All the great heroes of faith, which are described in Hebrews 11, proved the reality of their faith by what they did. Abel brought the offering God desired (V. 4), Enoch walked with God and witnessed for Him (V. 5, Jude 14). Noah built an ark (V. 7). Abraham left Ur and journeyed to the land of promise (V. 8). Moses turned his back on Egypt’s pleasures, pomp and riches (V. 23). This great array of faith’s unnamed heroes all proved the genuineness of their belief by their behaviour (Vs. 32-40). From all this we can surely learn the truth of the statement made at the beginning of the section: “We are saved by faith alone, but not by that kind of faith that is alone!”
3. They are profitable because the Lord Jesus Himself emphasized their necessity to discipleship.
Our Lord, in His wonderful sermon on the mount, addressing His disciples who believed on Him said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven” (Matt. 5:16). These words were spoken, not to a mixed multitude, but to His own disciples as Matthew 5:1-2 clearly indicates. In fact, the whole sermon on the mount is full of practical exhortations to those who professed to be His followers. Many, in order to avoid these practical exhortations, have sought to relegate this sermon to the dim and misty past, or postpone it to the equally misty future. But these words of our Lord should surely have a voice to us in the living present. True, there is dispensational truth to be found in Matthew’s gospel, but this should never be allowed to blunt the keen edge of our Lord’s words concerning the necessity for good works, and which are so needed in this day of shallow thinking and careless living. In His parable of the good Samaritan, it will be recalled that the Lord’s application of the story to the one who had provoked it was: “Go thou and do likewise!” (Luke 10:29-37).
We must never forget that the Lord Himself has left us “an example that we should follow His steps” (I Pet. 2:21-23). After Christ had washed His disciples’ feet He said: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:13-15). Peter, in his sermon to Cornelius and his household told how: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost, and with power, who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). One has only to read the record of His life, as recorded in the four gospels, to see that the whole of our Lord’s earthly ministry was characterized by good works, which were to the profit of all with whom He came into touch.
In that wonderful prayer, recorded in John 17, our Lord said: “As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (V. 18). After His resurrection, He appeared to His disciples and said: “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you” (John 23:21). As, at His Father’s request, He came into this world, and “went about doing good;” so He has sent His disciples into the world to do likewise. As He “loved and gave Himself for us;” so we, in turn, must also love and give ourselves for others (1 Jno. 3:16). We must give of our time, energy, money and effort to carry out His commission. Just as a poet is known by his poems, an artist by his paintings, a pianist by his playing, an author by his writings, and an architect by his buildings; so faith is known by its works. “Show me thy faith without thy works (if you can!), and I will show thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18). We have surely gathered from what we have read that good works are declared to be profitable and by no less an authority than the Lord Himself.
4. They are profitable because they bring glory to God in the eyes of the worldling.
The Westminister Catechism is quite correct when, in answer to the question: “What is man’s chief end?” it replies: “Man’s chief end (or object in life) is to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.” In his epistle to the Romans, Paul, by the Spirit, points out that the Jews, who professed to have a superior knowledge of God had, by their inconsistent lives and scandalous behaviour, “caused God’s name to be blasphemed” among the heathen (Romans 2:17-24). Their conduct had given the lie to their creed, for “they said and did not” (Matt. 23:1-3). Christ’s most severe words of denunciation were addressed to the hypocritical Pharisees who professed to know God, but, by their lives denied Him (Matt. 23:13-33).
In view of this, Peter’s words should come with power to all who profess to be Christ’s disciples: “Having your conversation (or manner of life) honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evil Goers they may, by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12). To “glorify” means to display the excellence of a person or thing. Thus the excellence of God’s Person and His regenerating power is displayed by its evidence in the godly lives and good works of those who claim to belong to Him. Many an unbeliever has been brought to see his need of God’s salvation by seeing it evidenced in the honest behaviour and good deeds of Christians.
Still later, in his Epistle, Peter exhorts the believing wives of unbelieving husbands to so conduct themselves by purity of life and good works that: “If any obey not the Word, they also may, without the Word, be won by the conversation (manner of life) of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear” (1 Pet. 3:1-6). Many an unsaved husband has been won for Christ by this means. It was not the constant nagging of the unsaved wife; but the quiet testimony, backed up by a consistent life in the home, by which the excellence of her Saviour was displayed. The Christian is never so effective for his Lord and Master as when he exemplifies by his kindness, courtesy, consideration and good works on behalf of others, the faith he has professed by his spoken testimony.
Just as our Lord glorified His Father by His testimony and manner of life on earth; so also must the believer follow the example of His Lord, and glorify Him by both word and deed before the world (Jn. 17:4). People are not saved by seeing the good works of believers, but by the hearing of the gospel concerning Christ’s Person and work (Rom. 10:17). It is the double testimony of the spoken word, backed up by the consistent life, that is the ideal combination. The “shoes (or walk) of the preparation of the gospel of peace,” illustrate this (Eph 6:15). The life lived prepares for the lips testimony.