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Bible study: Good Works and Legalism
December 06, 2019

Good Works and Legalism

In this Bible study I want to rescue you from the negative attitude towards good works that is so common in modern churches.

The source of that negative attitude is verses like Romans 3:28, which says, "We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." Another passage is Ephesians 2:8-9 where the apostle Paul tells us salvation is a gift of God, "not of works so that no one will boast."

On the other hand, the apostle Paul also told one of his students, Titus, to "affirm confidently ... that those who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works" (Titus 3:8).

Let me explain how these verses go together, what misunderstanding causes this negativity toward good works, and explain the proper understanding of Romans 3:28 and Ephesians 2:8-9.


First, let's explain terms. When Paul says we are "justified by faith apart from the works of the law," he means that you can give to the poor, help old ladies across the street, be kind to your co-workers, and love your wife, but none of this will make you a Christian. Becoming a Christian is a purposeful choice to believe that Jesus is God's Son and begin to follow him. That purposeful choice is what Paul means by faith.

Many churches have twisted this idea. They think that Paul meant that if we believe Jesus died for our sins, then all our sins are forgiven: past, present, and future. It literally does not matter how we live. God will reward us with eternal life in heaven just because we believe Jesus died for our sins.

This, of course, is nonsense. Let's look at Scriptures that talk about how Christians are supposed to live.


In this Bible study, I am going to copy and paste the verses for you. Normally I make you look them up, but this study is too important.

Titus 2:11-14: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works."

In this passage you see what happens when a person is "justified by faith apart from the works of the law." We cannot become a Christian by works, but once we become a Christian "grace" appears. It teaches us how to live godly, so that we can be the people Jesus died for, a people zealous for good works.

Now let's look at another passage we have already seen, but this time, let's add one more verse to the passage.


Ephesians 2:8-10: "By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them."

You saw what grace does in Titus 2:11-14. It teaches us to be godly and to deny ungodliness. Here we see that our faith that Jesus is the Son of God is what brings the grace that saves us. The result of this salvation is that we are created anew in King Jesus for the purpose of doing good works.

But do not be mistaken, those good works are necessary if we want to live eternally in God's kingdom. Here are several passages you can look up:

Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 5:3-5 tell us that we cannot enter the everlasting kingdom of God if we live like everyone else. Romans 2:6-7 and Galatians 6:8-9 let us know that doing good, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is necessary to receive eternal life when we are judged by God.

That said, there is a reason that salvation comes without works.


Salvation comes without works because prior to salvation all of us are stricken with the human condition. We all have a propensity to sin: to seek our own desires and to fulfill our lusts without regard to the damage we may be doing to others, to society, or to the will of the God who created us. God could give us a law explaining exactly how we are supposed to live on this earth, but he did that already with the nation of Israel. He gave them a divine law through Moses. The vast majority of Israel violated that law for centuries.

As a result, God made a new covenant (contract, agreement) with Israel, and with all mankind. This new covenant was predicted 500 years in advance by the prophet Jeremiah.

You should look that prophecy up. It is awful long to be put into this newsletter. It is in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which you can google if you do not want to search for it in the Bible.

Basically, God explains through Jeremiah that humans are untrustworthy, so he is going to make a new covenant in which he himself writes his laws on our hearts and in our minds. Under this covenant, every person will know him and have his Spirit.


God has always wanted us to do good, but since humankind has failed over and over to be good, he made a covenant with mankind in which, if they came to him through Jesus Christ, he would give them the power to do good by his grace and his Holy Spirit. This is called salvation, and God forgives all of our sins when we enter into this new covenant by believing in Jesus.

I may have covered this in a previous Bible study, but 2 Peter 1:3-11 gives a great overall picture of what I have taught in this Bible study. Verses 3 and 4 tell us what we receive when we become Christians by faith. Verses 5-10 tell us what is required of us after we become Christians, and verse 11 tells us of the glorious reward of eternal life in Jesus' everlasting kingdom.

I sure hope this has helped you because it is very, very important.

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