Depravity and Regeneration (10): The Exhortations to Good Works
Reformed Free Publishing Association
What follows is the tenth entry of a series of articles written by Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma. The ninth entry is Depravity and Regeneration (9): The Nature of Good Works.
Each morning I bow before God and ask him to give me strength to walk in a way of holiness and obedience. He knows my sinful thoughts. “Thou understandest my thought afar off” (Psalm 139:2). God knows the particular sins I have a struggle with in my life, my pet sins. I bring these to God and ask that he will so lead me by the Spirit of Christ to flee these sins and to exercise myself in godliness. Each evening before I retire I ask God to forgive my failures in the day that has gone by and yet be gracious to bless the works of my hands. Sound familiar? This is the experience of the sanctified believer in his everyday life.
God knows who we are! He knows that, on the one hand, by means of the new life he has worked in us we desire to walk in his ways and commandments. We love God’s law! That law is written on the fleshy table of our hearts. Yet God also knows that we have in us that horrible depravity that seeks to bring us into captivity to the law of sin which is in our members. The question is: given this reality, how does God choose to deal with his elect, regenerated children? The answer is: by exhortations and admonitions that require of us to hate evil and walk in obedience to him in all good works. We have been ordained by God from eternity unto good works (Ephesians 2:10). We have been saved in Jesus Christ unto good works (Titus 2:14). For this reason, God demands of us that we perform good works. Besides the many admonitions and exhortations of God’s Word to us, we have the clear command of Christ to us in John 14:15: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” After all, this is the fulfillment of the law: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all they mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself” (Luke 22:37-39).
David entreats us in Psalm 37:27: “Depart from evil and do good; and dwell for evermore.” Jesus exhorts us in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Paul’s two letters to Timothy are filled with practical instruction concerning the life of godliness, walking in the way of good works. In 1 Timothy 2:9-10 Paul exhorts the women of the church to adorn themselves with that which becomes women professing godliness, that is, with good works. In 1 Timothy 5 Paul instructs Timothy to allow into the order of widows that woman who was “well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work” (1 Timothy 5:10). The exhortation of Scripture to the rich in 1 Timothy 6:18 is: “that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.” Paul’s instruction to Titus in Titus 2:7 was: “in all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing incorruptness, gravity, sincerity.” Paul also informs Titus in chapter 3:8: “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.” Or verse 14 of the same chapter: “And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.” The writer to the Hebrews enjoins the church in chapter 10:24: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” The Scriptures are given to God’s redeemed people that they might “be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (1 Timothy 3:16).
Why quote all these Scripture passages? To reveal that God everywhere in Scripture exhorts his children in whom he works by his grace to walk in all good works! God does not say to his children: “I understand that sin is in you and therefore you cannot keep these exhortations. I give them to you with the low expectation that you will not keep them.” God says: “Do them! Do them because you are a holy people called out of the darkness of sin and into my marvelous light. I have purified you in Christ Jesus unto myself a peculiar people, zealous of good works!” To use the figure of a father and his son, the father loves his son. The son knows that too. But the son also knows that he must obey what his father commands or exhorts him to do. If he does not, he is subject to father’s displeasure and chastisement. The same is true of us as God’s children. We listen to Father’s exhortations to us and seek to obey them in readiness of mind. You see, it pleases God “to preserve, continue, and perfect it (the work of his grace) by the reading of God’s Word, meditation thereon, and by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises thereof” (Canons V, Article 14).
God indeed knows the weakness and sins of his children. God knows that we “have not perfect faith, and that we do not give ourselves to serve God with that zeal as we are bound, but have daily to strive with the weakness of our faith and the evil lusts of our flesh” (Administration of the Lord’s Supper Form). This is why he sent Jesus Christ to justify us. Otherwise, there would be no hope. Our good works cannot save us, ever. They are too imperfect. Yet, God has chosen to use the exhortations of his Word (and there are many of them) to work in us a new obedience. God entreats, admonishes, exhorts, and commands his children to walk in the way of good works. Sometimes sharply and with a sting, like in James 4:4-10: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God . . . Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” At other times with gentle entreaties, like in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Through such exhortations the believer daily mortifies the old man and quickens the new man.
God’s command to his children to walk in good works is rooted in Christ’s work of sanctification. That we are able to keep his command is not by virtue of our own strength or cleverness. We are unable to walk in good works apart from Christ. We repeat it again: we do not sanctify ourselves. Christ sanctifies us. God by his grace works in us through the Spirit of our risen Lord enabling us to walk in the way of obedience to him. But the result is, we in childlike faith strive to walk in God’s commandments. Surely we do! To work at walking in good works is not a works principle! The believer delights in walking in the way of good works. This was true of Enoch who walked with God. This was true of Noah who walked with God. This was true of Job who was “a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil” (Job 1:8). This was true of David who was a man after God’s own heart.
One more blog devoted to the use of the terminology “in the way of good works.”