Defining "good works"

Status
Not open for further replies.

nwink

Puritan Board Sophomore
I feel like there is confusion sometimes regarding what can be defined as "good works" in that these are thought to be such things as giving to the poor, feeding the hungry ("social justice" issues)...but that obedience to the 10 commandments doesn't really count as a "good work." (I'm speaking in terms of broad Christian and evangelical circles here) And I know this has influenced my thinking in growing up in a non-Reformed home/background in that when I think of "good works," they seem to be these extra-special, extra-good things that we do for our neighbor that are completely other than "day-to-day obedience." (though, of course, we Reformed understand these are all outworkings of the Law)

I don't know if I'm making sense or not. What I'm getting at...is it accurate to say that "good works" are simply obeying the 10 commandments (to their fullest extent)? What I mean is that if we feed the hungry and clothe the poor, we are loving our neighbor and promoting life (the positive aspect of the 6th commandment)....so wouldn't promoting Sabbath-keeping and worshipping God as He requires also be considered "good works"? Would the confusion over terminology be because more-evangelical circles only think of the negative aspects of the Law (what it commands against) without considering the positive aspects of the Law?

I'm just trying to get a correct definition in my mind of what "good works" are...what "good works" men will see we do and then give glory to God in heaven...and what "good works" we were created for. I read through WCF chapter 16 (so please don't respond by just quoting it in its entirety), and it seems the part related to my question is where they said, "These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith" and "Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy Word."

Clarification: I'm not talking about the motive, end, purpose, what makes them acceptable, what makes them good, etc of good works. My specific question is related to the ACTS. What are the acts when, done right and for the right end, can be considered "good works"? Is it only giving to the poor, feeding the sick...or does it extend to all the 10 commandments to Biblically be called "good works"? If someone gives a needy person $5, people will call that a "good work"...but nobody ever says that for the person who is keeping the Sabbath or who treats the things of God respectfully, etc. When the Bible says "good works," are the acts themselves simply obedience to the 10 commandments?
 
Last edited:

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
"Good" works from the standpoint of God, are those which are outwardly good and done with right inward motive (to glorify God).

The reformers sometimes referred to works that might be outwardly good, but not done with right inward motivation (to glorify God) as works of "civil virtue."

And, of course, those "good works" of civil virtue do result in some good, apparent good, but not amount to anything being spiritually acceptable.

They are not pleasing to God.

It would be even more displeasing to God to do wrong both outwardly and inwardly (because there would be even more sin), but the point is God has both in view.

An unbeliever cannot do good works, in this sense at all.

But the believer can, having been freed by God from the bondage of sin, do good works unto God.

And the believer is often exhorted in Scripture to do them.

Titus 2:7
In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity,
 

moral necessity

Puritan Board Junior
One starting place to note, is that a work is not good, if it is not done from faith. It must spring from a position of trust in God's favor towards you in Christ. Faith may be strong or weak, but works that come from doubt or unbelief are not good works. "Whatever is not from faith is sin." Once that is established, the thoughts of Luther on the subject fit quite nicely, for all works are accepted as good works, if they spring from faith. Hence, doing the dishes is equally as good of a work before God as ministering the gospel, for both are done "in faith".

A Treatise on Good Works by Martin Luther - Project Gutenberg

Blessings!
 
Last edited:

KingofBashan

Puritan Board Freshman
I read through WCF chapter 16 (so please don't respond by just quoting it in its entirety), and it seems the part related to my question is where they said, "These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith" and "Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy Word."

Husbands love your wives.
You who steal, steal no longer.
Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.
Put away wrath also.
Sing to one another hymns.
Say "if the Lord wills" when doing business.
Pray without ceasing.
The laborer is worthy of his wages.
Slaves, obey your masters as obeying Christ.
Masters, likewise, serve your slaves, but put off threatening.
Give a cup of cold water to a brother who is thirsty.
etc ...

I think this is the idea behind what the confession means with the two statements you quoted above. In the first place, if you do one of these things while breaking a command it isn't a good work (silly example, steal water in order to give a cup of cold water). In the second place, you may notice that all I did was quote Bible verses addressed to believers, so these are examples of some of the "such as god hath commanded in his holy Word", and therefore meet the qualification for a good work.

Just be on guard in your own heart to pursue these things on the grounds of imputed righteousness. Be careful of the temptation we all face to do these things hoping to get some kind of merit, praise or pride out of it. The confession says it best:

paragraph 5 We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants; and because as they are good they proceed from his Spirit, and as they are wrought by us they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God's punishment.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Price
Just be on guard in your own heart to pursue these things on the grounds of imputed righteousness. Be careful of the temptation we all face to do these things hoping to get some kind of merit, praise or pride out of it. The confession says it best:

paragraph 5 We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants; and because as they are good they proceed from his Spirit, and as they are wrought by us they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God's punishment.

Of course good works are rewarded by God, not because of they have any condign or congruent merit, nor because they have any intrinsic merit of their own, but because God graciously covenants with His people in the Covenant of Grace to reward them for Christ's sake:

This from Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology
P.542: Scripture clearly teaches that the good works of believers are not meritorious in the proper sense of the word. We should bear in mind, however, that the word "merit" is employed in a twofold sense, the one strict and proper, and the other loose. Strictly speaking a meritorious work is one to which, on account of its intrinsic value and dignity, the reward is justly due from commutative justice. Loosely speaking, however, a work that is deserving of approval and to which a reward is somehow attached (by promise, agreement, or otherwise) is also sometimes called meritorious. Such works are praiseworthy and are rewarded by God. But however this may be, they are surely not meritorious in the stricty sense of the word. They do not, by their own intrinsic moral value, make God a debtor to him who performs them. In strict justice the good works of believers merit nothing.
 

KingofBashan

Puritan Board Freshman
Of course good works are rewarded by God, not because of they have any condign or congruent merit, nor because they have any intrinsic merit of their own, but because God graciously covenants with His people in the Covenant of Grace to reward them for Christ's sake:

Amen, brother. A very good reminder.
 

nwink

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hmm, this thread really isn't addressing the question I was asking in the OP. I'm not talking about the motive, end, purpose, what makes them acceptable, what makes them good, etc of good works. My specific question is related to the ACTS. What are the acts when, done right and for the right end, can be considered "good works"? Is it only giving to the poor, feeding the sick...or does it extend to all the 10 commandments to Biblically be called "good works"? If someone gives a needy person $5, people will call that a "good work"...but nobody ever says that for the person who is keeping the Sabbath or who treats the things of God respectfully, etc. When the Bible says "good works," are the acts themselves simply obedience to the 10 commandments?
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Nathan, I think that there are some New Testament passages that suggest a broader role for "good works," but those that specifically mention their content are all on the giving/hospitality side:

Acts 9:36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.

2 Corinthians 9:7-9 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."

1 Timothy 5:9-10 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Titus 3:14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
 

moral necessity

Puritan Board Junior
What I was trying to say was that, according to Luther's view, basically, most of what I did today was a good work. A good work is a work that is beneficial to my neighbor or myself. All such works are sanctified as good by our faith, not just the "spiritual ones". That was Luther's point. Even giving someone else a cup of cold water is a good work, Christ said. So, yes, keeping the Sabbath would qualify, as would all other beneficial things, like keeping the Commandments.

That's how I tend to see it.

Blessings!
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top