Monday Musings for June 12, 2017

Good morning, Musers,

I’ll be talking about “good-works” today… and (spoiler alert) my conclusion is that you should go out and do them! But I was tempted to compare the discussion of “works” in Evangelical circles to walking a tightrope: we could fall off on one side into the anti-biblical abyss of salvation-by-works… or fall off on the other side where saved people do nothing for the kingdom. But I have found this issue to be more complex than that. A tightrope is a line. But today we’ll use a plane to plot our data.

Imagine a wooden board with four nails pounded in so they form the corners of a square — and then imagine that a rubber band is stretched around them… like a mini boxing ring (which is a good comparison because we’ll probably need the flexibility of the “ropes” now and again as we bounce ideas around). So, here’s the set-up:

Let one nail represent the notion that God weighs our good and immoral behavior for entrance to heaven. Let its diagonal nail stand for the biggest do-nothing Christian in the world. Let its adjacent stand for the biggest do-something Christian in the world, and let the other adjacent stand for the most moral (but unsaved) person in the world who does good works for society’s sake. Every Christian and every doer-of-good can be placed somewhere on that plane… and here’s my challenge: pick out anyone in that square and tell me whether or not they are saved.

See the problem? We can’t… not with certainty, anyway. What we can do is make a cumulative case for or against a person and then plot their position on the square. I think that would yield a pretty good result statistically… I mean… we can assess people’s fruit, the reports of others about them and their personal testimonies. But we’d certainly get some wrong. This is why we don’t decide on heaven and hell for anybody but ourselves. The stakes are just too high.

What I’ve just described is the wheat-and-tares problem (Matthew 13:24-30). The wheat and the tares look very much alike while they’re growing… and even the Master of the harvest will wait until they mature before sending in the reapers. It’s the same way with people in this age. Once we take the overtly evil people out of the picture, the saved and unsaved look pretty much alike. This is also implied in Jesus’ teaching about the true and false disciples (Matthew 7:21-23). The false disciples looked and acted so much like what anybody would expect from a believer that they even fooled themselves! How could we even pretend to sort people out?

That’s not our job. We preach the gospel, make disciples and we test our own salvation… and none of those activities require that we know another person’s salvation status. But what do we do when a declaredly unsaved (but moral) person invites us to join forces in an activity that might also work to advance God’s kingdom — like working in a soup kitchen or working to stop sex-trafficking? Should we not participate because it’s not under the aegis of a local church? Should we refuse to advance the “net good” in the world by being parochial? That’s murky… and so was the answer.

I said “yes” in the main — go out and do good with the moral pagans… but this required some qualifications (surprise!)... so, I added a series of cautions — and one was about identification. You see, no matter where we find ourselves on my plotting square, only those of us who have been born again can truly identify with Christ… as Christ… as his Body. And that’s the key to doing a work that will last into eternity. No one else’s works will last… nor will their workers be recognized on that great and terrible day.

To read the article referenced above, visit the link below.

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)