Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Where do good works come from?

Have you noticed something odd about this picture? All those different kinds of fruit could not possibly grow on the same tree! Yet this picture can help you understand where good works come from. The apostle Paul writes:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25).
Paul says this in contrast to “the flesh,” or the sinful nature that each of us has from birth to death. “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:17). Paul also lists the “deeds of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21 – a long list of sins and vices. All these evils come from “out of the heart” (Matthew 15:19).

So where do good works come from? All that is in us by nature is sinful. Only evil things come from “out of the heart” of sinful people. But the good things Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23 are “the fruit of the Spirit.” These fruits come from a different place. They grow out of the Holy Spirit, which is given to “those who are Christ’s” (Galatians 5:24). They are part of the “new creation” that God creates in us through faith in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10).

Some people asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:28-29). Faith in Christ is the work of God! This statement could be taken two ways: that God is the author of your faith, or that faith itself is the work that pleases God. Which one did Jesus mean?

Both possible meanings are confirmed by God’s Word. Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus is the “author and perfector of your faith.” On the other hand, Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith, it is impossible to please God. Whichever way you read Jesus’ answer in John 6:29, you are right! Both meanings are vitally important.

Nothing we do can please God apart from faith in Jesus Christ. If we try to do “good works,” motivated by the Law or a desire to make ourselves pleasing to God, we end up displeasing Him. “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). But whatever comes from faith, and only from faith in Christ, is pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:15-16 says that Christians’ sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, together with doing good to each other, are pleasing sacrifices to God. Likewise Peter writes, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

Our sacrifices of love toward God and our neighbor are pleasing to Him, but only through faith in Christ. And both faith, and the good works that flow from faith, are God’s work in us! “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Thank God for His Holy Spirit, who is transforming us into the image of His glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

IMAGE: “Fanciful fruit tree” by Fernand Pierre (of Haiti), from

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