I have often made the point that good works proceed out of our relationship with Jesus, rather than produce our relationship with Him. We are not saved by good works, according to the Scriptures, nor do we stay saved by good works. Instead, we are saved “unto good works,” as Ephesians says. When we are saved, we become capable of good works, restored to be the people we should be.
Scripture expects the people of God to do good. Because He does good and He is the active life in us as we yield to Him, the Lord’s goodness is seen in us. He uses us to reach out to others in love. Sometimes our actions, as we listen to His leading, are the answer to someone else’s prayers. What a blessing that is to us!
I believe that the normal Christian life will produce good. It is in the nature of the believer to do good. Our Lord is always doing good and He is active in us.
But there are some who twist even this truth. They say that certain things must come out of a believer’s life. If those things don’t happen or can’t be seen, then the person must not be a believer, they say. Not only are the rules evidence of salvation, they are necessary evidence.
So you might hear something like this: “I just don’t know about someone who says he is a believer but never gives to the church.” Or, “How can someone be a Christian and not tell others about Jesus?” These people will quickly say that tithing doesn’t produce salvation. They know that sharing the gospel with the lost is not a pre-requisite for being saved. But they seem to say that these things are necessary “post-requisites.”
It is customary for “post-salvation legalists” to cite passages about bearing fruit. They pull out Jesus’ words (which are really about the false prophets) in Matthew 7:20:
Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
But the Scripture is very clear about where the fruits of righteousness come from in our lives. The simple truth is that Jesus does His own work.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11 (NKJV)
Any fruit that comes out of us is from His life in us. So do we have the right to tell Jesus what fruit He should produce? Can we give Him a list of expectations with the insinuation that we will judge His presence in a person by whether or not those expectations are kept? Who are we to judge the people of God who are led by the heart and mind of God?
Churches, teachers, and individuals often place their own expectations on other believers. Usually portions of Old Testament law are woven into the list. Tithing, not eating certain kinds of meat, obeying parents—these and others. And often they are reflections of cultural morality: avoiding certain movies or drinks or styles of dress. Sometimes they are blatant church-serving expectations: giving to the building fund, serving in the Sunday School, or church attendance. They can’t say anyone is saved by doing these things or that anyone who didn’t do them could lose their salvation, so they say that these will arise naturally and necessarily out of anyone who is saved.
But it is the same old story, isn’t it? Salvation is still judged by the work of the individual, rather than by the work of Jesus. If all we can do is receive what Jesus has done for us, then who can judge our salvation on the basis of our works? The only righteous Judge is Jesus—and He is the One who saves us on the simple basis of His love.