Good Works v Good Behavior

works.001My amazing wife, Kacie, and I have been talking about several opportunities that have unexpectedly presented themselves over the last few weeks, and the transformative effects they could have on our lives. She is currently on a business trip to Dubai, so I decided to visit a new church. Since my last consulting position of helping a church restructure some various areas of ministries ended, we’ve been visiting various churches in an effort to find a “home” church. A few weeks ago we visited an Episcopalian church in downtown Tampa and experienced an amazing liturgical service. This week, I visited a Presbyterian Church closer to our home in Tampa. The message was about the Transfiguration of Jesus, the story of which is referenced in Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9, and 2 Peter 1. It is an event that takes place through which Jesus is transformed in some manner that we don’t really have a frame of reference to understand. The point that stood out to me this morning was that the transformation was God’s action.

The theme? Transformation is dependent upon God, not our own efforts.

We get focused so often on the fact that we are saved “by grace through faith” that we neglect to give importance to what Paul states is the purpose of our salvation. He says that we are saved for “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). One fallacy we should be mindful to avoid is that of confusing good works with good behavior. Maybe you don’t see a big contrast between these two at first, but, upon closer inspection, they are very different concepts.

Good Works are described throughout the Gospels as Jesus is teaching. They are also referenced in James and other places by the apostolic writers. Below is a list I compiled for a previous discussion, Escapism vs Love.

  1. Love God and seek Him
  2. Reckless love for others
  3. Give excess to those without
  4. Deal fairly with others
  5. Care for widows
  6. Care for orphans
  7. Care for those in prison

The above list is obviously not all-inclusive, but it is the manner in which the early church taught works honored God in their culture and society. It may be different in ours. However, these actions are not identifiable with behavior modification. They are tangible actions that impact the lives of others. Good behavior changes with culture. What is acceptable in the U.S. may not be considered acceptable in Asia, Africa, or Arabia. Good behavior is not universal, it is our own invention. The good works described in Scripture are those things that improve the life another person. When we conduct good works we are focused on others, we are offering to another person the grace that has been given to us from God. When we are concerned with our behavior, then we are focused on ourselves and how we may personally benefit from our actions… the exact mindset that caused Adam and Eve to disobey God.

We are not saved to quit smoking, drinking, cursing, watching certain movies, dressing certain ways, or being gay. The purpose of our salvation is to glorify God globally through the good works of loving others that were prepared for us to do in advance. Maybe some of those other areas of our life will change as a result of our salvation as we are more aligned with the Spirit of God, but maybe they won’t. Transformation is dependent upon God, not us. The good news is that our salvation is not dependent upon our good behavior. If it were, then there would be no hope of salvation for any human ever. Our job is to offer the love shown to us from God to others through the physical reality of giving what we are able in a way that improves their life.

Published by David Moscrip

David Moscrip lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and three children. He writes and produces music, attends Knox Seminary, and leads worship at his church.

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