightforward way about what will really happen to real people for all eternity; and 4) Paul, later in Romans and also in Galatians, says that eternal life that is given is in accordance with good works (see 6:22; 8:12-13; Gal. 6:8-9).

What Paul does not mean is that Christians are saved another way apart from faith (as we saw in the points above).  What Paul does mean is that truly justified, regenerate, Spirit-filled Christians obey God and do good works and will be rewarded accordingly.  Their good works are in accordance with their salvation, but not the foundation of salvation.  The “proof is in the pudding,” so to speak.

True Christians are those who continue to good with patience, for they must work with patience in this life because true, godly, Christ-centered good works in the economy of this world are seldom rewarded.  In their good works, a true Christian does not seek for recognition or self-gain or worldly success (though there may be remnants of those sins they battle against).  Instead, as Paul writes, they “seek for glory and honor and immortality.”  Not self-glory, for they want glory to go to their Father in heaven; not their honor, for they want Christ and his church to be honored; not immortality for the sake of escaping hell, for they want to be with Christ, in his presence and comfort, for all eternity.


“What Matters More” by Derek Webb

Here’s the controversial song and video by Derek Webb from his new album Stockholm Syndrome. This version was released on his website, not the CD, due to the strong language.

Provocative would be an understatement.  Any thoughts?

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Here are two excerpts from reivews of Webb’s album:

“Unfortunately, the message seems hidden in negative lyrics that often say the opposite of what you would want to get stuck in your head. Lyrics such as “Oh I have been to Heaven and I found no relief” just don’t do much for me. The album is purely negative and I doubt that much of the Christian music world (including myself) will accept Stockholm Syndrome as playable — and that’s before they get to hear the profanity” (Kevin Hoskins,

“Where this album will stand in the history of Christian music remains to be decided by the retrospective analysis of the next few years, and a number of other factors — the future of the church’s overall political lean and how it will consider its current heavyweights in hindsight, the acceptance (however reluctant) of Webb’s daring, and the industry’s artistic response to this experience: its advertising campaign, controversial content, and sonic textures. Even so, a few things can be said outright: Webb has crafted a near-perfect album that rivals anything avid listeners have ever come across, one that deserves comparisons to Ok Computer and Kid A and challenges preconceptions about the depth of art reflecting the Christian experience.  Stockholm Syndrome is a dangerous, volatile, stunning masterwork of prophetic brilliance and insight — one of the most important albums of the last 10 years” (John Wofford, The Christian Manifesto).


Works that Blind and Bring Sight

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples,

You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Good works in the true Christian are designed by God to blind people from seeing me doing the work.  At the the same time, God designs the works to enable people to see his glory.

A person whom God is drawing to himself will see a good work in me and say, “Wow.  I know James.  He’s not that great.  He wouldn’t — couldn’t — do that on his own.  It must be something greater than himself.  Something more powerful, more gracious, more loving.  It can only be God.”