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May 18, 2007

Works that Condemn: A Primer on Works (6 of 8)

By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7

Good works, done by faith, in obedience to the commandments of God's Word, will, like Noah's ark, condemn the unbelieving world. We don't like to talk about condemnation (can't we all just learn to get along?). But the fact is, the more that we are distinguished by the good works which God has before ordained that we should pursue (Eph. 2:10), the more people will notice us (as we saw in our last installment), and the more certain of those people will be condemned by what they see.

Noah's ark -- the good work to which he was called in his generation -- created a zone of obedience, righteousness, and salvation, for those who entered into it. All who remained outside were condemned. Now there is no doubt that Noah's neighbors didn't see it that way. Surely they thought him a little batty, devoting so much time and effort to what they would have regarded as a silly work, and having no time to join them in the revelries and distractions of the day (cf. 1 Pet. 4:1-5). But when Noah coupled his good work with the preaching of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), he condemned those who mocked him, or who did not heed the warning of coming judgment. His ark -- Noah's good work -- stood out as a witness to God, salvation, and righteousness, and it condemned all those who looked askance at it.

Just so will it be with the good works we do in obedience to God's Word. It is not our duty as the followers of Christ, as we pursue holiness (2 Cor. 7:1), to put our unbelieving contemporaries at ease, assuring them that they're "OK" in God's eyes. Faith requires that we obey God unto righteousness, and righteousness always puts unrighteousness in relief, exposing it to the light of truth and leaving it bare, naked, and condemned. And for this, Jesus promised, the world will hate us, even as it hated Him (Jn. 15:18-22). Good works, coupled with the proclamation of truth explaining the reason for those good works, must necessarily condemn those who prefer lives of sin and unbelief.

This is not an invitation to offend; we are always called to love others as Christ has loved us, even those who despise us. Rather, it is simply a caveat to the redeemed: pursue good works as the outworking of your salvation, but do not expect the unbelieving world to celebrate your achievement.

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Works truly done in God's name should not and cannot condemn. They may CONVICT, but that is another matter altogether--our hope and our goal should always be the conversion and salvation of all of our neighbors, and although some may despise the works they see and the relief in which they cast their own actions--although some may not, as you say "celebrate your achievement"--goodness breeds goodness and we know not what those seeds planted may grow into one day. The one thing we can be assured of is that our own honest efforts to comply with God's will and do his work will NOT facilitate the condemnation of another. If they convict, then so be it, in hopes that those neighbors might be led to conversion. If they condemn, then it is we who have erred. And, of course, having our "achievements celebrated" should always be the furthest thing from our minds in doing God's work.

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