Knowing that good works are what are prescribed in Scripture and that good works are the fruit of salvation, we are now able to ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of our good works?”
The Confession continues, “And by [good works] believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that having their fruit unto holiness they may have the end eternal life.”
First comes thankfulness. The primary goal of good works is to express our gratitude to the God of all creation for our redemption. Psalm 116:12-13 says, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” The psalmist asks what he could possibly do to return the good that God has done on his behalf. Truly, there is nothing that could repay the Lord for him paying the debt we owed him. All we can do in turn is to call on his name in faith and repentance. That is the primary good work. We continue in faith and repentance throughout our earthly lives, and these are the good works that spring from a thankful heart.
One perennial issue for believers is the confidence they have in their faith. Truly, our confidence should be in our Lord’s work, not in our own faith. But we should, however, seek to strengthen our faith. That comes in obedience to his commands. John tells us, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). Even in our great weakness and inability to perfectly obey the law of Christ, in seeking greater conformity to his likeness and obedience to him, we make our calling and election sure. Unbelievers may seek the good things that come from God, but they never seek to please him.
The other good works we do are for the purpose of edifying our fellow believers. We do not do good works for bragging rights but to build up the faith of others. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Any good work we do that is seen by anyone else is for the purpose of bringing glory to God. That includes what we do in worship. Is our worship a performance for others or for God? Our are prayers shining a light on our vast vocabulary or the glory of God?
To adorn our profession of the gospel, The Confession means that we confirm it. As Peter tells us, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15). Good works both give us assurance of faith in our hearts and minds as well as confirming our confession to a watching world. No one doubts that our age is one of ongoing criticism of the church. They might say they take issue with this or that doctrine, this or that ethic, but their real issue is that they hate Christ and his church. Our good works increase their condemnation, because they have to admit that our actions line up with our words.
There is also the simple matter of not giving our God a bad reputation because of our actions. Paul tells Timothy, “Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled” (1 Timothy 6:1). God’s name should matter deeply to us. We should actively seek, by the good we commit and the evil we omit, to make God’s name great on the earth.
Why do our works reflect on God? Because we are his workmanship, as Paul wrote, “For 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 good works we do—the worship, the prayers, the edification, the piety, the purity—are all prepared for us before the foundation of the world. They are simply left for us to do. Imagine a full dishwasher the morning after pushing Start. They’re waiting to be picked up and put in the right place. Our good works are waiting for us to do them.
And finally, we see that good works are not ends in themselves. They serve a higher purpose, which the Confession recognizes is eternal life. “Teleology” is the science of purpose: why does something exist? What is its endgame? The “telos”, or the purpose, of good works is noted by Paul. “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:22). In no way do our good works earn us anything at all. Either we earn eternal damnation on our own, or Christ earns eternal life on our behalf. We are not talking about the root of our salvation but the fruit. Good works are the material of sanctification, and that itself is the pattern of life until we are glorified in the eternal state.
Next week, we’ll see where the ability to do good works comes from.