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Doing Righteousness

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

religion, articles, christianity

Some complain against what they call a "works-salvation." We are forcefully told that human deeds have nothing to do with being begotten of God. Rubel Shelly is the leading spokesman among our brethren for the idea that faith without works has redemptive power. Shelly wrote:

Arbeit macht frei! In English [those words] mean 'work liberates' or 'work sets you free.' It is a grotesque lie. ... How many people do we know who live by the same lie in their spiritual lives! Sensing their lostness and insufficiency, they have set about to be saved. They have put their hope in obeying enough 'essential' commandments, attending enough of the 'required' assemblies, and developing enough of the 'necessary' Christian virtues to go to heaven. ... 'Duty' is the key noun in their theological vocabulary; 'obey' is the operative verb. ...
It is a scandalous and outrageous lie to teach that salvation arises from human activity of any sort. We do not contribute one whit to our salvation. Arbeit niacht frei! is the falsehood against which both Romans and Galatians protest. ...
Anyone who tries to come to God by good works will miss the kingdom altogether. (The Second Incarnation, by Rubel Shelly and Randall J. Harris, pp. 206-207.)

The New Testament says quite a lot about works and salvation. It speaks of how the works of Jesus proved his acceptance with the heavenly Father; of how his disciples would do greater works than he did and be justified by their works; of how God's final judgment will be based on what humans do - and fail to do. Let us survey the teaching of the New Covenant on human activity and salvation.

Jesus' Works

"They were astonished and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom and these mighty works?" (Matt. 13:54).

"The multitude began to ... praise God ... for all the mighty works which they had seen" (Luke 19:37).

"My Father worketh until now, and I work" (John 5:17).

"The works which the Father hath given me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me" (John 5:36).

"We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work" (John 9:4).

"The works that I do in my Father's name, these bear witness of me" (John 10:25).

"If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But If I do them, though you believe me not, believe the works: that ye may understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father, (John 10:38).

"Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake" (John 14:11).

"If I had not done among them the works which none other did, they had not sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father, (John 15:24).

"I glorified thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which thou hast given me to do" (John 17:4).

"Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves also know" (Acts 2:22)

The Disciples' Works

"Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

"But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God" (John 3:21).

"What must we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:28-29).

"He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto the Father" (John 14:12).

"Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha; ... this woman was full of good works and ahmsdeeds which she did" (Acts 9:36).

"But in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:35).

"The Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:2).

"Committed to the grace of God for the work" (Acts 14:26).

"Declared... that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance" (Acts 26:20).

"Each man's work shall be made manifest.... If any man's work shall abide... he shall receive 'a reward" (I Cor. 3:13-14).

"But glory and honor and peace to every man that worketh good" (Rom. 2: 1 0).

"Always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58).

"Timothy ... worketh the work of the Lord" (I Cor. 16:10).

"That ye ... may abound unto every good work (2 Cor. 9:8).

"Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works" (2 Cor. 12:12).

"Let us work that which is good toward all men" (Gal. 6:10).

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12).

"For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).

"To walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work" (Col. 1:10).

"That our God may ... fulfill every desire of goodness and every work of faith" (I Thess. 1:11).

"Comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word" (2 Thess. 2:17).

"Remembering ... your work of faith and labor of love" (I Tim. 1:3).

"(Which becometh women professing godliness) through good works" (I Tim. 2:10).

"Well reported of for good works ... if she hath diligently followed every good work" (I Tim. 5:10).

"In like manner also there are good works that are evident" (I Tim. 5:25).

"That they be rich in good works" (I Tim. 6:18).

"A vessel unto honor ... meet for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2:21).

"That the man of God may be complete, furnished unto every good work" (2T'im. 3:17).

"Do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5).

"In all things show thyself an ensample of good it, works" (Titus 2:7).

"That he might... purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14).

"Be ready unto every good work" (Titus 3:1).

"To the end that they who have believed in God may be careful to maintain good works" (Titus 3:8).

"And let our people also learn to maintain good works" (Titus 3:14).

"For God is not unrighteous to forget your work" (Heb. 6:10).

"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works" (Heb. 10:24).

"What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith and he have not works? Can that faith save him? ... Even so faith if it have not works, is dead in itself. ... I by my works will show my faith. ... Faith apart from works is barren. ... Was not Abraham our father justified by works? ... By works is faith made perfect. ... By works a man is justified. ... Faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:14, 17-18, 20-24, 26).

"Being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing" (James 1:25).

"Thou doest a faithful work" (3 John 1:5).

"They may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitations (I Pet. 2:12).

"I know thy works" (Rev. 2:2, 19; 3:8, 15)

"Repent and do thy first works, or else I come to thee, and will remove thy candlesticks (Rev 2:5).

Works and the Final Judgment

"Who shall render unto every man according to his works" (Rom. 2:6).

"I will give unto each one of you according to your works" (Rev. 2:23).

"They may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them" (Rev. 14:13).

"And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works" (Rev. 20:12-13).

"Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is" (Rev. 22:12).

Works That Save

The word of God tells us that Jesus was approved of God by the works which he did. Jesus told his disciples they would glorify God by doing greater works. The greater works would be offering to the world, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not the potentiality and promise of full forgiveness, but the reality of it.

The saints in the beginning of the Gospel were commanded to be careful to maintain good works.

All men, good and bad, will be judged by their works.

Do not let anyone deceive you into thinking that works have nothing to do with salvation. The New Testament Scriptures emphatically teach a works salvation.

Works That Do Not Save

Still, Paul says that salvation is "not of works" (Eph. 2:9) and "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified (Rom. 3:20) and "a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" (Rom. 3:28) and "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16). "For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse" (Gal. 3:10).

Here is the paradox: Works save, and works do not save. We either have a glaring contradiction or there are different works. When we do righteousness, we are begotten of God (I John 2:29). To do righteousness is to work righteousness. To work righteousness is to be begotten of God and born again. How, then, can it be said that we are not saved by works? Answer: Works of righteousness (what we do in obedience to God's commands) save us; all other works are powerless to make us right with God. Here are some works that cannot save:

The works of the law mentioned in Romans 3:27 by which the writer means the flawless keeping of the moral law, which began at creation and extends-to eternity.

The works of the Mosaic Law by which we mean the law given at Mount Sinai and abrogated at the cross.

The works of human law by which we mean all human legislation. We have all kinds of man-made laws and, though we must obey civil law, if it does not conflict with the laws of God, it cannot save us. Neither can we concoct a plan of eternal redemption - crawl over broken glass and jagged rocks or swing from the ends of poles by hooks through the back or say 400 "Hail Marys," or any other scheme of human origin. It is vain to teach for the doctrine of God the commandments of men.


The works of the moral law cannot save because all sin and fall short of the glory of God. The works of the Mosaic Law cannot save because that code did not provide for complete forgiveness of all sin. The works of human law cannot save because man cannot save himself

The works of righteousness save because God has given a New Covenant and put his "laws into their mind, and on their hearts also" they are written: "For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And their sins will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:10, 12).

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Published July 1993