The Book of Matthew

Thursday: Good Works

Matthew 7:21-23 In this week’s lessons, we look at the dangers of nominal Christianity, and see what is really involved to be a Christian.
Good Works

Doctrine is only the first area in which many persons find a false spiritual confidence. A second area is works (v. 22). For there will always be somebody to say, “It’s not just that I believe these things and hear sermons about them. I really serve Christ. I prophesy in His name (it is preaching today). I cast out demons (it is revolution today). I have done many wonderful works (these are the good deeds of Christianity).” Jesus says that it is quite possible for a person to be baptized in the Christian Church, to be confirmed, to take communion, to serve on the church’s boards, even to be a missionary, and still never have come to the place where he is born again. So He says, “Examine your heart.” You youthful reformers! You church members! You servants of the church! You preachers! Are you born again? The Bible says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

This does not mean that there are not to be good works in Christianity, for there certainly should be. However, they have to be those that are motivated by Jesus Christ. That is why, for instance, that in theology the phrase “faith and works” is used. Faith is not mere intellectual assent to certain doctrines, the kind of belief that Jesus warned about earlier. It is commitment or personal trust. And thus the phrase means that there must be personal commitment, and then growing out of that there must be good works. These are the two oars of the ship that are meant to propel it forward.

If only one oar is present, there will be trouble. In one of the great battles that took place between the Greeks and the Persians just prior to the Greek Golden Age, there was an incident that perfectly illustrates this principle. The Persian fleet had sailed from the Bosporus out along the Macedonian coast and then down the edge of Greece to Attica. It finally met the Greek ships in the bay of Salamis just off Athens. The Greek ships were lighter and quicker. The Persian ships were cumbersome. So, in the battle that followed the Greeks made short work of the Persians. Now in one particular encounter a Greek ship managed to sail close to a large Persian vessel and brush by its side. Because it had done this quickly the Persian oarsmen did not have time to draw their oars in, although the Greeks did. The result was that the Greeks therefore broke off all of the oars on one side of the Persian vessel. At this point few on the Persian ship realized completely what had happened. So because the oarsmen on the other side continued their rowing, the ship swung around in a circle leaving a fresh set of oars visible to the Greek captain. The Greeks then reversed their ship, trimmed off the other set of oars, and sank the enemy.

It is a humorous sight, the image of a great ship going around in circles. But it is an illustration of what happens in the Church of Jesus Christ when there is faith without works or works without faith. Oh, we can generate a big stroke with one oar. We can get attention. But much of it is just going around in circles spiritually. Real Christianity is a personal relationship to Jesus Christ through faith resulting in a new life that goes forward and that is increasingly productive of good works.

Study Questions
  1. What is the biblical view of faith?
  2. What is the proper relationship between faith and works?

Application: Thoughtfully examine your own heart and ask the Lord to show you areas in which you need to be more committed to Him.

Key Point: Faith is not mere intellectual assent to certain doctrines, the kind of belief that Jesus warned about earlier. It is commitment or personal trust.

For Further Study: Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “Marks of a True Disciple.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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