K. H. questioned my November 9, 2020, blog, which you can see here. It is entitled “The Difference Between God’s Acceptance and Approval.” She sent in her question on November 11, 2020. Well, I’ve been somewhat behind on my email! But I have finally caught up a bit.
Usually, I look forward to your scholarship, but I’m sorry to say your 11/9/20 blog was quite deficient—leaving out the importance Paul reported in Col 1:29: “To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” God doesn’t approve OUR fleshly behavior, no matter how good it looks. He approves Christ’s life in us.
K. H. is raising a vital issue, one I did not discuss in that blog. That is, how do we do good works? Does God produce good works in us independent of anything we do? Or are good works that we do at least in part the result of effort that we expend? In other words, what does the Bible teach about how believers are to live the Christian life?
In addition, K. H. mentions fleshly behavior. Different people mean different things by that expression.
First, the NT understands the flesh to refer to impulses to disobey God that come from our mortal bodies: “So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom 7:25). Therefore, fleshly behavior is sinful behavior. I agree with K. H. that God does not approve of sinful behavior.
Second, the NT recognizes that the works that believers do are works they do, not works that God does. That is very evident in the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:16-26). God holds us accountable for our works.
In 2 Cor 5:1-8, the Apostle Paul discusses our mortal bodies and how we groan (vv 2, 4) as we await our glorified bodies. Then in the two famous Bema verses he says, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:9-10, italics added). We will be judged based on what we have done, not based on what God has done. And these deeds are done “in the body.” He mentions the body because it was his focus in verses 1-8.
We can do good works with our bodies because we have a born-of-God inner self (Rom 7:25; 1 John 3:9), what some call the new nature. Our good works are not disembodied good works. We must use our minds (Rom 7:25; 12:2) and our bodies (2 Cor 5:10).
God does not produce good works in believers independent of the believer choosing to do them. We are not puppets. God does not overpower us. While I see truth in the exchanged-life view of the Christian life (often called Keswick theology), I reject any view that eliminates the involvement of the believer in the doing of good works. Even in Gal 2:20 Paul speaks of “the life which I now live in the flesh.”
Based on Rom 12:2 and 2 Cor 3:18, it is evident that good works flow from the life of a believer whose mind is being renewed by the Word of God on a regular basis. Transformation comes from a godly mindset. Compare 1 Cor 2:16, where Paul says that spiritual believers “have the mind of Christ.” When I say that these works flow, I do not mean that they are independent of our volition and our effort. I mean that our choice to sit under the clear teaching of God’s Word produces a godly worldview and that in turn motivates us to live like who we are in the inner man.
Check out the follow verses that speak of striving being needed in the Christian life: Acts 24:16; Rom 15:30; Phil 1:27; Col 1:29 (mentioned by K. H.), Heb 12:4.
“…each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Cor 3:13). “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal 6:9). “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim 4:7-8). “Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt 16:24). “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matt 16:27).
How do we do good works? God has empowered us to be able to please Him. Hence, we can do good works. The same way we choose to brush our teeth or wash our hair, we choose to give money to a Bible-teaching local church, to pray, to share our faith, to love our spouse and children, to teach Sunday school, to preach, to drive courteously, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
I heard that when Tim Timmons (the author, not the musician) was at DTS, he commended a fellow student for having preached a good sermon in chapel. The student responded, “Oh, it wasn’t me. It was the Lord.” Timmons thought for a second and responded, “Funny, but I swear I saw your lips move.”
Of course, nothing we do is independent of God’s enabling power. But the backsliding believer still has God’s power within. He is just not living in light of who he is. He has lost his mind, in a spiritual sense.
At the Judgment Seat of Christ, no believer will be able to say, “The reason why I did not endure to the end of my life was because You did not cause that to happen. I did the best I could.” Nope. Whether we run the race and fight the fight, 1 Cor 9:24-27, depends on us applying the truth of God and the power of God in our daily living, 2 Tim 4:6-8.
I hope that helps clarify what I meant in my Nov 9, 2020, blog.