By Al Stoner
Just as God is known by the work that He executes, so are the people of God known for their involvement in the works of God. This is owing to the glorious provisions of the New Covenant, which include the remission of sins, and the promise of men, from the least to the greatest, entering into the knowledge of God, and the revelation of God’s merciful regard for the unrighteousness of His people [that is, unrighteousness that is repented of, and forsaken].
The involvement of men with the works of God is marvelous to consider. It is marvelous because:
- His works are unknowable apart from His making them known unto men,
- and also because apart from His making provision for men to draw near unto Himself and into His works, He cannot be known.
The entrance of sin into the world had created a great chasm between the holy and righteous Jehovah and sinful men. God said through Isaiah: “Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2). Again, He declared: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD” (Isa. 55:8). All had sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Paving the Way for the Declaration of Men Being Justified by Faith. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18; see Ps. 14:1-3; 53:1-3). In these graphic descriptions of man’s desperate (seemingly hopeless) condition and state before the living God, God, through the Apostle, was building an argument for men’s absolute need for justification, which would be by faith. The intent of the Apostle in making these very bleak affirmations about men in their natural state was to lay the foundation for the unquestioned essentiality for God to work in justifying men through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
There are “theologies” afoot in the world that have muddied up the waters on the matter of men’s approach unto God. They misguidingly affirm that it is impossible, [yea, that men are helpless to] approach unto the “High and Lofty One who Inhabits Eternity” (Isa. 57:15), unless He moves first. [Our intent here is to bring some clarity to this very profound issue, not a further muddying of it.]
While the reality of this impossibility and helplessness are undeniably true, and everywhere affirmed in the Word of God, nevertheless, there is another facet of this same reality that is also affirmed in the Scripture [and ignored by many]. And that is that God has already moved, and has made gracious and marvelous overtures toward these helplessly sinful ones in the sending forth of His Son into the world. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believes.
Paul declares the great work that God has done, and the great lengths to which He has already gone to remedy our helplessly hopeless condition to the praise of His glory. “When were yet without strength [i.e., strength to approach unto this Most Holy and Righteous One], in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:8-10). “But the times of this ignorance [the times prior to God sending forth His Son into the world] God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
“And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD” (Gen. 4:25-26). Not long after the entrance of sin into the world men had begun to call upon the Name of the Lord. This was in accordance with the purpose of God in salvation, and by the provision which He had already made for the putting away of all sin. The Lord Jesus Christ was a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).
The Attraction to Christ, as Sinbearer. “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (Jn. 3:18-21). Here is an inescapable conclusion which must be drawn: that the light of God is indeed doing the shining, but men are either coming to the light, that their deeds may be made manifest, or they are hating the light, because their deeds are evil. Apart from the light shining, men are left adrift in the moral darkness of this world, and remain unexposed as to their regard or disregard of God's light. "Whatsoever doth make manifest is light". These words of the Lord Jesus Christ are "pure words" (Ps. 12:6), as David would say. There is not better way to give expression to these matter than the way that He said. His is the precise representation of the case.
“He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:11-13). What theological wranglings are resolved by the very words of the Savior! Men use terms such as divine sovereignty and human responsibility to resolve in their minds what appears to be contradictory, or out of sync. But more often than not, they are trying to bring God down to the level of man's reasoning, when what is really needed is the proclamation of the gospel, the power of God unto salvation. By means of this proclamation God brings men up in order that they may comprehend Him, and the work of redemption in His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
“All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (Jn. 6:37). This utterance of the Lord Jesus is representative of many that are incomprehensible apart from men entering into them by their faith in the Son of God. What Christ has to say to men is offensive to the flesh (the part of them that they received from Adam), and so, in coming to Jesus, men must deny themselves daily, and take up their cross, and follow Him. They must hate their life in this world, that they may keep it unto eternal life.
Some Declarations of Men’s Involvement with the Works of God. “Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14). For the righteous their consideration of the works of God is the doorway to their entrance into them.
“Come and see the works of God: He is terrible [in majesty] in His doing toward the children of men” (Ps. 66:5). “Terrible”, in the sense that even John was struck with terror at the revelation of the glorified Christ. “The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein” (Ps. 111:2). “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which He hath made crooked?” (Eccl. 7:13). “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God (the work that God has appointed for men to do), that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent” (Jn. 6:28-29). “Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (Jn. 9:3).
On the Day of Pentecost. “And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes . . . we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:8-11).
Work Out Your Own Salvation with Fear and Trembling. “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).
Men’s Works and Divine Workmanship. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it (the salvation) is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
Divine Moral Tutelage. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:11-14).
The Entrance into God's Rest in Hebrews 4. “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. Men must ever examine themselves to see where they are in relation to God's promise. Are they firmly taking hold of it by faith, or are they losing their grasp of the promised rest.
“For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. Men have contrived a ridiculous saying: I'd rather see a good sermon than hear one. No man was ever saved, or delivered from the wrath to come by seeing a good sermon (whatever men may mean by that expression). But even assuming that one has heard a faithful proclamation of the word of God, it yet remains for what was spoken to be mixed with faith in the hearer, in order that he or she may derive profit from it.
“For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in My wrath, if they shall enter into My rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world." Oh, if men could only hear the solemnity with which God is speaking here, they would cease from their casualness with regard to the things of God. He swore with an oath that certain unbelieving and recalcitrant ones would not enter into His rest (the ten spies and those who thought evil of the promised land of rest, and of God's ability to bring them triumphantly into it.) In Hebrews 4, among other things, the Apostle is stating that God still has this same sensitivity about those entering into His rest. Those who do not want to enter in more than any thing else shall surely be excluded!
“For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest."
“Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
“For if Jesus (Joshua, at the entrance into Canaan, the land of rest) had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. The other day of reference here was spoken in Psalm 95, where the Psalmist, after beginning with a hymn of praise to the LORD Jehovah, suddenly makes a shift to warning against men hardening their heart as in the day of provocation in the wilderness.
“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
“Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (Heb. 4:1-11). The labor to which men are exhorted here is not that of keeping commandments, but rather that of believing the record which God has given of His Son.
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Mt. 25:14-36). “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” In this parable the Lord Jesus Christ gave credit to some who did not remember doing what He gave them credit for. And others, He did not give them credit when they thought they should have received it. In both instances the Lord took it personal (as done unto Him, or not done unto Him), even though these were things that were done unto fellow men. What they did or did not do was of such serious nature, that some were graciously accepted of Him, and the goats were cast away forever.
Faith Without Works is Dead. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.
“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: The devils also believe, and tremble (in their case the persuasion is from beneath, not from above).
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
“Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jas. 2:14-26).
Faith gives birth to justifying works (as in the case of Abraham and Rahab), as well as good works (as in the case of the sheep, identified in the Lord's parable of the sheep and the goats. These individuals actually did these works of which James writes in chapter 2, but they did them by faith.
He that Doeth God is of God. “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God” (III Jn.11). Obviously, the doing of good, is “good” by God’s assessment, not by man’s. The doing spoken of here is that which is done by faith the Lord Jesus Christ.