“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2: 8-10 NIV)
We cannot pay our way to heaven. We cannot work our way to heaven. And no human being can get us to heaven. Salvation is a gift of God that is given freely to all of us who will accept it by faith. Salvation is by grace and so we should not boast about it.
Since salvation is by grace through faith, and not by works, should Christians sit back and do nothing after we have been saved, and wait for Jesus to come and take us to heaven? No, not at all. We have been saved by grace to do good works! In his earlier letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In the opening Bible passage quoted above, Paul was building on his earlier position that the Christian is a new creation created in Christ for a purpose; which is, to do good works prepared by God in advance.
The emphasis on “good works” implies there are “bad works” or works that are not good. Some guidelines may be helpful. Under the umbrella of our duty to love God and man, does the work glorify God? If the work glorifies God, it is good work. If it does not glorify God or if it dishonors God, it is not good work. Combine that with Paul’s advice that we should not do anything out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility we should consider others better than ourselves. In addition, each of us should look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (see Philippians 2:3-4). Is selfish ambition, vain conceit or self-interest the primary motivation for the work? If yes, it may not be good work. We can also ask whether the work is in furtherance of the Kingdom’s goals. Of course, good works must demonstrate love for God and man.
We have several opportunities to do good works. Good works need not be monumental projects that can only be done by the rich and powerful. Nor are good works always those that win the world’s praise, applause or adulation. The world may not even see, recognize or value some of them, but the all-seeing eyes of the Almighty God sees and values them.
Love and compassion for the poor or needy are the hallmark of Christianity. Jesus‘ own rewarding examples are found in Matthew 25:31- 46: feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit prisoners. These are basic human needs which many of us are capable of providing to those who are unable to provide for themselves. Remember that with Jesus, little may be much. He knows our resources and capabilities. That was why he commended the poor widow who put a small amount of money into the temple treasury, but did not commend the rich who put in larger amounts (see Luke 21:1-4). Helping our fellow human beings with their basic necessities of life is a demonstration of love and compassion for our neighbors that Christ taught us.
Another example of a good work is winning souls for Christ. Jesus himself gave the Great Commission to his followers to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey his commandments (Matthew 28:18-20). According to Jesus, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:7). Therefore, those who are preoccupied with miracles should consider soul winning or evangelism because it brings more joy to heaven due to the fact that it fulfills the primary mission of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for all mankind.
Many years ago, some Christians heeded the call of Jesus to spread the Gospel to other parts of the world, crossing from one continent to another under dangerous travel conditions. For example, some Christian missionaries traveled thousands of miles away from their homelands in America and Europe to Africa to win souls for Christ and establish churches, schools, and hospitals, among others things. Many died in the course of those missions, but their good works did not die with them. Their good works prospered and bore fruits abundantly leading to the conversion of many people to Christianity.
In Ghana, the Christian missionaries established many churches, including Methodist, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, A.M.E. Zion and others. Some of the older and best-known secondary or senior high schools were established or supported by the Christian missionaries. They include Kumasi Academy (Baptist); Aggrey Memorial (A.M.E. Zion); Mfantsipim and Wesley Girls (Methodist); St. Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Herman, St. Peter’s, St. Augustine’s, and Holy Child (Catholic); Adisadel (Anglican); Aburi Girls and Presbyterian Boys (Presbyterian); and Prempeh College (Methodist and Presbyterian).
Although they may not show gratitude, many people are direct or indirect beneficiaries of the good works done by the Christian missionaries, including those who were born or who received medical treatment at mission hospitals; educated or being educated at mission schools; attended or are attending Churches founded by Christian missionaries; or worked or are working at any of these institutions. It is my prayer that someday God who inspired the missionaries on their missions will also inspire many people to embrace and accept His free gift of salvation and then build on the good works that the missionaries did.
Christians have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ to do good works. We should seize opportunities to do good works now that we are still alive and able. All Christians have something good to contribute to society. We should all pray to God to reveal to us our hidden talents, but we should not wait while we can address some of the ordinary needs of people displayed in plain sight. Having big ideas, big plans, and big dreams to save the world in future may be great. However, whatever little good works we can do now in our own little corner of the world may be more useful to those people who may not be alive when we achieve our big ideas, big plans, and big dreams in future.
The good works may not always be appreciated and that is alright because we should not do them to win praises from people. On the contrary, the good works may even be condemned by some people because we may be championing the causes of the least, the down-trodden, the weak, and the poor amongst us who have no voice to trumpet the good deeds leaving us at the mercy of the powers that be. What is important is for the Lord to say to us one day, “well done, good and faithful servant.” Meanwhile, take comfort in the words in the second stanza of the hymn, “Go Labor On:” “Go, labor on: ’tis not for nought; Thy earthly loss is heav’nly gain; Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not; The Master praises, what are men?”
Prayer is the key. May God grant us the grace to seek Him daily through our prayers.
Dr. Daniel Gyebi, Attorney-at-Law, Texas, U.S.A., and Founder, PrayerHouse Ministry, Kumasi, Ghana.
PrayerHouse Ministry is dedicated to providing a quiet facility for Christians to pray individually by themselves without any intermediary priest, pastor or any other person. This is a free service. No money is demanded or accepted. One facility is located at Kyerekrom / Fumesua, near Building and Road Research Institute Offices, one mile off the Kumasi-Accra Road and next to a house called Grace Castle. If you are interested, please contact Agnes at 054-7498653. Another is located at Kantinkyiren, at the junction of Kantinkyiren and Konkori, off the Kumasi-Obuasi Road, branching left at Trede junction. Contact Kwadwo at 020-8768461 / 0246-989413.