Good Works

The role of good works as they relate to salvation has been one of the most debated topics in the Bible. This is true as it relates to the conversion of a sinner and in our lives after conversion as followers of Christ. Our friends and neighbors in denominational churches are taught that man cannot be saved by good works. In support of this, passages such as Romans 3.28, Galatians 2.16, and Ephesians 2.8-9 are cited. These are usually countered with the text from James 2.18-26, which stresses that faith apart from works does not save.

In Luke 7, we find an interesting situation of someone who engaged in a good work,  yet in doing so, acted out of faith. We can learn about the role of good works and of faith from this story of a woman who washed Jesus’ feet. Jesus had accepted an invitation to dine with Simon, a Pharisee. While reclined at the table, a woman came and washed Jesus’ feet, dried them with her hair, then anointed his feet with a costly perfume. Simon then deemed Jesus’ acceptance of these acts as proof that he was no prophet, for this woman was a sinner. His reasoning was that if Jesus was a prophet he would not have allowed a sinner to approach him.

It is interesting that Simon did not condemn her for what she did. He is more focused upon his disappointment with Jesus. Jesus knows Simon’s thoughts. He speaks to Simon of two people, both of which owed debts that they couldn’t pay. These two debtors represented Simon and the woman. Jesus presents these two debtors’ situations to Simon in such a way that Simon’s answer is actually a self-incrimination. After Simon gives his answer, Jesus contrasts Simon’s behavior with the woman’s. Her treatment of Jesus was summed up by Jesus in v. 47 as “loving much.” Her forgiveness of her sins was her reward. Yet in v. 50, Jesus said that she had been saved by her faith.

Clearly this sinful woman’s acts of love were good works. Just as clear was the fact that they were acts of faith. Faith and good works harmonize just as is the case with Ephesians 2.8-9 and James 2.18-26. The apostle Paul described this in Galatians 5.6 as faith that worked through love. Remember also the many passages from the pen of John on Jesus’ teaching of how our love toward him is to be expressed in obedience (John 14.15,21,23; 15.10; 1 John 5.3; 2 John 1.6). God had commanded that his son be heard (John 17.5). Moses had repeatedly stated this (Deuteronomy 18.15,18-19). This sinful woman acted in faith. She acted out of love for Jesus. Her love was based upon faith in what Jesus had said of himself. When he said that he was God’s son, she believed that he was God.

However, as we look at Simon, what do we see? Why did he invite Jesus to his home? How might we determine his motives? In answer to this, consider what Jesus revealed to us from the story he told Simon of the two debtors. What had Simon not done to Jesus in his treatment of Jesus? Would you conclude that he was a disciple? If not, what would you conclude about him?

What of you and I? Are we more like Simon than we are like the sinful woman? What are our views of ourselves? If we are as Simon, we invite Jesus into our lives to judge him. Our decision to follow him is based on whether he acts in accordance with our wisdom. Our good works are not done out of any concern about our own debts nor our ability to pay them. We do good works to be seen (Matthew 6.1). In reality, we are attempting to pay our own debt by these good works.

If we are as this woman, the good works that we do are based upon a broken heart, burdened by our own sinfulness. We act out of love for him, believing that he paid our debt. Our good works are within a view to glorifying him, not ourselves. We seek to do all things by faith in his words.

Jesus did many good works (John 10.32). These were evidence that he was one with the Father. As we seek to be one with Christ, our good works will be our evidence. In this way we will fulfill the words of Peter: “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2.12).