Summary: In this sermon we explore the difference between works by human effort and godly works.
Good deeds or works fall primarily into two categories: man driven works and God produced works. Man-centered religion always works to improve self in the hope that we will reach the level of salvation. Even Christians fall into this trap. Man driven works is either the attempt to become a god or an attempt to become acceptable to God. God never accepts man-driven works. Isaiah 64:6 explains by saying, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags”. Our righteousnesses are righteous acts and attempts on our part to become righteous or to do good deeds by personal effort.
God does not accept man’s efforts because God is holy and He requires holiness. Can a sinful man produce unpolluted works? This would be like a polluted pond trying to give unpolluted water. We can’t purify ourselves and we can’t produce pure works. On top of that, what can we give God that He does not already possess? What can we give God that can measures up to God’s holiness? There must be another foundation laid that is greater than ourselves.
The foundation of Works
Begin with 1 Corinthians 3:
11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
The under girding principle in this passage is that no other foundation can be laid other than Jesus Christ. Until Jesus is the foundation of our life, there can be no godly works. The only works that are judged by God is what has been built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. All good deeds by mankind outside of Christ are considered as sin to God. Proverbs 21:4 says that even the plowing of the wicked is sin. Without Christ, people may till the soil and work to do good things, but since it is not of God, it will not be acceptable to God. The foundation must be laid before the house is built or it will not stand.
In man-centered religious world views, man is always trying to improve himself and human nature corrupts these attempts. The focus is on self-improvement. In Christianity, we should always be seeking to improve, grow, and become better, but with an entirely different perspective. The difference is that we grow by becoming imitators of Christ, not improvers of man. In fact, we must die to ourselves before we can see the work of God in our lives. Look at John 12:
24 "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.
25 "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
26 "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.
To hate our life in this world is to recognize the futility of having a temporary perspective. Career, possessions and our self-centered world view will all pass away and be forgotten. Yet when we see the calling of God and the eternal significance of knowing and loving God, we will be willing to lose our temporary life on earth to gain an eternal life and reward with Christ. We cannot hold on to this life and grasp eternal life at the same time. We will hold on to one or the other – but not both. The works we follow are based on the life we value the most. When we die to our life and live for Christ, the Bible says that we have been cleansed from our dead works to serve the living God.
The most important thing about works that you should understand is that you do not produce good works. God produces it through you when you are walking with Him. Look at John 15:
3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.