The fourth profitable thing we shall consider is good works. In his letter to Titus, Paul wrote: “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men” (Tit. 3-8).
This is one of the four faithful sayings of Paul, as recorded in his pastoral epistles. The others are found in 1 Timothy 1:15; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11. They present four great truths: 1. The gospel proclamation of Christ’s Person and work. 2. The godly manifestation of the Christian life. 3. The self-denying identification with Christ in His rejection. 4. The Christian’s practical demonstration of the reality of his salvation by his good works.
The Word of God makes it abundantly clear that good works performed by unregenerate men and women, in order to merit the favor of God or secure their salvation, are all utterly in vain. The finished work of Christ has demonstrated this fact beyond all possibility of contradiction. If a sinner could be saved by any other means than through faith in Christ and His work on the cross, then our Lord’s sacrifice was offered in vain! Salvation has its origin in pure and sovereign grace, which consists of the outward expression of love toward those who are utterly undeserving of it. It is God’s offer of everything for nothing to those who do not deserve anything, except judgment. Every preacher of the gospel does well to emphasize the fact that “By grace are ye saved through faith… not of works lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Scripture presents salvation as a free gift purchased by the precious blood of Christ, and offered to whosoever will rest in the value of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, and receive Him by faith as Saviour and own Him as Lord. God’s message to the sinner is: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).
It is only when a person has been saved by the grace of God that good works become profitable before God, for they flow from faith in the Son of God, and are the evidence of the reality of an experienced salvation. It has been well put thus:
“I would not work my soul to save,
For this God’s Son has done;
But I would work like any slave
From love to God’s dear Son!”
Thus the Christian does not work in order to merit salvation, but because, by God’s grace he has already experienced it through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, he works from salvation and not to salvation.
Now let us inquire as to why good works are described as being profitable for the Christian.
1. They are profitable because they fulfill the purpose God had in saving us.
We read in Ephesians 2:10: “We are His workmanship, (literally, His “poem”) created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Notice that little word, “unto.” We were not saved by our good works, but we were saved unto, or with a view to the doing of good works — a vast difference indeed. Thus the Christian, by the good works he performs, fulfills the purpose God had in saving him. We read: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
Christianity is not a system of negatives; it does not consist of a long list of “don’ts” but it is a positive thing. We read: “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Col. 3:17). And again: “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Believers are urged to: “Do good, and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16). Timothy was advised by Paul to charge those of his hearers who were: “Rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate” (1 Tim. 6: 17-18)
The words of Micah are surely in order at this point: “He hath skewed thee, O man, what is good and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). A person when asked what evidence he could give that he was a true Christian replied with a long list of negatives. He declared he “didn’t do this, or that, and didn’t go to this place or that place, etc.” His questioner bluntly replied: “All you’ve told me is what you don’t do. Now tell me what you do do;”
2. They are profitable because they evidence the genuineness of a faith that has been professed.
This fact is clearly brought out by James where we read: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works: can (that kind of) faith save him? … Even so, faith, if it hath not works is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say thou hast faith and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works and I will show thee my faith by my works… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:14-26).
Many have supposed that Paul and James contradict each other, but this emphatically is not true. Instead, they complement each other. Paul declares, in effect, that works apart from faith is unseen by God. James points out that faith, apart from works is unseen by men. Faith is the means of our justification before God. Works is the means of our vindication before men. Both a foundation and a chimney are needed in a home, but they must be kept in their right position and relationship to each other. In other words, we are saved by faith alone, but not by that kind of faith that is alone. True faith is always evidenced by works.
Faith is a principle that cannot be seen, smelled, heard, tasted or felt; yet is infinitely more powerful than anything that can be seen, smelled, heard, tasted and felt. Only God can see faith in its essence and reality. Man can only see it as it is evidenced by deeds. Thus, Paul and James present two aspects of the same truth of salvation. Paul is occupied with the source of salvation, James with its sequel. Paul with its origin, James with its outcome. Paul with its cause, James with its consequence. Paul with its root, James its fruit. Paul with its channel, James with its flow. Once this fact is appreciated, the so called “contradiction” disappears, and Paul and James, by divine inspiration, are seen to be in perfect harmony with each other.
Some have thought that we are justified by faith before God and by works before men; but that is not the thought here. James, by the Spirit, declares that the faith that justifies a person before God is the same faith that evidences itself by works. This can be seen by the three illustrations James uses. First, the case of the destitute brother or sister, whose desperate need for food is well known to the person to whom they appeal for help. But instead of supplying their need out of his abundance, he sends them away empty, saying as he does: “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled!” James justly adds: : “What does it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (Jas. 2:15-17).
His next illustration is that of Abraham, the father of the faithful, who, when he was commanded by God to offer up his only and well beloved son, obeyed, and thus demonstrated the reality of his faith by his actions. Both Paul and James use the same incident to illustrate the meaning of true faith. Paul looks at it from the Godward aspect and James from the manward. See Genesis 22:1-18; Romans 4:1-3; James 2:21-24. Note the conclusion reached in Verse 24, and mark the word “only.”
The third illustration concerns Rahab. How did she prove that she really believed in the reality of the true and living God, and that He was about to give the whole land of Canaan into the possession of the nation of Israel? Did she content herself by repeating a creed in which she stated her correct belief as to these things? No, she did something about it. She received and hid the spies and then aided their escape. She received the promise of salvation, and rested securely behind the scarlet cord that hung from her window. Thus her faith, evidenced by her acts, resulted in her salvation from the destruction which came upon Jericho. See Joshua 6; James 2:25; Hebrews 11:31. Likewise, the constant repetition of a creed which embodies one’s belief in God, however orthodox may be its wording, has no saving virtue whatever. It is the definite reception of Christ as one’s own personal Saviour, and the bold confession of Him as the Lord of one’s life that results in salvation. See Romans 10:9-10.