Earlier today I attended a funeral of the grandfather of one of the members in the church where I pastor. His grandfather was a committed Jehovah’s Witness; if however, there was any confusion about whether or not he actually believed the Jehovah Witness faith, the person giving the “talk” shared of his recent baptism, which, according to them, solidifies one’s entrance into eternal life, along with the fact that he was thrilled about the faith and anyone who knew him could attest to the fact that he believed this stuff. I was burdened for my friends and my heart literally hurt for them as they listened to this individual who was speaking about their grandfather’s faith, that was and is starkly different from that of evangelical Christianity. I’m not going to enumerate the multitude of things that JW’s believe that fall short of the biblical gospel, but rather I’d like to point out that one of the theological tenets they unwaveringly hold to is one that I believe has undercurrents in many confessing Christians lives: that of works-based righteousness.
The Bible is very clear that no man will be justified by works of the law and that we are saved by God’s grace. In fact, the apostle Paul goes through great lengths to present himself as one who should be held accountable even saying at one point in his letter to the church at Galatia that he should be eternally condemned if he or an angel should preach any other gospel other than the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which speaks of God’s saving persons by His grace, through faith in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, there does remain a palpable tension in Scripture concerning a genuine commitment to repent and believe and consequently, the works that are produced by the new nature we have in Christ. This past Sunday I preached a message entitled “Avoid Do-Nothing Christianity” from Matthew 25:14-46. The reason you ask for such a title? Well, Jesus speaks condemingly in Matthew 25:14-46 towards individuals who (1) do not use use their gifts for the Lord and (2) those who intentionally choose to not do good to those around them (otherwise known as sins of omission). Furthermore, he confronts the “sheep” and “goats” and as He’s doing so it’s clear that He catches each group off-guard. The surprised response is indicative of the fact that the “sheep” (or the righteous) had no idea that as they were doing good works they were doing them unto the Lord Jesus; they just were doing what Jesus would do because He has saved them from sin and hell and as a result there is a natural inclination in God’s grace through the work of the Spirit to live their life for Christ. Yet, they understand it is not their righteous deeds that save them, but the blood of the righteous Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Similiarly, the goat (or the unrighteous) are surprised as well. Their surprise comes from not doing the “things” (i.e. feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting those in prison, etc.). But don’t be misled that Jesus is teaching that we’re justified by our works. It is be grace we’re saved and that grace naturally compels a man to live a life of good works. The problem with the goats is that their lack of good works is indicative of a heart that has not been changed by the gospel and upon judgment they will be “suprised” at Jesus’ condemnation of them. I humbly believe this “surprised” response that takes place when Jesus pronounces His condemnation is going to characterize many more individuals than we would like to admit.
I titled my message “Avoid Do-Nothing Christianity” (taken from a statement Boice makes in his own commentary on Matthew) because to say I am a Christian and yet do nothing conveys that you are indeed not a Christian – I do realize that this is a very weighty task and a blog-post of more length maybe required in the near future. However, Jesus is very clear in His repeated denunciations to the religious elite, who do not know Him, as well as the populace at large, many of whom believe they do know Jesus, when in fact they don’t, that to know Jesus is to live for Jesus; living for Jesus implies love for Jesus and Jesus states, if you love you Me you will obey Me. Thus, biblical Christianity will undoubtedly produce a life of good works. I say biblical Christianity because as I sat there listening to an individual give a eulogy for my friend’s grandfather (a eulogy that was saturated with Scripture and replete with a multitude of examples of a life of good works) it made me think of the undercurrents prevalent in “Christianity” today. To trust in your works righteousness is to trust, put confidence in or have faith in a means for salvation whose name is not Jesus. May we be recklessly dependent upon the gospel of Jesus Christ that says we can do nothing to save ourselves from our sin because Christ has already done everything. And in banking our lives in the here and now and our souls on that precious truth may we live a life of good works, testifying to the goodness that God has shown us in counting us sons/daughters of the most High God, through the provision of Christ.