This week, in our sermon series “A Blessed Life,” where we’re looking at the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ most famous discourse, the teaching is going to take something of a hard turn from broad theological principles (purity, righteousness, etc.) to specific moral issues (murder, adultery, etc.) So let’s take this moment to discuss how these moral commands we are called to obey gel with a gospel that says we are incapable of pleasing God by our own good works.
If you’ve been around for a few months at Mercy Hill, you probably remember that we spent a lot of time looking at our natural helplessness to obey God back in the “Inside Out” series. We learned that the change from a life that is against God to a life pleasing God happens from within. That is, we come to be God’s children by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And it is only by faith that we come to Him. To put it another way, we come “as we are.”
In Ephesians 2:8-9, the Apostle Paul puts it this way: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” That seems pretty clear! Our good works have nothing to do with our salvation. So we just believe and that’s it, right?…Well, not quite. The very next verse (verse 10) says this, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We can strip the argument down to:
“[Y]ou have been saved…not as a result of works…For we are…created in Christ Jesus for good works…that we should walk in them.”
Now, obviously, I’m leaving a lot out there. Even so, that through line seems pretty clear. But there still seems to be a problem. “For we are…” at the beginning of verse 10 should mean that verse 10 logically follows the point made previously. But how does our being “created…for good works” follow logically from being “saved…not as a result of works?”
Well, maybe we are missing something, here. See, the problem with trying to be saved by good works is that, at our best, our hearts are always striving after things that aren’t God to satisfy our needs and desires (that’s idolatry), and at our worst, we break God’s law all the time (that’s sin), so the real issue is we don’t have any actual good works to begin with! All the things we call good works are serving idolatrous purposes (giving us significance in our own goodness; making us out to be saviors rather than in need of a Savior; etc.), and on top of that, we don’t always do good things anyway! We sin all the time, even when we don’t want to! (See Romans 7:7-24.)
(And if you think you don’t sin, the next few sections we look at from the Sermon on the Mount WILL change your mind on that point! Stay tuned.)
So God created us for the purpose of doing good, but we didn’t. Instead we took His glory for ourselves. That’s why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the righteousness of the religious leaders of His day wasn’t good enough (Matthew 5:20). They couldn’t see their need to be changed. But once we have been changed (“Inside-Out”), we actually can do those good works. Oh, we still won’t do them perfectly, and we will always need grace, but, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can start to obey God for real.
So not only do we gain Christ, but we can fulfill the purpose for which we were created!
Written by: Barry Evans