It is a widespread belief that Christian's do good works out of gratitude to God. That is the Christian does good works because he offers thanks to God for all that He has done for him especially in salvation. This is true. But what lies behind this motivation? Sadly many today focus merely upon the motivations of man rather than on the purposes of God. An important issue that often does not get addressed is, where is God in the good works of the Christian? With good works as in many other areas Christians all too often focus upon man rather than upon God. For the very same God who saves is the very same God who does so for his own glory as he redeems a people and offers them unto his Son. And it is God who is at work in the Christian to mold him and renew him so that every good work is evidence of the potter who is is forming from the lump of clay one who glorifies Him.
The apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Ephesians that,
"we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)
The reasons the Apostle gives for the Christian doing good works are far removed from the man centered reasons given by many modern day evangelicals. He simply does not give gratitude as the ultimate reason for Christian good works. Instead he gives the following reasons:
(1) The Christian is the workmanship of God. He is the Creator and he is the Saviour so that all Christians belong to him. And he is the one who has all rights and all power to do with the Christian whatsoever he chooses. God saved the Christian with an ultimate end in mind and this he accomplishes in the life of every Christian without exception. He is the molder of the clay working upon the Christian life to make vessels that achieve His end.
(2) The Christian is "created in Christ Jesus." He has been made a new Creation who bears the very nature of the one who died for him on the cross. This nature though it is born yet has not come to full fruition. So it is that it can be said that the Christian who is created in Christ is being daily recreated so that he will one day fully bear his likeness.
(3) The evidence that a person is a Christian and is therefore saved are good works. The works themselves save no one since salvation is solely the work of God in Jesus Christ. Yet the very same God who saves has not stopped working in the life of the Christian. He daily shapes and changes the Christian so that they reflect back to him his own glory as they bear with increasing measure the image of Christ in them.
(4) These good works are not something that God makes up as he goes along. They were prepared beforehand, that is before the foundation of the world. They existed in the mind of God before he had created a single living soul. These works originate in God and trace their purpose and their ability to be done not in man but in Him. For it is from God that those works have meaning and it is from God that the Christian receives grace so that he does all that the Father has prepared beforehand.
(5) The words, "should walk in them" can be misunderstood. They can be used to cast doubt on the good works that were prepared before hand. In truth there is no doubt from God's perspective. Because God is the one who prepared these works it is absolutely certain that every Christian will walk in them. For the same God who powerfully saves is the same God who powerfully renews his people from the internal outwards and as he does so this flows from the unseen to be seen in the changed life of the Christian.
A friend recently pointed out to me an imbalance in my theology. That is I brought to the fore God's role in good works while denigrating the Christian's motives and desires to do good. The bible clearly teaches that God so works in the Christian that they bear the fruit of belonging to him in good works.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."
But it also teaches that the Christian is to give thanks to God as he does good towards others.
"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
I thank my friend for pointing out to me that while God changes the Christian so that they then do good they are also to seek to do good in thankfulness to God. That is the divine and human aspect to good works both need to be kept in their right balance and equally taught for both are found in the pages of Scripture.