“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that say, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”— and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” James 2:21-24
It’s undeniable, according to the Bible, good works are a vital part of our faith. In fact, they are so important James says they “justify us.” Now, I don’t believe James means, as some say, “we are justified by works”; but rather, we show our faith by our good works.
But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to answer a crucial question: What are good works? James 2:21-24 sheds an enormous amount of light on this.
We tend to think of good works as remarkable things people do for Christ: going to Africa to feed the poor, becoming an overseas missionary, spending night and day in prayer. Some Christians call this “living radically for Christ”, and they insist we all need to do deeds like these.
It’s beyond a doubt that these things are good works, and, of course, if we desire to do them, we should. But does everybody need to do such extraordinary things to please God and have good works?
To answer that question we need to ask another one: Why, according to James, was sacrificing Isaac a good work that pleased God?
Would most humans say this is a good work? Probably not. Stabbing and killing your son usually does not fall into most people’s “good deeds” category. In fact, the opposite. Sane people would be appalled by it.
So how can James call it a good work? Was he crazy? Was he a lunatic?
I’m not going to dive into any theological speculations: some conjecture that Abraham knew God wasn’t serious; others say, “We have to understand the context.”
Whatever. I try not to speculate. Bottom line: God asked Abraham to sacrifice Issac, Abraham was going to do it, James says Abraham did a good work.
Here’s why I believe James called it a good work – and it’s the same reason why when we live a simple, quiet, godly life we are doing good works – God told Abraham to do it, and Abraham obeyed. That’s what made it a good work. That’s why God was pleased. We don’t need to go any further down a rabbit trail.
How can we apply that to our lives? Simple. God tells us to do a lot of things in his Word. When we do them, then, like Abraham, we are doing good works that please God. We are showing God we believe and trust him by obeying him.
Are you training up your kids in the faith (Ephesians 6:4)? You are doing a good work, and God is pleased.
Are you providing for your family (1 Timothy 5:8)? You are doing a good work, and God is pleased.
Are you trying to live at peace with everybody (1 Thessalonians 5:13)? You are doing a good work, and God is pleased.
Are you praying for your enemies (Matthew 5:44)? You are doing a good work, and God is pleased.
Is your good conduct free from jealousy and selfish ambition (James 3:13-14)? You are doing a good work, and God is pleased.
Do you love your wife (Ephesians 5:25)? You are doing a good work, and God is pleased.
Are you submitted to your husband (Ephesians 5:22)? You are doing a good work, and God is pleased.
God commands it. We do it. That’s God’s definition of good works.
I encourage you today to read your Bible, find a command and try to conform your life to it. That’s a good work that will please God.
All the best,