Associate Pastor, Agros Reformed Baptist Church
The London Baptist Confession of Faith is the doctrinal standard for Agros Reformed Baptist Church. This does not mean that the church exalts the confession over and above the Scriptures, but rather, means that the church holds its interpretation of the Scriptures as most Biblical and faithful.
Chapter 16: Of Good Works
This chapter details what the nature, cause, and product of good works are in the life of the believer and unbeliever. In this article, we will be exploring the first two paragraphs.
"Paragraph 1. Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His Holy Word, and not such as without the warrant thereof are devised by men out of blind zeal or upon any pretense of good intentions."
This first paragraph describes the source of good works in the Christian life. First, it identifies positively what the boundaries of good works are, and then identifies negatively the nature of works that are outside of those boundaries.
The Boundaries of Good Works
Good works are those that God has given to His people explicitly in Scripture.
"He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; And what doth the LORD require of thee" (Micah 6:8)
Any work that sets itself upon any human standard, either overzealous, like the Pharisees, or out of good intentions, like those that worship God by adding human ideas, as Israel was guilty of, is distinctly not of God, and is not a good work. Both of these add to God’s prescriptive commands in Scripture, and conclude in believing that God’s Word is not sufficient.
When regulations are built on top of God’s standard, especially within the context of the church, these regulations become burdensome and tyrannical. These regulations are artificial lines drawn between apparent “believers” and “unbelievers” by setting up additional requirements for people to adhere to in order to practice “true religion”. This is also true of human institutions that attempt to legislate the morality of the age by defining what is acceptable and what is not in a society, outside of God’s moral law.
In any circumstance, when man attempts to sketch his own definitions of what is “good behavior”, it never ends in anything other than oppression. This can be said in the religious sense, like in the case of the Roman Catholic church with its sacramental system and the constant necessity of the maintenance of grace, or in a societal context, with abusive governments. God has shown man what is good, and it is man’s obligation to conform to that standard. Adopting and supporting a standard that is outside of God’s definition of good, as found in Scripture, is to necessarily reject that He Himself is good, and thus, leads to rejecting God altogether.
The Fruit of Good Works
Good works in Christ produce good fruit.
"Paragraph 2. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith; and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that having their fruit unto holiness they may have the end eternal life."
A common trap that mankind falls into is believing that “good intentions” are an excuse for bad fruit. When was the last time you heard somebody use the phrase “good intentions” relating to something that actually benefited somebody else? This term is always employed to comfort somebody who has missed the mark. It is no mystery that men and women make mistakes, and this is a part of being a human being. The beauty of the Gospel is that in Christ, man is not a slave to his mistakes, and in making mistakes, can learn and grow and be sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the love of Christ, and His work on the cross, that ought to motivate the believer to live righteously.
Unfortunately, growth is often hindered under the pretense of “good intentions”. If a person is constantly making mistakes, hurting others, and damaging or destroying relationships, but has “good intentions”, they often neglect to inspect why their intentions are so destructive because they are labeled “good”. They often are given an out by the people that they hurt because of good intentions. How can something “good” be destructive, after all? The reality remains, that man is still sinful, and part of being a Christian is mortifying that sin.
Herein lies the problem with good intentions. They often times fail to recognize others, and thus fail to recognize reality. Oftentimes, good intentions should actually be called, “selfish intentions”, or intentions that proceed from a standard that is not God’s standard. Good intentions are almost always accompanied with a self-created standard that people can use to hide behind when they are disobedient to God’s standard - when they fail to first look to love God, and then neighbor. Good intentions are the result of thinking, “What do I think this person wants and needs?” instead of, “What does this person actually want and need?”
This highlights again the necessity for an external standard - a means to evaluate what is good. Man is absolutely incapable of creating a standard for good works. If a person’s “good works” always end in hurting their brothers and sisters, always damages their assurance of faith, always confirms the suspicions of their enemies, and fails to glorify God, then they are not good works. They are the product of selfishness and a misunderstanding of what God says is good, and thus leads to misunderstanding who God is. God’s standard is good, and so living according to that standard will always produce good fruit in reality.
This is not to say that those who struggle with selfishness are doomed to a life of good intentions and rotten fruit. Every person, at some point in their life, has had good intentions that have lead to missing the point. People make mistakes, and oftentimes good intentions are simply the product of a lack of wisdom or consideration. This is the nature of being sinful. Yet, there is hope. Those that are in Christ are promised His Spirit and are not alone in pursuing godliness and selflessness. Christ does not save man and then abandon him. He is close, providing mediation between the believer and the Father.
The call then, to the well intentioned Christian who seems to wither all of the relationships they touch, is to first accept that good intentions are no excuse. The believer must inspect themselves according God’s standard. This is a humiliating exercise at times, and can be discouraging, but the fruit is life-giving. The fruit of ordering one’s desires to God’s desires, to be selfless, to truly pursue good works in Christ, is a lively faith, one full of assurance and confidence in the Gospel. The fruit of loving God and neighbor first before self leads to thankfulness and repels the reproach of unbelievers. The fruit of true good works in Christ, is glorifying God, and finding sweet enjoyment in Him.
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